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News :: Human Rights
Exclusive Expose - New Orleans
28 Sep 2005
visit Revolution Online at
Exlusive Expose
Bus Drivers’ Rescue Mission - Hijacked by U.S. Military in New Orleans
Revolution #016, October 2, 2005, posted at
With tens of thousands of people trapped in hellish conditions in New Orleans, ninety-four Houston school bus drivers set off on a mission to bring people to safety. They saw that the government had abandoned these people, who were too sick or too poor to get out—or too Black for racist authorities to let out.
The drivers loaded their school buses with bottled water and food. If the government couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything, or if some people who should have helped were paralyzed by thinking this was all “god’s will,” then they would help.
The drivers were prepared to welcome desperate people onto their buses and in many cases volunteered their time for free. But U.S. military soldiers with automatic weapons, fixed bayonets, and camouflage paint on their faces detained them for hours and then forced them to transport soldiers, supplies, and ammunition.
After 31 hours, the drivers returned home—THEIR BUSES EMPTY.
This story has not been told. Houston TV stations covered the convoy of buses leaving for New Orleans. But nobody has exposed how the U.S. military hijacked this rescue effort. Now, for the first time, Revolution newspaper brings you the whole story, as told by one of the drivers:
When Hurricane Katrina happened, I was trying to figure out the dynamic—it’s a natural disaster but it didn’t have to be that bad. People were sitting there, stuck on their roofs with all that dirty water and nothing being done. We were trying to figure out what was going on. I saw the statement by the RCP and when I went to work, we were all talking and sitting in the day room, having coffee and talking in between shifts. I started going around, talking to people about how this is just horrific. These people can’t be left in this kind of situation with no food or water. And I said, if they really cared about the people down there, what they would do is mobilize all of us with our school buses and go down there and get these people.
A lot of people really agreed. Quite a number of people said, “Yeah, we’d be willing to do this for free.” One bus driver said, “Well, I’ve got time, I’m ready to drive the bus, I’m ready to go if they [the school district] will do it.” This started buzzing among the drivers, at this particular bus barn anyway. A bunch of us said to a supervisor, “Look, you need to talk to somebody and tell them that there’s a lot of people willing to go down there in the school buses and bring people back to the shelters here.”
This began on Tuesday and I spent several days going around talking to people. Some people were saying, “Well, god works in mysterious ways.” These were people who didn’t want to drive over there. They were blaming the people, saying things like, “Satan is getting rid of the dregs of society,” and I got into arguments with people over that. I said, "This is a natural disaster and it’s made worse by the way society is set up and the fact that the powers that be really don’t care about the people of New Orleans or Black people in general—or people in general for that matter. This is an example of what they think of us. People are over there in water, in filth, hungry and everything else. It has nothing to do with god deciding to pick and choose who’s going to live and die. A number of people know I don’t believe in god, mostly pretty religious people, and I made the point that there is no god anyway. I said, don’t talk that talk to me, because that’s not what the problem is here.
Anyway, a large number of people at the barn were saying they would do it and then a supervisor said he would check into it but it would be a very big logistical effort—we’d have to get mechanics willing to go and tire trucks and we’d have to figure out where the buses would fuel up, etc. Another thing I was talking about was: Look it, they have to do this now, they have to close HISD (Houston Inde-pen-dent School District) down for two days and get this rolling now. I said, close the schools, extend the school year for two days or cut the Christmas break short, something. Don’t wait until the weekend to do this because that will mean people down there suffering longer.
A supervisor called me into his office on Wednesday and asked me if I’d be willing to drive to New Orleans, and I said absolutely. So he put out a sign-up sheet for volunteers to drive to New Orleans to bring people back and we got 94 people to sign up. A significant portion of them made it really clear that they would do this without getting paid. Like this woman I know wrote on the sign-up sheet, “Don’t have to get paid, will do for free.” People wrote things like that on the sign-up sheet. So everybody was thinking, this is great, we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it.
All Geared Up to Go
A supervisor called a meeting for anybody who wanted to volunteer. He said: You hear a lot of talk about these people stealing, robbing, doing all these things down there. You hear all these stories about people being raped and all. The fact of the matter is, these are desperate people and they’ve been put into a desperate situation. Everybody needs to think about, when these people see these big yellow school buses driving in, we are going to be their hope, because nobody else is doing anything. I’m not saying nothing bad can happen to us, but most likely it won’t, because we are their ray of hope. If you have a weak stomach, you have to remember, these people haven’t bathed, they haven’t eaten, they’ve been out in the hot sun, they are not gonna be smelling like roses. What you cannot do if you go down there is act like fools, or start gagging, or reaching for a spray bottle. We have to show people there respect. And we’ll deal with what comes up.
A few hours later a supervisor announced on the bus radios: “This is on, we’re gonna go, we’re leaving at five o’clock Saturday morning.” This was Thursday, so they didn’t close the schools for us to do this.
Everybody was all geared to go. The atmosphere was very exhilarated. People really wanted to do something for these people, like a friend of mine said, “I can’t give money, my electric is about to get turned off, but I can drive the bus and give my time.” People were also very angry over how long people in New Orleans had been left sitting there, and there were some people that were likening it to things that happened in the Civil Rights days. There were a lot of people who were saying that this was about Black people just being written off, that this is the way they’ve always done us. It’s real obvious they don’t care if we live or die. People were really glad we were going, but angry that it took so long to get this together when people were suffering and dying.
People had been saying, bring clothes and there was food donated and piled up by the bus barn. But I’m not sure people would have thought about driving the school buses to New Orleans without me going around saying that we should get the school buses and go down there to get people out—creating an atmosphere where people said, yeah, I want to do that. One person said, “This is so much better than just sorting through old clothes. It is important to get people clothes when they don’t have clothes, but this is different.”
People really wanted to do something and felt the powers-that-be weren’t doing anything. So when this idea came up people were excited, they were looking forward to it. They were figuring things out. Some people brought food to hand out to people when they got on the buses. A lot of these drivers are single mothers, their ability to maintain is difficult, and they were bringing food, and bags of cookies. One person suggested that we boil a lot of eggs so people would have protein, plus powdered Gatorade. Another person’s husband works for a bottled water company and he talked his supervisor into donating thousands of bottles of water for the buses.
There was a lot of initiative being taken by the drivers. But then at a certain point things got taken over by HISD and whoever they were coordinating this effort with [FEMA and Homeland Security].
Fighting to Go
Friday afternoon, we were all ready to leave at 4:15 the next morning. There was back and forth on the radio that afternoon, everyone excited about going to New Orleans. Then a supervisor got on the radio and said, “The operation has been cancelled.” Everybody was upset, saying, “How can this be cancelled? People are still down there.” Then another supervisor got on and said we had to clear the airwaves and only discuss HISD business on them. He said, you can ask about the trip to New Orleans when you get back to the barn.
When we got back to the barn I went storming into the office and asked why it had been cancelled. I said this is crazy, those people are down there, and I was just yelling. He said look, we were told that since we had 94 buses to go, it wasn’t worth it, because they thought if we didn’t have at least 100 buses leaving it wasn’t worth it. I said, that’s crazy! Tell them to do the math. 94 buses times 60, 65 people on each bus, that’s five to six thousand people. How can they say that’s not worth it! He said, “I agree with you, it’s wrong. In my opinion, this is about extermination of Black people. I’m so upset over this.”
Groups of us were standing around and talking and you really got a sense of the anger over this happening. Some people were saying things like, “well, they know best,” or “this is god working,” and others were saying “this is plain old bullshit.”
I was fuming. I called up different people. I talked to our neighbors. I was saying this is just an outrage. Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call from one of the other supervisors who said, “Are you still willing to go to New Orleans?” I said yes, and she told me to be there in an hour and a half.
At this point FEMA and Homeland Security seemed to be coordinating things.
Losing Precious Time
Right before we left a supervisor said, this is an historic day that people were volunteering to go to New Orleans to try to make a difference in the lives of these people who were displaced.
We got on our buses, escorted by the police, and drove for a couple of hours. In LaFayette, we stopped to refuel the buses and from there we headed to New Orleans, through Baton Rouge.
We had to go through a number of checkpoints where they had the National Guard and different Army people. They had different staging areas for the military and they would let a certain number of buses through and the others had to wait. So we’d go through and wait a few miles down the road on the shoulder. This went on for hours. Then we parked the buses on the side of the road near New Orleans somewhere and we sat.
When the buses started rolling everybody got all excited because we thought, oh, this is it, we’re going to get the people. But we went to another checkpoint where we sat along the road again. We wasted a lot of precious time actually… Maybe not as many people would have died if there had not been the lack of mobilization once we got there, the lack of caring about all these people, and all that sitting around. Everyone was asking, “When are we going to go get the people?”
Finally they moved us out and we went into New Orleans proper. We were driving through and we saw a lot of damage from the hurricane. We saw a lot of trees were blown over, trailer homes toppled over, signs down, roofs off buildings, and electrical wires down. As our caravan went through these areas, some people were coming out and cheering the buses on and waving banners. The people were excited and it brought out the truth of what the supervisor had said, that when people see these big yellow school buses rolling through, we’re going to be their ray of hope.
Jacked by the U.S. Army
We drove for about 45 minutes through different parts of the area… and by this time it had been four or five hours that we’d been doing this. At one point we saw all these military trucks going by and we saw a flatbed military truck with all these body bags piled on it.
Then they had us move to a makeshift army encampment. They had these helicopters and cargo planes and they had cots set up all over the place. There were thousands of Army reserve, and different types of Army people, military trucks, tanks, all that kind of stuff. And they were all walking around carrying M-16’s. There were all kinds of boxes of ammunition. Quite a number of the soldiers had that black smudgy stuff on their cheekbones. Some of them were playing cards. Some of them told us they’d been there for three or four days and done nothing but sleep and play cards and hang out waiting to find out where they were gonna be deployed to.
I went over to one of these Reserve guys and said, “Explain to me what your understanding is of what you’re here to accomplish.” He had a gun on his hip and was carrying a rifle and had that stuff on his face. He said, “You see what our badge says? It says to search, rescue, and save.” I said, “If that’s what you really think you’re doing here, you ought to take that black stuff off your face, set your guns down on the ground, and then go through the neighborhood where people have been stranded for days. Because if you and a whole bunch of others looking like you go into these neighborhoods with all this weaponry and stuff, nobody’s going to think you’re there to help them. They’re going to think you’re there to wage war against them, which is in reality what you’re doing. You’re not doing what your badge says. The public will hear on the TV that since you have your shoot-to-kill orders, somebody opened fire on you and you returned it and shot them dead on the street. What people need is help, what they need is for us to go into these places and take them to safety, not all this weaponry.”
Two other soldiers were listening to what I was saying, and the guy on the bus with me was part of all this too. He agreed with me, saying, “If I’d slept on the roof of my house for five days, I wouldn’t think you were here to help either. Being Black, Black people are used to standing there looking at the wrong end of that gun.”
Some of these Army guys were real assholes. They were gung-ho types who’d been to Iraq, done their share of killing over there. They said to me, “What you don’t understand as a civilian, is that they’re people who’ve been let out of jail, they’re raping, they’re looting the stores.” And at that point I said, “How can you stand here and tell me that if your family were in the same situation, if you saw a store that wasn’t flooded out, that you wouldn’t break a window to go in there to get some food and water for your family. You tell me that you wouldn’t do that in the same situation.” And he said, “You have a point there, you’re right.” I told him, “Well, you need to think about that when you go into these places with your shoot-to-kill orders, if you see people looting.”
All this was before we realized that what we were actually there for was to carry military personnel into these neighborhoods on the school buses.
One of the other drivers with me all this time said he was learning a lot just from being around me talking to these people. We still thought we were going to pick people up and take them to Little Rock, we were still under that illusion. It was too hot for me on the bus so I stretched out on the ground under the bus. I had brought a blanket and a pillow, and there was a little cross breeze under the bus and I fell asleep there. I woke up hearing this loud voice yelling, “Ma’am, ma’am.” I look up and see five of these army guys with rifles and bayonets on their rifles and their faces all painted up and the first thing that went through my mind was that they were coming to take me away because of the things I’d been talking about.
One of the soldiers said, “Have you got your orders yet?” and I said, “I’m not in the military. I don’t take orders from you. I’m an HISD bus driver and my objective here is to get people on this bus and take them to a safe place.” The guy on the bus heard all this and came running out because he felt that something was gonna happen to me for the way I was talking to them. He said to them, “We know what we’re here to do. We’re going to leave in a while and get some people and take them to Arkansas.”
Some soldiers then told us we were going to be transporting soldiers into the various wards and parishes of New Orleans and its surrounding areas.
I went around talking to people saying, “This is bullshit, I didn’t come to New Orleans to carry them around, so they can do their shoot-to-kill orders. I came here to pick up people and take them to a safe place. We should just refuse to do this.”
They had enough aircraft of different kinds that they could have been dropping supplies in, not to mention getting in themselves if they wanted, with food and cases of water. They could have brought medical people into the area with their helicopters. There were a whole lot of things that they could have been doing that they didn’t do. So I was going around saying they can get their own selves around to these different areas if they want, I don’t want to do it.
I tried to get people to refuse to do it but people weren’t quite there yet. Some of the sentiment was, well we’re here, they need help, they don’t have buses. I said well what about all these tanks and other things they can use. Some of my friends were telling me to calm down, that I shouldn’t be so angry. I said, no I should be angry over this. There were a small number of people who really agreed with me, who said this isn’t what we came for. But aside from whatever people thought about what we were doing, there were all these guys with weapons all around us. We were in the midst of all that.
An hour later, all these soldiers got on our bus. I looked in the rearview mirror, the one where you usually see the children, to see if they’re sitting in their seats. And I see these guys sitting there with all their weapons.
We drove through New Orleans—some drivers went to Jefferson Parish, some went to wards in New Orleans. Some buses were filled with rations, some had ammunition. When we got to the staging area we had to hook up with people from other bus barns. That’s where we saw all these Migra [INS] with their sirens going. There were lots of Migra cars all over this place.
We got back to Houston at about 1 o’clock Monday morning, 31 hours after we left, WITH NOBODY ON OUR BUSES.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution Online
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Expose Jane Sullivan
30 Sep 2005
That's one ugly bitch!
i mean it
30 Sep 2005
Bryant Sullivan.gif