Friday, July 15, 2005

Willie Fontenot on PBS this week

This week on PBS' public affairs program Now, which airs Saturday (12:30 AM & 2:30 AM) and Sunday (3:00 PM) on WYES Channel 12 in New Orleans:

In the nearly four years since 9/11, the U.S. government has failed to upgrade security standards for the nation's chemical plants and refineries—terror targets some say present the greatest possibility of mass casualties. NOW investigates charges of unsafe practices at a large petrochemical plant in Louisiana, examining its history of accidents and the health effects of routine emissions. With chemical plant security legislation stalled in Congress, the report looks at how one refinery near New Orleans could endanger over one million people and explores what steps haven't been taken to make this facility and America's other plants safer.

Rumor has it that the former Louisiana Attorney General's community liaison officer, Willie Fontenot, will be featured in this week's Now program. Fontenot remains the go-to guy for chemical plant community safety issues in Louisiana. Remarkably (or not), Fontenot alleges that the Attorney General fired him after he escorted a group of students through Cancer Alley.

Notwithstanding token remarks, Attorney General Charles Foti has yet to make good on his stated commitment to the health and safety of Louisiana communities by either 1) reinstating Fontenot in some capacity within the AG's community liaison office, or minimally, 2) filling the community liaison office with an individual, or a staff, of caliber equal to Willie Fontenot.

Nobody cares more about chemical plant safety that communities that live adjacent to them. For nearly 30 years, Willie Fontenot helped those communities to organize themselves, and to then get results to defend themselves from harm.

Although Willie Fontenot and the Antioch student group he escorted were doing nothing illegal, they were detained two days in a row by off-duty law enforcement officers hired for plant security who threatened them with nighttime visits by Homeland Security Gestapo agents.

The Attorney General needs to define the parameters of community engagement for law enforcement and private security. Community safety in a democracy should not mean that we have to allow our freedoms to be crushed under the force of a jackboot police state. In fact, as the Fontenot case clearly demonstrates, when intimidation is the government approach, citizens lose the right to find out what's happening in their communities, and therefore, lose the right to protect themselves.

You can hear more about Willie Fontenot and the incidents surrounding his firing in the PGR segment that was broadcast on WTUL.

Again, Now airs on WYES New Orleans, Channel 12:
Saturday, July 16, 12:30am
Saturday, July 16, 2:30am
Sunday, July 17, 3:00pm


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