Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
New Orleans 2005:
Never Forgive... Never Forget
The U.S. government knew for years what would happen if a huge hurricane hit New Orleans. Hundreds of scientific reports predicted that the Black neighborhood of the 9th Ward, and the mainly working class neighborhood of St. Bernard, would be flushed
away and the industrial districts and wealthy neighborhoods would survive. The way the levees were built made this all but inevitable. But Congress slashed funds for the levees and Bush cut them even more. It was known for days that Hurricane Katrina was coming, but authorities failed to evacuate the city. Then after the storm hit on August 29, they abandoned the poorest sections of New Orleans, with the highest populations of Black people. They left those most vulnerable to face the storms and flooding with no help of any kind. Bush refused to interrupt his vacation and allowed people to suffer and die for days. Over 1,000 died and hundreds of thousands suffered and are still suffering--unneccesarily.
Whether by negligence or design or both, this was MASS MURDER carried out by the authorities, beginning with Bush.
THE AUTHORITIES AIM THEIR GUNS AT THE PEOPLE: The government and its armed forces treated tens of thousands of desperate, hungry, and sick people like an enemy. The media, politicians, and officials created an ugly, racist atmosphere--spreading the lie that there was widespread looting and savage atrocities being carried out by Black people. Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, said, "This place is going to look like Little Somalia. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control." Bush said there would be "zero tolerance" for looters and Louisiana's governor said National Guard troops would "shoot and kill" people taking things from stores. Blackwater, the company hired by the U.S. for death-squad activities in Iraq, deployed 200 men to the city, authorized to use lethal force. When hundreds of people tried to escape the floods at the Crescent City Connection Bridge, the police fired warning shots at them and blocked them from crossing. Set loose by the tone set from on high, the New Orleans and other police departments in the area beat and even killed many people, for which there has never been an accounting!
THE PEOPLE TAKE COLLECTIVE ACTION: The disaster showed the people's potential to organize themselves and courageously take matters into their own hands. One 20-year-old man commandeered a school bus to bring people from New Orleans to the Houston Astrodome. A group of mostly teenagers and young adults pooled what money they had for gas and necessities like diapers. Some young men broke into the kitchen of the Marriott Hotel, fixed a batch of scrambled eggs, grits and bacon, and served it to other victims. A retired teacher at the Convention Center praised these youth as "Robin Hoods"--bringing food to the people. Another elderly woman said, "Those ‘looters’ are the only ones keeping us alive." A young man put 18 babies and children from apartments near his in a rowboat and rowed them to safety and continued to care for them. Others went through apartments in the projects or houses in their neighborhoods searching for people they knew wouldn’t be able to move out on their own, and helping get them to safety. People with boats from the surrounding area and bus drivers in Houston, Dallas, and Lafayette, Louisiana, tried to rescue people in New Orleans but were stopped by FEMA. This showed the potential strength that the people "on the bottom" have when they join together--the strength to resist and, ultimately, to make revolution and build a new society.
TURNING DISASTER INTO PROFIT, ETHNIC CLEANSING AND BUILDING UP THE CHRISTIAN FASCISTS: Bush announced plans for "enterprise zones" in New Orleans, where the big capitalists could turn disaster into big profit with billion dollar construction contracts, new zoning laws, no environmental protections, tax breaks, and even lower wages.
Before the hurricane, Black people made up about 70% of the population of New Orleans. After Katrina, Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson said: "New Orleans is not going to be as Black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker said: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."
Katrina was a natural disaster, easily explained by science. But reactionary preachers blamed the masses for the hurricane, saying, "God did this to punish the people of New Orleans" for gambling, abortions, drugs, Mardi Gras, gay pride days, or even voodoo. And the disaster was used to support and promote Christian fascist churches and funnel money into their "charities."
CRUEL EVACUATION: The authorities subjected tens of thousands of people to slaveship conditions at the Superdome and Convention Center. There was no food or electricity, and the toilets backed up. People suffered from dehydration and were surrounded by disease-ridden water. Dead bodies were left out in the open. Thousands were herded into shelters and dispersed all over the country. Echoing slavery days, many were separated from their loved ones. People were treated like criminals or potential criminals. Background checks were done when people checked into shelters. Some were jailed on old warrants, some immigrants were deported. People were housed in heavily guarded centers, with metal detectors, surrounded by police cars, armed soldiers, and FEMA agents and federal, state, and local officials.
KATRINA WAS PART OF THE WHOLE CRIMINAL HISTORY OF CAPITALISM: The neglect, abandonment, abuse, and brutality of Black people after Hurricane Katrina is a crime of the capitalist system, connected to a whole legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. This system has always treated Black people as exploitable, expendable, and undesirable.
IN 1850 NEW ORLEANS WAS THE SOUTH'S LARGEST SLAVE-TRADING CENTER. There were 25 major slave depots within a half mile from the St. Charles Hotel where African-American slaves were bought and sold. The sight of thousands of Black victims of Katrina packed into sports arenas brought back haunting visions of the holds of the slave ships.
IN THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1927, the authorities rounded up Black people at gunpoint and threw them into concentration camps. They were worked day and night to reinforce and rebuild the levees and were forcibly prevented from leaving the flood area. The wealthy white plantation owners were determined that their labor force would not escape to the north.
PEOPLE ARE STILL SUFFERING: Hurricane Katrina destroyed or badly damaged 130,000 out of 200,000 homes in New Orleans. The Bush administration’s actions in the months following Katrina have been a trail of deceit, repression, and broken promises. People from New Orleans have been scattered throughout the country. Most continue to battle desperately to rebuild their lives. Less than half of the pre-Katrina population lives in New Orleans now, and much of the city is still devastated. The mayor and governor have called in the National Guard to patrol what they call “wild zones” where youth whom this system has written off as having no future are trying to return to their neighborhoods and homes. Out of 128 public schools in New Orleans, only 56 will be open in the fall. Public housing projects are shut down, fenced in and boarded up. Housing and rental prices have gone through the roof, and the city is unaffordable to many of the people who had lived there before. It has come to light that it will be official policy to withhold rebuilding funds from the Black 9th Ward.
THOSE WHO ARE RESISTING MUST BE SUPPORTED. THE GOVERNMENT MUST PROVIDE DECENT HOUSING IN NEW ORLEANS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO RETURN. JUSTICE MUST BE DONE FOR THOSE MURDERED BY THE AUTHORITIES.
NEVER FORGET. . . NEVER FORGIVE!!
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.