Katrina survivors charge racism

Four African American New Orleans residents told a House committee Dec. 6 that they felt a sense of abandonment from all levels of government when Hurricane Katrina hit. The survivors said that racism contributed to the slow disaster response.

Evacuees described being trapped in temporary shelters where one New Orleans resident said she was “one sunrise from being consumed by maggots and flies.” Another woman said troops focused machine gun laser targets on her granddaughter’s forehead. Others said their families were called racial epithets by police.

“No one is going to tell me it wasn’t a race issue,” said evacuee Patricia Thompson, 53, who is living in College Station, Texas. “Yes, it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: When the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was Black.”

Residents to mayor: ‘Don’t shut us out!’

Almost 300 Katrina evacuees showed up at a town hall meeting in Dallas, Dec. 6, called by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. But neither Nagin nor any other city official attended the meeting, except for “Bring New Orleans Back” commission member Anthony Patton.

Storm evacuees complained about lack of information and voiced concerns over environmental contamination of neighborhoods and resentment at continued billing by electric utility provider Entergy.

“The mayor and his commission are proposing to shut us out. It is undemocratic!” said Katie Neeson, a New Orleans resident.

Alma Watkins, a lifelong resident of the Gentilly community, cares for her 91-year-old mother and a disabled son. “I had a community garden across the street. I had an accessible home.” Responding to the plea to “come back to New Orleans,” Watkins exclaimed, “I never wanted to leave!”

Lawless landlords stopped on evictions

On Nov. 22, tenants won a court stay of all evictions in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, pending mail notification to addresses provided by FEMA and hearings 45 days later.

“There is basically lawlessness with regard to landlords,” Judith Browne, an attorney with Advancement Project and Grassroots Legal Network, told a Dec. 6 press conference. “We are seeing market forces at their worst: people are being evicted with the last of their belongings being thrown out to the street.” At least 15,000 people have been put out of their homes. The stay has stopped 30,000 more evictions.

The press conference, organized by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, also announced a Dec. 8-9 People’s Assembly in Jackson, Miss., to flesh out a program of rebuilding demands for Gulf Coast residents. On Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the group will march in New Orleans to demand the “right to return.”

Gulf Coast Update is compiled by Terrie Albano (talbano@pww.org). Lisa Casey Perry contributed to this week’s update.