A National Disgrace
Why the Flooding, Immiseration, and Evacuation
of New Orleans (67% African-American) Was Made to Happen
"The only rational explanation for such irrational
neglect and lack of preparation and needlessly dispossession and suffering
is that it's intentional, horrific as that explanation
may be to compassionate beings."
By Don Paul <email@example.com>
September 4, 2005
We've seen the scenes. Elderly hospital-patients quivering on cots in parking-lots,
expecting helicopters that fail to come. Younger survivors, unable to walk,
towed in wagons and carried in baskets by others knee-deep to waist-deep
in streams over streets. Gas-mains burning through Lake Pontchartrain's
and the Mississippi River's water, Families clinging to rooftops and waving
blankets for attention as other people's chairs float past. Shirtless children
scrambling for food throughout an otherwise abandoned city.
And we've seen the crowds waiting: waiting inside and outside stadiums:
waiting with plastic-bags full of clothes: waiting without food or water:
waiting for days and nights of hunger, dehydration, shock and desperation:
waiting with disbelief that they're being treated so meanly in a land of
plenty: waiting finally with cries and chants of "Help us! Help us!"
... We've seen on TV and in newspapers the Black and Brown faces--Black
and Brown faces an overwhelming majority--of poor people stranded in New
Orleans over the five days since Hurricane Katrina howled toward them and
its landfall in the United States, would-be "refugees" left there
over the four days since levees beside the city broke.
And the poor people and the their helpless, stranded misery look like ravaged
populations of Darfur. They look like people abandoned and waiting after
"natural disasters" in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and amid evacuations
Rwanda and famines in Ethiopia.
A woman interviewed outside one flank of New Orleans' Superdome. Her dark
hair is matted to her forehead. She stares hard into the TV camera. She
seems to wish that someone or something will give her traumatized perplexity
a good answer for what's going on. "I don't know," she says. "This
doesn't feel like modern times."
"It appears that the money has been moved in
the President's budget to handle Homeland Security and the war in Iraq"
The levees that were breached by the 18-to-22-foot storm-surge to Lake Pontchartrain
which followed Katrina's landfall might have stood had improvements to them
not been defunded by the U. S. Government over the past three years.
In 1995, flooding from a sub-hurricane level storm killed six in New Orleans,
prompting the U. S. Government to begin the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood
Control Project (SELA). Over the seven years the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers
spent more than $300 million to shore up the levees whose humps snake round
the below-sea level "bowl" of New Orleans and protect the city
from flooding. Spending on SELA after 2002, however, was sharply reduced,
coincident with the U.S./British invasion of Iraq and further expansion
of the Department of Homeland Security.
In June of 2004, Walter Maestri, the emergency-management chief for Jefferson
Parish (New Orleans) told the Times-Picayune newspaper: "It appears
that the money has been moved in the President's budget to handle Homeland
Security and the war in Iraq, ... Nobody locally is happy that the levees
can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that
this is a security issue for us."
Louisiana's 2004 hurricane season 'was the worst in decades.' Will Bunch
of the Philadelphia Daily News writes. 'In spite of that,' Bunch continues,
'the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction
in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because
of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials
said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from
$36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.'
Among the most pressing projects was work on the levee next to New Orleans'
17th Street Canal, site of the largest and most destructive breach by Lake
Pontchartrain on Monday, August 29; this urgent project was quit in July
2005, one month before Katrina struck, due to lack of funds .
Increasing and Insuring Destruction and Death
' "A hurricane is a classic act of nature, an act of God. You can't
stop it. What we can do and what we have done is get ourselves to the utmost
level of preparedness." ' Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the U. S.
Department of Homeland Security, in the British/American Financial Times,
"They haven't done nuttin'!"
--Malik Rahim, former Black Panther and current Green Party candidate for
Mayor of New Orleans, born and raised in that city, talking over the phone
What can explain the murderous neglect that remains obvious in New Orleans
today, Friday, September 2, 2005, one week after the storm that would become
known and feared as Hurricane Katrina began to swell and launch itself toward
southeast Louisiana? Why do National Guard trucks continue to cruise past
the thousands stuck at the Superdome and Convention Center? Why do patients
literally rot inside 90+-degree heat of hospitals? Why are stacks of cases
of drinking water in an Algiers firehouse kept from the parched throats
of the thirsty as well as hungry at the nearby ferry across the Mississippi?
Why aren't homeless "refugees" not moved into the 18 Schools that
are dry and on higher ground in Greater New Orleans? Why weren't scores
of available schoolbuses not used to move poor people out of the city? Why
weren't food and water from the plenty in supermarkets and warehouses in
this most busy of southern U. S. ports stockpiled before last Monday?
"They haven't done nuttin'!" Malik Rahim, my friend from work
with Public Housing tenants in San Francisco and with Marie Harrison's campaign
for Supervisor, declares today.
"They had three days to prepare for this. Food--water--transportation--they
haven't done nuttin'! The only things that have been done to help people
have been done by private volunteers. Black and White," Malik says.
The question remains. Why is this man-made disaster from neglect, following
New Orleans' escape from the predicted height and brunt of a Grade-5 hurricane,
happening? Why does even New Orleans' head of Emergency Operations, Terry
Ebbert, say about the U. S. Government's inacitivity: "This is a national
The only rational explanation for such irrational neglect and lack of preparation
and needlessly dispossession and suffering is that it's intentional, horrific
as that explanation may be to compassionate beings.
Race and Money Again at the Core
"And we all know that the prevailing model for urban development is
to get rid of poor people. The disaster provides an opportunity to deploy
this model in New Orleans on a citywide scale, under the guise of rebuilding
the city and its infrastructure."
--Glen Ford on Black Commentator radio 9/2/05
Despite its precarious locale New Orleans contains some of the most prized
real-estate in the Western world. Before Katrina struck the U. S., however,
said real-estate's potential or speculative value was many times greater
than its currently assessed value. The median value of a house owned by
its owner in New Orleans was among the lowest of such in U. S. cities'--$87,000.
Over half of the city's residents were renters, 28% lived below the federal
poverty-level, and 67.3% were African-American.
Now only the well-off among New Orleans pre-Katrina residents will have
the ready means and material incentive to return and rebuild in their still
submerged city. Also, the Wards hit hardest by flooding include those that
had the most Public Housing--those that contained "Projects"--
those, in short, that had land with the greatest potential gain in value
if their poor residents were somehow and summarily removed.
The thought that machinations of further dispossession may result from the
helpless suffering we see every hour from New Orleans' streets may give
you pause. Your compassionate mind may revolt at imagining such calculated
cruelty. Think, then, of 1870s' and 1880s' Reconstruction. Think of 1960s'
and 1970s' Urban Renewal. Think of the same Armored Personnel Carriers as
patrol Baghdad and Fallujah and Kabul now patrolling Poydras Avenue, while
stranded peoples' bellies bloat, cuts grow more infected, and dysentery
spreads. Think and be sure that to overcome such machinations and such a
result will require all of us who believe in the saving nobility and communality
of African-Americans to fight with a combined and concentrated force.
As Glen Ford concluded on Black Commentator radio today: "What we may
see in the coming months is a massive displacement of Black New Orleans,
to the four corners of the nation. The question that we must pose, repeatedly
and in the strongest terms, is: Through whose vision, and in whose interest,
will New Orleans rise again."
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the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor
can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer
of your choice for medical care and advice.