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News :: Environment : Human Rights : Labor : Media : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : Technology
More racist gov’t atrocities exposed
16 Sep 2005
The ravages of capitalism continue to be exposed in the aftermath of Katrina, as even more stories highlighting the official hostility and neglect toward the poor and people of color of the region—before, during and after the hurricane—are brought to worldwide attention
As flood waters recede
More racist gov’t atrocities exposed
By LeiLani Dowell
Published Sep 15, 2005 11:19 PM

The ravages of capitalism continue to be exposed in the aftermath of Katrina, as even more stories highlighting the official hostility and neglect toward the poor and people of color of the region—before, during and after the hurricane—are brought to worldwide attention.

Two paramedics from California trapped in New Orleans by the storm after attending a conference there wrote a gripping account of their experiences that appeared first in Socialist Worker, circulated widely on the Internet, and eventually was picked up by other media.

Lorrie Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw reported how, for several days, they and a large group of people, mostly African Americans, tried to survive and find a way out of the city. They watched food spoil in a locked Walgreen’s store as police, who could have opened it up to distribute food and water to the increasingly desperate population, instead drove away “looters.”

After being denied entrance to the Superdome and the Convention Center, the group decided to camp near the police command headquarters. But a police commander came across the street and told them to “walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowd cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, ‘I swear to you that the buses are there.’”

The group began attracting others, including the elderly, people with small children and the disabled, as they marched the two to three miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the bridge.

But then “armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.” The group had to retreat, back to the flooded city.

In finally reporting on this story, the Sept. 10 New York Times said, in racist terms, that police agencies in the suburbs to the south of New Orleans were “so fearful” of evacuees that they “sealed a crucial bridge over the Mississippi River and turned back hundreds of desperate evacuees.”

A Love Canal-type landfill

In addition, the consequences of the neglect of the poor and people of color in the region before the hurricane continue to come to light. An article in the Sept. 12 issue of the magazine Solid Waste and Recycling tells of a “Love Canal-type landfill submerged in New Orleans.”

The area, called the Agriculture Street Landfill, is an example of environmental racism: “The ASL is situated on a 95-acre site in New Orleans Parish, Louisiana. ... Houses and buildings ... were constructed in later years directly atop parts of the landfill. Residents report unusual cancers and health problems and have lobbied for years to be relocated away from the old contaminated site, which contains not only municipal garbage, but buried industrial wastes. ... The site was routinely sprayed with DDT in the 1940s and 50s and, in 1962, 300,000 cubic yards of excess fill were removed from ASL because of ongoing subsurface fires.” The article says a few years ago the site was fenced in and covered with clean soil.

Now concern is raised about the potential of leaching to neighboring areas—because this area is “situated right in the middle of a huge area of three-foot flooding. ... It’s not outlandish to consider the possibility that toxic waste from the landfill may mix with floodwaters and spread far beyond the old landfill site.”

In contrast to the four days it took the government to organize food drops for the survivors in New Orleans, the Sept. 11 Hattiesburg American newspaper reports that the White House prioritized restoring power to a fuel pipeline in Mississippi, northeast of New Orleans and far from the Gulf Coast, in the immediate hours after Katrina struck.

According to the paper, “[The] order—to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co.—delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt.”

The manager of Southern Pines Electric Power Association reportedly received no less than two calls from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office stressing the importance of restoring power to the pipeline immediately.

Armed camp protects the rich

Meanwhile, the occupation of the Gulf region by troops, police—and now mercenaries—continues. The Guardian of Sept. 12 reports, “New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, as well as 70,000 national guard troops and active-duty soldiers now based in the region.”

In addition, mercenaries from private companies, including Blackwater and ISI, have been employed in the hundreds by the wealthy elite of New Orleans to guard their property.

The Guardian interviewed Yovi, an Israeli mercenary who is working in the region for ISI, who said, “God watches out for the rich people, I guess.”

If the events before, during and in the aftermath of the hurricane prove anything, it’s that capitalism watches out for the rich people, to the absolute suffering and devastation of the poor and oppressed.

And while these elite are having their homes guarded, they are busy creating their own plans for the reconstruction of the area with full support of the government—plans that do not include the poor and oppressed. The Sept. 8 Wall Street Journal tells, the disaster that has overwhelmed New Orleans, the city’s monied, mostly white elite is hanging on and maneuvering to play a role in the recovery when the floodwaters of Katrina are gone.”

The article describes a meeting, to be held the next day, of business leaders to “map out a future for the city.”

James Reiss, a descendant of an old-line Uptown family, told the Journal, “Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically. I’m not just speaking for myself here. The way we’ve been living is not going to happen again, or we’re out.”

Dovetailing with this is an editorial in the Washington Post by Joel Garreau called “A Sad Truth: Cities Aren’t Forever.”

Garreau says, “What the city of New Orleans is really up against ... is the set of economic, historic, social, technological and geological forces that have shaped fixed settlements for 8,000 years. Its necessity is no longer obvious to many stakeholders with the money to rebuild it. ... If the impetus does not come from them, where will it come from?”

But the impetus for reconstruction—and how it should be done—is coming from the poor and oppressed communities in the Gulf as well, who continue to fight back.

In a radio segment entitled “New Orleans Population Has the Right of Return,” Glen Ford, co-publisher of the Black Commentator, said, “The rights of [the people of New Orleans] cannot be privatized, or churched-out, or Salvation-Armyed out. All help is appreciated but we must also focus on rights—the right to not be permanently displaced by depraved government policies or the corporate greed that will certainly try to swallow New Orleans whole.”

Activists around the world have pledged their solidarity to people of the Gulf region and their demands for justice.

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