- August 29, 2005, a day of infamy remembered less for
the storm, catastrophic floods and destruction, and more as a metaphor
for disaster capitalism, exploiting security threats, "terror"
attacks, economic meltdowns, and "natural" disasters like Katrina.
- It turned this aging senior into a writer and radio host,
furious over federal, state and local authorities using it to reward business
at the expense of New Orleans' poor Blacks. Five years later, their lives
remain in disarray through no fault of their own.
- Levies protecting their neighborhoods were left weak,
vulnerable to fail as they did, then Congressman Richard Baker (R. LA)
saying, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't
do it but God did," with considerable willful negligence help.
- Malik Rahim, (New Orleans) Common Ground Relief (CGR)
- "They wanted them poor niggers out of there and
they ain't had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers,
you know? And that's just the bottom line."
- Blank is beautiful. Ethnic cleansing was long-planned,
the scheme, of course, to erase poor neighborhoods, replacing them with
upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice city land, New
Orleans developer Joseph Canizaro saying, "we (now) have a clean (slate)
to start (over and take advantage of) big opportunities."
- A year later, an affected resident spoke for many saying:
- "They('re) just messing all over us. Putting me
out of our own house. We (try going) back and when we get there they got
the police there putting us out....they ain't letting nobody in....but
where (am I) going to go - me and my kids?"
- Rahim calls New Orleans two cities, one "for the
white and rich, (the other) for the poor and Blacks. (The former) recovered.
They had a Jazz Fest....a Mardi Gras....But for those who haven't recovered,
there's nothing." Most haven't been allowed back. Their neighborhoods
were stolen for development, Katrina a chance to wage class warfare against
them, no match for predators turning tragedy into profit.
- It's a familiar pattern nationwide and in war zones like
Iraq and Afghanistan, commerce following the flag abroad and exploiting
natural disasters at home, complicit politicians easing "free market"
solutions for the privileged.
- Though no match against dark, entrenched forces, Rahim's
Common Ground Relief fought back. Founded right after Katrina in the Lower
9th Ward, it's a volunteer not-for-profit organization running numerous
projects, including new home construction, free medical and legal help,
education for school children, community gardening, a women's shelter,
job training, wetlands restoration, food security and environmental science.
- By mobilizing people to work together against long odds,
it provides hope through "short term relief for victims (and) long
term support in rebuilding" destroyed communities. In the Lower 9th
alone, 14,000 people and 4,800 homes were affected, most residents with
longstanding neighborhood roots, enjoying "the highest percentage
of African American home ownership of any city" in America. Losing
them meant "the disappearance of (their) major asset, economic livelihood
and, as a result, their future."
- Bill Quigley is a longtime activist/Law Professor, Center
for Constitutional Rights Legal Director, and former Loyola University,
New Orleans Director of the Law Clinic and Gillis Long Poverty Law Center.
- Three years post-Katrina, his aftermath assessment was
disturbing but unsurprising, including:
- -- renters getting no financial aid;
- -- rental homes not repaired;
- -- unaffordable housing for poor and low income people
because rents, on average, rose 46%;
- -- no rebuilding plans for destroyed public housing;
- -- thousands of poor neighborhood homes demolished to
prevent residents from returning;
- -- half the city's public schools destroyed, replaced
by privatized ones; today, 75% are for-profit, favoring Whites, shutting
- -- all unionized city school employees fired, then selectively
rehired for less pay and few or no benefits;
- -- displaced Blacks entirely disenfranchised;
- -- four of the 13 city Planning Districts as much at
flood risk as before Katrina;
- -- only 11% of Lower 9th families returned, the community
formerly one of the richest culturally, now destroyed by design; today
about 20% are back;
- -- 25% of hospitals gone and 38% fewer beds available;
- -- thousands still living in temporary trailers; many
others displaced across other states, still unable to return;
- -- 72,000 vacant, ruined or unoccupied houses;
- -- the city's Black population reduced by half;
- -- thousands of their children never returned to public
- -- new hurricane protection construction barely started,
and much more, the city wrecked for corporate predators, the poor exploited
- In his early August article titled, "Katrina Pain
Index 2010 New Orleans," Quigley, Davida Finger and Lance Hill updated
the disturbing picture, saying:
- "....tens of thousands of (New Orleans) homes....remain
vacant or blighted. Tens of thousands of African American children who
were in the public schools (aren't) back, nor have their parents been able
to return." The metro area lost over 140,000 people, the city itself
over 100,000. "Thousands of elderly and displaced people (were affected).
Affordable housing" is in short supply, poor and low income people
forced either to pay up or do without.
- Displaced residents were scattered across the country,
in as many as 5,500 cities, "the largest concentrations in Houston,
Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio." Most are women. "A third earn
less than $20,000 a year" - for a family of four, it's below the Census
Bureau's $22,000 poverty threshold and well below minimum needs in any
US metropolitan area.
- In addition, one fourth of area housing is either vacant
or blighted, "by far the highest" US rate. As a result, about
58% of city renters and 45% of suburban ones pay "more than 35 percent
of (their) income on housing." Above 30% is unaffordable, forcing
families to do without, including for essentials like enough nutritious
food and health care, less available to poor people throughout the country,
especially in New Orleans where the official poverty rate is double the
national average. The unofficial one is even higher, given the indifference
to Blacks communities five years post-Katrina.
- In greater New Orleans, everything they need is in short
supply, including schools, medical care, jobs, public assistance, and affordable
housing, the number of public apartments down 75%. Destroying them was
planned, upscale properties intended for well off White folks. Blacks aren't
- The same holds for schools, mostly privatized, 85% of
their students White in a formerly Black majority city. No longer, and
a result, less public ones accommodate 43% fewer students, poor Blacks
most affected. They also get less public assistance, fewer social services
overall, or none at all.
- The entire region was affected, nearly 100,000 square
miles of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama communities destroyed or heavily
damaged. Over one million people were permanently displaced. Hundreds of
thousands lost everything, compounded by the spring Gulf disaster, the
greatest ever environmental crime, potentially affecting the lives and
livelihoods of millions.
- Billions of dollars in promised aid never arrived, going
instead for luxury hotels, casinos, private clubs, the oil industry and
gentrification, the polite term for dispossessing poor communities, replacing
them with upscale ones for the rich and well off, a similar pattern across
the country, especially impacting Blacks and Latinos. They're victimized
by class warfare under Democrat and Republican administrations, destroying
the lives of millions. An uncaring nation left them on their own and out
- New Orleans is a metaphor for as bad as it gets, poor
Black communities devastated and ignored, most of the two hardest hit still
uninhabited - the Lower 9th and St. Bernard Parish back to less than one
fourth of pre-Katrina levels.
- After it hit, FEMA provided 120,000 trailers throughout
the region. Now, they're gone, sold at public auction, some to families
using them. On August 20, Newsweek said only 860 Louisiana families were
still accommodated, excluding buyers still in theirs.
- Getting no federal, state or local help, others now pay
unaffordable rents, live in destroyed or damaged houses, double up with
relatives, or go homeless, the numbers twice the pre-Katrina rate, south
Louisiana's social infrastructure gutted to displace Blacks for preferred
- Even New Orleans levee rebuilding isn't finished, the
Army Corps of Engineers estimating completion by late summer or early fall
2011 at the earliest. Some experts say the new system still won't protect
adequately against another major hurricane.
- Post-Katrina, New Orleans bears testimony to a callous,
uncaring nation. "America the beautiful" is for the privileged
alone - no one else, especially people of color, the poor and disadvantaged,
"The Big Easy" their ground zero.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
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