Saturday, September 03, 2005

This is Criminal

This is Criminal
Report from New Orleans
by Malik Rahim

[Note: Malik Rahim, a veteran of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans,
for decades an organizer of public housing tenants both there and in San
Francisco and a recent Green Party candidate for New Orleans City
Council, lives in the Algiers neighborhood, the only part of New Orleans
that is not flooded. They have no power, but the water is still good and
the phones work. Their neighborhood could be sheltering and feeding at
least 40,000 refugees, he says, but they are allowed to help no one.
What he describes is nothing less than deliberate genocide against Black
and poor people.]

New Orleans, Sept. 1, 2005 -- It's criminal. From what you're hearing,
the people trapped in New Orleans are nothing but looters. We're told we
should be more "neighborly." But nobody talked about being neighborly
until after the people who could afford to leave -- left.

If you ain't got no money in America, you're on your own. People were
told to go to the Superdome, but they have no food, no water there. And
before they could get in, people had to stand in line for 4-5 hours in
the rain because everybody was being searched one by one at the
entrance.

I can understand the chaos that happened after the tsunami, because they
had no warning, but here there was plenty of warning. In the three days
before the hurricane hit, we knew it was coming and everyone could have
been evacuated.

We have Amtrak here that could have carried everybody out of town. There
were enough school buses that could have evacuated 20,000 people easily,
but they just let them be flooded. My son watched 40 buses go underwater
- they just wouldn't move them, afraid they'd be stolen.

People who could afford to leave were so afraid someone would steal what
they own that they just let it all be flooded. They could have let a
family without a vehicle borrow their extra car, but instead they left
it behind to be destroyed.

There are gangs of white vigilantes near here riding around in pickup
trucks, all of them armed, and any young Black they see who they figure
doesn't belong in their community, they shoot him. I tell them, "Stop!
You're going to start a riot."

When you see all the poor people with no place to go, feeling alone and
helpless and angry, I say this is a consequence of HOPE VI. New Orleans
took all the HUD money it could get to tear down public housing, and
families and neighbors who'd relied on each other for generations were
uprooted and torn apart.

Most of the people who are going through this now had already lost touch
with the only community they'd ever known. Their community was torn down
and they were scattered. They'd already lost their real homes, the only
place where they knew everybody, and now the places they've been staying
are destroyed.

But nobody cares. They're just lawless looters ... dangerous.

The hurricane hit at the end of the month, the time when poor people are
most vulnerable. Food stamps don't buy enough but for about three weeks
of the month, and by the end of the month everyone runs out. Now they
have no way to get their food stamps or any money, so they just have to
take what they can to survive.

Many people are getting sick and very weak. From the toxic water that
people are walking through, little scratches and sores are turning into
major wounds.

People whose homes and families were not destroyed went into the city
right away with boats to bring the survivors out, but law enforcement
told them they weren't needed. They are willing and able to rescue
thousands, but they're not allowed to.

Every day countless volunteers are trying to help, but they're turned
back. Almost all the rescue that's been done has been done by volunteers
anyway.

My son and his family - his wife and kids, ages 1, 5 and 8 - were
flooded out of their home when the levee broke. They had to swim out
until they found an abandoned building with two rooms above water level.


There were 21 people in those two rooms for a day and a half. A guy in a
boat who just said "I'm going to help regardless" rescued them and took
them to Highway I-10 and dropped them there.

They sat on the freeway for about three hours, because someone said
they'd be rescued and taken to the Superdome. Finally they just started
walking, had to walk six and a half miles.

When they got to the Superdome, my son wasn't allowed in - I don't know
why - so his wife and kids wouldn't go in. They kept walking, and they
happened to run across a guy with a tow truck that they knew, and he
gave them his own personal truck.

When they got here, they had no gas, so I had to punch a hole in my gas
tank to give them some gas, and now I'm trapped. I'm getting around by
bicycle.

People from Placquemine Parish were rescued on a ferry and dropped off
on a dock near here. All day they were sitting on the dock in the hot
sun with no food, no water. Many were in a daze; they've lost
everything.

They were all sitting there surrounded by armed guards. We asked the
guards could we bring them water and food. My mother and all the other
church ladies were cooking for them, and we have plenty of good water.

But the guards said, "No. If you don't have enough water and food for
everybody, you can't give anything." Finally the people were hauled off
on school buses from other parishes.

You know Robert King Wilkerson (the only one of the Angola 3 political
prisoners who's been released). He's been back in New Orleans working
hard, organizing, helping people. Now nobody knows where he is. His
house was destroyed. Knowing him, I think he's out trying to save lives,
but I'm worried.

The people who could help are being shipped out. People who want to
stay, who have the skills to save lives and rebuild are being forced to
go to Houston.

It's not like New Orleans was caught off guard. This could have been
prevented.

There's military right here in New Orleans, but for three days they
weren't even mobilized. You'd think this was a Third World country.

I'm in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, the only part that isn't
flooded. The water is good. Our parks and schools could easily hold
40,000 people, and they're not using any of it.

This is criminal. These people are dying for no other reason than the
lack of organization.

Everything is needed, but we're still too disorganized. I'm asking
people to go ahead and gather donations and relief supplies but to hold
on to them for a few days until we have a way to put them to good use.

I'm challenging my party, the Green Party, to come down here and help us
just as soon as things are a little more organized. The Republicans and
Democrats didn't do anything to prevent this or plan for it and don't
seem to care if everyone dies.


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