Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Oppression in the Wake of Katrina
Democracy Now had a segment called New Orleans Evacuees and Activists Testify at Explosive House Hearing on the Role of Race and Class in Government's Response to Hurricane Katrina. Here is a little from it. While the transcript doesn't show it, the hearing seemed shockingly empty and unattended, particularly up in the "official" seats. All emphasis added.
AMY GOODMAN: We'll turn now to excerpts from that hearing. We hear first from Ishmael Muhammad, an attorney for the Advancement Project, part of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund.
ISHMAEL MUHAMMAD: The purpose of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition is to insure that those who have suffered the most before, during and after Katrina, and whose voices have been historically disregarded, are empowered to be heard and take charge of the monies being raised in their names, the reconstruction of their communities, and the repairing of their lives. Therefore, the testimony that I'm going to give today, on behalf of the legal work that we're doing and on behalf of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition, will be from those voices. And we urge all of you to seek out those voices that we cannot bring you today.
Denise, a 42-year-old black woman from New Orleans, interned in the Convention Center, reports, “I thought I was in hell. I was there for two days with no water, no food and no shelter, with my 63-year-old mother, 21-year-old niece and two-year-old grandniece and thousands of others. Police would not come out of their cars. National Guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, with soldiers with guns cocked and aiming at us. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter dropped a load of water, but all of the bottles exploded on impact. Many people were delirious from lack of water and food, completely dehydrated. Inside the Convention Center, conditions were horrible. The floors were black and slick with feces. Outside wasn't much better, between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, and old and very young dying from dehydration. There were young men with guns there, who organized the crowd and got food and water for the old people and babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When buses came, it was those men who got the crowd in order. Old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. Many people decided to walk across the bridge to the west bank, but armed police ordered them to turn around at the top of the bridge. The first day, four people died next to me, the second day, six. Make sure you tell everybody,” she said, “that they left us there to die.”
Nicole, a young black woman from New Orleans, who was interned in the Superdome, states, "We survived despite being abandoned by federal, state and local government. Black families with children and no money were the majority in the Superdome. I noticed only 5% of people were not black and they were mostly unfortunate white and Asian tourists. While waiting in line behind a barricade for 18 hours to board a bus away from the Superdome, I noticed a group of tourists, three white and two Asian people, rushed quietly out one side of the barricade that held thousands of exhausted, financially underprivileged black families with babies. The looting was people's main rebellion, because it was hotter than Satan's oven in the Dome and people wanted cold drinks, ice, anything cold. The National Guard did not serve or protect. They were constantly threatening us and herding us by machine guns like cows. I saw a teenage boy beaten up by a National Guard officer in front of a crowd of thousands of people. The National Guard was disorganized. They did not try to instill order to the chaos of ration distribution. Nobody ever knew when or where food was given out, and people stood in line for hours. I was alone and female. Many of the older men and women were protective of me in the Superdome. Nobody really laid a hand on me, except for a white police officer, Officer Hall, badge 185 or 158 (I wish I could remember). He grabbed my booty in Texas during a 3:00 a.m. bus search, while we were on the way to Dallas. The U.S. is the richest country in the world. I don't understand why so many people would have to die in Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. has the money to evacuate people in a disaster, especially one that has been awaited for a number of years.”
Shelly, a 31-year-old who was trapped in the Superdome, adds, "When buses came to take us from the Superdome, they were taking tourists first. White people, they were just picking them out of the crowd. I don't know why we were treated the way we were. But it was like they didn't care.”
Alva, a 51-year-old grandmother from New Orleans East, remembers, “When we were taken to the higher ground in Jefferson Parish, what did we have to greet us? A line of military police with M-16 rifles. They watched us, caged us, laughed at us, took pictures of us with their camera-phones. I saw a young man get down on his knees and beg for water for his little baby, and I saw the child die right there on the concrete. This was murder. They wanted us dead. They just didn't think so many of us would survive."
Tammy, a black woman in her mid-30s, complains, “I was trying to evacuate with my two daughters by car, when we were stopped by police, made to get out and told, ‘Lie down on the ground, you black monkey bitch.’ I was arrested and thrown in jail with my daughters and could not get out for several weeks.”
John, a New Orleans resident displaced at the Houston Astrodome, says, “I was in the Astrodome and told to move from the bleachers to the field on the lower area, but I refused because I had seen dead bodies down there and I was with some of my 12 children in the upstairs area. There were just too many unsafe issues down there. I was forced to leave the stadium. Me and my family were taken out at rifle-point.”
Agnes, a 70-something-year-old Creole woman who was a resident of Iberville Public Housing Development; Maybell, a woman in her late-70s, a longtime resident of St. Bernard Public Housing Development; Joseph and Cynthia, who are residents of B.W. Cooper Public Housing Development; and Alberta, who is a resident of Lafitte Public Housing Development, have all been displaced, and all are wondering why they have to be locked out of their public housing residence when their homes have received little to no flooding and are habitable.
These stories illustrate that these are the people who need to be heard, because their stories illustrate the failures of the government on every level.