portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

human & civil rights | katrina aftermath

just left New Orleans a couple hours ago

just left New Orleans a couple hours ago
Thanks to all the loved ones and long-lost friends for your sweet
notes of concern, offers of housing and support, etc. Yes, I stayed
through the storm and aftermath. I'm fine - much better off than most
of my brother and sister hurricane survivors. Below is my attempt to
relay some of what I've seen these last few days.
Please Forward

Notes From Inside New Orleans

by Jordan Flaherty

Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the
apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp.
If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials
towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of
the refugee camps.


In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway,
thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted
in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun,
with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus
would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would
open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the
bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once
inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking
them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I
was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example),
even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not
be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge.
You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had
people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not
come within 17 miles of the camp.


I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers,
Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although
they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses
would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other
information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and
asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any
federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them,
from Australian tv to local Fox affiliates complained of an
unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me "as
someone who's been here in this camp for two days, the only
information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don't
want to be here at night."


There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to
set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a
line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find
family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone
services, treatment for possible disease exposure, nor even a single
trash can.


To understand this tragedy, its important to look at New Orleans
itself.


For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a
incredible, glorious, vital, city. A place with a culture and energy
unlike anywhere else in the world. A 70% African-American city where
resistance to white supremecy has supported a generous, subversive and
unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to
secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz Funerals, and
red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a place of art and
music and dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in
the world.


It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block
can take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every
porch, and where a community pulls together when someone is in need.
It is a city of extended families and social networks filling the gaps
left by city, state and federal goverments that have abdicated their
responsibilty for the public welfare. It is a city where someone you
walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an
answer.


It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city
of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting
300 murders this year, most of them centered on just a few,
overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as
saying that they don&'t need to search out the perpetrators, because
usually a few days after a shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge.


There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much
of Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police Department. In recent
months, officers have been accused of everything from drug running to
corruption to theft. In seperate incidents, two New Orleans police
officers were recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there
have been several high profile police killings of unarmed youth,
including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing
weekly protests for several months.


The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth
graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average
$4,724 per child's education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest
teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young
people drop out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000
students are absent from school on any given day. Far too many young
black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former
slave plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over
90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a city where
industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying,
transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.


Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This
disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and
incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the
gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most
at risk, to the treatment of the refugees to the the media portayal of
the victims, this disaster is shaped by race.


Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this
week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence.
As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to "Pray the
hurricane down" to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after
the hurricane, we tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio
and tv stations, hoping for vital news, and were told that our
governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to
rule, they was no source of solid dependable information. Tuesday
night, politicians and reporters said the water level would rise
another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire,
and the politicians and media only made it worse.


While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no
way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the
local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those
left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it,
this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts
me deeply.


No sane person should classify someone who takes food from
indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a
"looter" but thats just what the media did over and over again.
Sherrifs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores
instead of perform rescue operations.


Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed
into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a
store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime
than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of
dollars of damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic,
just as the eighties focus on "welfare queens" and "super-predators"
obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and
Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans
are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.


City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here.
Since at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the danger faced
by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this
week's events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of
natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger faced. Yet
government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to
protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others
warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward
proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush
administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund
New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of
increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the
dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response
dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders.


The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a
US President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist
politics of Huey Long.


In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New
Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a "New Deal" for
the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new
schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be
"rebuilt and revitalized" to a shell of its former self, with newer
hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing
the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.


Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty,
racism, disinvestment, de-industrialization and corruption. Simply
the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to
repair.


Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are focused on
Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this
opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a
special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.


-----------------------------------------------

Jordan Flaherty is an editor of Left Turn Magazine (www.leftturn.org).


-----------------------------------------------


Below are some small, grassroots and New Orleans-based resources,
organizations and institutions that will need your support in the
coming months.


Social Justice:

www.jjpl.org

www.iftheycanlearn.org

www.nolaps.org

www.thepeoplesinstitute.org/

www.criticalresistance.org/index.php?name=crno_home


Cultural Resources:

www.backstreetculturalmuseum.com

www.ashecac.org/

 http://198.66.50.128/gallery/

www.nolahumanrights.org

 http://www.freewebs.com/ironrail/

 http://www.girlgangproductions.com/


Current Info and Resources:

 http://neworleans.craigslist.org/about/help/katrina_cl.html