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Reprint: Antebellum 28 August 2006

Posted by marisacat in DC Politics, Inconvenient Voice of the Voter, The Battle for New Orleans.
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This was first posted March 14, 2006

Jordan Flaherty living and working in New Orleans has written with remarkable clarity of the desperation of his city and her people in the wake of Katrina.

    
 Ninth ward, New Orleans [CNN]

Ursula Price, a staff investigator for the indigent defense organization A Fighting Chance, has met with several thousand hurricane survivors who were imprisoned at the time of the hurricane, and her stories chill me.

“I grew up in small town Mississippi,” she tells me. “We had the Klan marching down our main street. But still, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a New Orleans-based criminal justice reform coalition that Price also works with, has just released a report based on more than a hundred recent interviews with prisoners who have been locked up since pre-Katrina and are currently spread across thirteen prisons and hundreds of miles.

   

The Louisiana State Penitentiary, America’s most infamous and largest maximum security prison, known as “The Farm”. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Angola was a thriving slave plantation. After the turn of the century it was officially converted into a prison, yet very little changed:

the free labor which was originally provided from the sweat of an entirely black and slave population was then taken over by a mostly black and convict population.

They found the average number of days people had been locked up without a trial was 385 days. One person had been locked up for 1,289 days. None of them have been convicted of any crime. [...]

 According to a pre-Katrina report from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, 65% of those arrested in New Orleans are eventually released without ever having been charged with any crime.

  

Retired school teacher, Arthur Davis, and NOLA cops, October 2005

Samuel Nicholas (his friends call him Nick) was imprisoned in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) on a misdemeanor charge, and was due to be released August 31.

Instead, after a harrowing journey of several months, he was released February 1. Nick told me he still shudders when he thinks of those days in OPP.

“We heard boats leaving, and one of the guys said ‘hey man, all the deputies gone,’ Nick relates. “We took it upon ourselves to try to survive. They left us in the gym for two days with nothing. Some of those guys stayed in a cell for or five days.

People were hollering, ‘get me out, I don’t want to drown, I don’t want to die,’ we were locked in with no ventilation, no water, nothing to eat. Its just the grace of god that a lot of us survived.”

  

Lake Ponchartrain, July 10 2005, high water in the wake of Hurricane Dennis [Globe and Mail]

Benny Flowers, a friend of Nick’s from the same Central City neighborhood, was on a work release program, and locked in a different building in the sprawling OPP complex. In his building there were, by his count, about 30 incarcerated youth, some as young as 14 years old.

“I don’t know why they left the children like that. Locked up, no food, no water. Why would you do that? They couldn’t swim, most of them were scared to get into the water. We were on work release, so we didn’t have much time left. We weren’t trying to escape, we weren’t worried about ourselves, we were worried about the children.

The guards abandoned us, so we had to do it for ourselves. We made sure everyone was secured and taken care of. The deputies didn’t do nothing. It was inmates taking care of inmates, old inmates taking care of young inmates. We had to do it for ourselves.”

Benny Hitchens, another former inmate, was imprisoned for unpaid parking tickets. “They put us in a gym, about 200 of us, and they gave us three trash bags, two for defecation and one for urination. That was all we had for 200 people for two days.”

  

Slaves at work on the Indies Company plantation, across from New Orleans [Lassus, 1726]

State Department of Corrections officers eventually brought them, and thousands of other inmates, to Hunts Prison, in rural Louisiana, where evacuees were kept in a field, day and night, with no shelter and little or no food and water.

“They didn’t do us no kind of justice,” Flowers told me. “We woke up early in the morning with the dew all over us, then in the afternoon we were burning up in the summer sun. There were about 5,000 of us in three yards.”

  

Woodlawn Plantation, Louisiana 1941 [Edward Weston]

Abu Ghraib on the Mississippi

From reports that Price received, some prisoners had it worse than Oakdale. “Many prisoners were sent to Jena prison, which had been previously shut down due to the abusiveness of the staff there. I have no idea why they thought it was acceptable to reopen it with the same staff.

People were beaten, an entire room of men was forced to strip and jump up and down and make sexual gestures towards one another. I cannot describe to you the terror that the young men we spoke to conveyed to us.”

  

In 1724, Louis XV adapted the Code Noir for Louisiana. Since 1685 this code had regulated the condition of slaves in the French Islands, notably forbidding interracial marriage and sexual relations.

“We have a system that was broken before Katrina,” Price tells me, “that was then torn apart, and is waiting to be rebuilt. Four thousand people are still in prison, waiting for this to be repaired.

There’s a young man, I speak to his mother every day, who has been in the hole since the storm, and is being abused daily. This boy is 19 years old, and not very big, and he has no lawyer. His mother doesn’t know what to do, and without her son having council [sic], I don’t know what to tell her.”

  

September 1970 raid on Black Panther offices, across from the Desire Housing Project, est. population, 20,000. Moon Landrieu was mayor of NO at the time. Link*

I asked Price what has to happen to fix this system. “First, we establish who was left behind, collect their stories and substantiate them.

Next, we’re going to organize among the inmates and former inmates to change the system. The inmates are going to have a voice in what happens in our criminal justice system.

  

Untitled, from the One Big Self, Prisoners of Louisiana series, 1999, silver emulsion on aluminum [Deborah Luster]

If you ask anyone living in New Orleans, the police, the justice system, may be the single most influential element in poor communities.

Its what beaks up families, its what keeps people poor.”

Amen to that…

* Link is to online facsimile of the Black Panther newsletter of June, 1971.

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August 28, 2006

A current report from Jordan Green of Facing South (link goes to a slew of reports on post Katrina Gulf Coast issues)… via Counterpunch, on the corporate thievery from FEMA and other recovery funds, in some cases not delivering on contract work… but, you got it, being paid anyway – and really, it is all thievery from those who suffered, survived and want to return to NOLA, SELA and the Gulf Coast:

[W]hile the government’s Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force has focused attention on fraud by emergency assistance recipients, instances of corporate contract and procurement fraud have been documented at 50 times that amount.

A review of congressional testimony and other documents by Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch found a total of at least $136.7 million in corporate fraud in Katrina-related contracts. In addition, government investigators have highlighted contracts cumulatively valued at $428.7 million that they found troubling because of lack of agency oversight or misappropriation.

Some of the contractors failed to meet their obligations, and charged the government for work that was never performed. Taking advantage of inadequate oversight, some private companies inflated costs. It was also the case that the government, most notably FEMA under the leadership of former Director Michael Brown, withheld crucial resources from the hardest hit areas of the Gulf Coast, and failed to establish efficient supply lines and points of distribution for ice, water, meals-ready-to-eat and other essentials. The contractors could lay the blame at the feet of the feds, and vice versa.  [snip]

Listening to the panels on New Orleans and Katrina today on Cspan… Douglas Brinkley  mentioned that Brown is attempting to sell himself to St Bernard Parish as a post disaster expert.  Well, why fuss.  Absolute failure is well rewarded in America.

   LA Times = Molina - August 18, 06

‘WE’RE INSIDE PEOPLE NOW': Renee Daw, 43, looks at debris left near her home in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood. She and her 8-year-old son, who have lived in a FEMA trailer in front of their damaged house since April, are the only residents on their block. “We mostly just stay in the trailer,” she says.(Genaro Molina / LAT)  Aug 19, 2006

From Facing South:  One Year later:  The Search for Shelter

[H]omeowners have yet to receive one dime from Louisiana’s “Road Home” plan or Mississippi’s equivalent program. Public housing tenants are faring the worst — although the 38,000 public housing units in New Orleans weren’t badly effected by the storm, HUD officials spent $1.5 million to barricade them so the poor couldn’t come back.  [snip]

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UPDATE, 7:20 pm

From Facing SouthOne year after Katrina, how is the Gulf doing?

In our new report, “One Year after Katrina,” the Institute concludes that the Gulf Coast recovery has “failed,” and that lack of leadership and misplaced priorities at the federal level are to blame.

Those findings are based on over 250 statistical indicators and over 50 status reports, in-depth investigations, and profiles of community leaders.

Are we being too negative? Isn’t media coverage filled with stories about “signs of progress and hope” in the Gulf? Well, let’s ask the people who have been affected.

According to an ABC News poll of Gulf Coast residents, our findings are in line with how they view the situation. [...]

This was one of the gravest tragedies in our country’s history. The people affected definitely feel they have been left behind. Congress and the White House haven’t even moved to officially acknowledge August 29, 2006, in any official way — not even a painless resolution.

I caught Michael Brown on Hardball with Norah O’Donnell.  She propped him up… and he is working for St Bernard Parish.  Says he saw it all from the inside and can help.  Well, Good Luck to them.  When the tax payers catch their breath – and they may never – they should sue the city fathers for fiduciary incompetence.  I doubt Brownie donated his services.

He was not the only one on view over the past few days.  Past few years is more accurate, because, really, Katrina and Rita merely intruded on what has been going on, all along. 

I have heard enough white mouths speak the language of lies, evasion, misplaced blame to last the rest of my life. 

In an appearance before the conservative Mercatus Institute at George Mason University, Varney, and editor at the Times-Picayune said the people at the Dome and the Convention Center were safe and lived (and should be thankful) and only ”acted up” when the cameras arrived.

The saddest of all was a panel of 4 on The News Hour, 3 black faces and a white, Reilly. 

 I’m joined by Calvin Mackie, engineering professor and member of the board of the Louisiana Recovery Authority; Sean Reilly, chairman of the state and the legislative task force of the Louisiana Recovery Authority; Benjamin Jaffe, director of Preservation Hall and the leader of the Musician Hurricane Relief Fund; and Senator Ann Duplessis, a member of the State Senate of Louisiana, representing the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East.

One, Benjamin Jaffe who leads the venerable Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, said, for the first time in his life, he is not hopeful for the future of the City.  The white man, evaded and prevaricated.  It was an appalling display.

RAY SUAREZ: Sean Reilly, you wanted to jump in?

SEAN REILLY, Louisiana Recovery Authority: Well, you know, when people ask me about the pace of the recovery, what I’m encouraging people to do is re-reflect. Yes, let’s learn the lessons. Let’s see perhaps where perhaps we made mistakes. We can make mid-course corrections.

But at the end of the day, let’s remember that what we’re about is rebuilding a great American city, about re-establishing a southern half of a state that got absolutely devastated. And if we start saying that it’s the fed’s fault or the state’s fault or the city’s fault, you know, that’s really not going to be a dialogue that’s going to get us anywhere.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, but on the other hand, isn’t a necessary part to hold people accountable who made promises to electorates, who made promises to jurisdictions, and in the view of those jurisdictions, haven’t kept those promises?

SEAN REILLY: Well, absolutely. And, you know, first and foremost, when you’re talking about New Orleans, you need to talk about safety and levees. And, you know, it’s taken us a long time to get to a place where we could hold the Army Corps of Engineers accountable for what happened to this city.

I think history will reflect that this was not a natural disaster, actually; this was a manmade disaster; this was an engineering failure. And when you reflect on that as a root cause, then it brings you to a different place, in terms of solutions and in terms of, you know, how do you bring this city back in a safe way? How do you get people to understand where the dangers are and get them out of harm’s way?

And of all things C-span, today, ran a panel of Ogletree with Bill Cosby and an assemblage of black leaders, academics etc.  I had to turn it off.

It was just too much. 

RAY SUAREZ: Ben Jaffe, what has to happen from here on out?

BEN JAFFE: There’s a lot that needs to happen. And I’m a little — I continue to be frustrated, because the conversation that we’re having now is the same conversation that we’ve been having all year. There is a lot of planning that needs to still take place. There’s a lot of planning that needed to take place that didn’t get done, a lot of work that didn’t get done.

I don’t necessarily know what needs to happen. I do know that, if we don’t address the situation here, that we will lose a culture that is responsible for one of the most amazing treasures that we have in the United States. We’re the city that gave birth to jazz.

You know, we’re a beat-down people right now. We have all suffered for a year. Psychologically, the toll that it has taken on us is amazing. Every day we wake up, it’s not like one day we wake up and it’s better than yesterday. It’s a little bit better. Maybe there’s less trash on your corner.

And it’s a real fear of mine, it’s a real fear for the first time in my life — I’m not optimistic about the future of this city. And that really breaks my heart, because if there has ever been a cheerleader that has yelled louder than anyone about New Orleans, it’s been me.

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Comments»

1. TustonDAZ - 28 August 2006

New Waveland Cafe and Market, Waveland, MS
Welcome Home Cafe, NOLA

Within a week of Katrina Rainbow Tribe members showed up in NOLA to help. They quickly realized that their were many outlaying areas that were receiving no help and set out for Waveland, MS and set up a kitchen that ended up serving 4K people 3 meals daily almost immediately. They left later in the fall, but then came back quickly (a brouhaha with the mayor, iirc) and second group has set up another kitchen in a downtown NOLA park and both are still operating today.

Here’s a local news link about the Rainbows from last september Link

When I went to the Rainbow Tribes Annual North American Gathering in Colorado this year many of the folks who were integral to the efforts in Waveland and/or NOLA were singled out for harrasment by Federal Law Enforcement. Its true that since our inception in ’72 the Forrest Service says we’re having an illegal gathering, and we say we’re excercising our constitutional right to peaceably assemble but they stepped up their erradication efforts this year by several notches, and many so-called “secret leaders” got tickets for “illegal gathering” and various other sundry misdemeanors.

BTW most of these “secret leaders” were very involved with orgainizing the tribe’s relief efforts in Waveland and NOLA.

I am the main focalizer for a kitchen, a “secret leader” if you will, and though I didn’t make it to Waveland, the cops came to my camp this summer for me…fortunately I was able to slip away into the crowd of assembled hippies everytime the Fed’s came by to ticket me and they failed to notice the 200lbs of sprouted hemp seeds(for food not cannabis) that someone anonymous donated to the cause…

In any case I think that Katrina aftermath is but a minor bit of foreshadowing of the catastrophes to come and that what our government can’t do the People will…

2. CSTAR - 28 August 2006

On rebuilding after a disaster. This morning’s financial times has an interesting article on rebuilding in South Beirut.

Despite the widespread belief that Iran is the main financial backer of the Shia group, which has paid as much as $12,000 in compensation to families whose houses were destroyed, Mr Allaik insists that each Hizbollah association is self-financed and relies on individual donations from sympathisers.

Mr Allaik says about 1,000 professionals are now working with his organisation, most of them volunteer engineers. Construction Jihad has appealed for more help through newspaper advertisements and on al-Manar, Hizbollah’s television station.

My only comment here is that this isn’t the behaviour of an organization that that suffers “the suicide or martyrdom complex that plagues parts of the Islamic world today, without parallel in other religions, or for that matter in the Islamic past” as claimed by Bernard Lewis in what has to be one his whackiest pieces yet a few weeks ago in the WSJ.

3. marisacat - 28 August 2006

hmmm.

I have said for two years that Krempasky of Red State is the smarter operative, by far.

All that damned slobberation at Dkos in spring and summer of 05, and forever after, over the RI race… Laffey v Chafee… Kos pretending Langevin had ever really entered the race, slamming women and pro choice for months over opposing Langevin, slamming NARAL for months (I am on the record about NARAL National and Nancy Keenan, a MT Red State Dem basically a flunky for the party at NARAL IMO), rude and vicious about women on and on and on.

A few weeks ago I read that Laffey, a very conservative town mayor with no voting record to show how conservative on social issues, is supported not only by Club for Growth but also by AIPAC.

I think wittle Kos danced to Krempasky’s music. He surely is today.

Redstate’s Mike Krempasky is already seeing red (pardon the pun) over the NRSC’s anti-Laffey spending.

This is what your money is being spent on – attack ads on behalf of Lincoln Chafee. Give me a break. We’re fighting on enough fronts to keep the Senate – and this is what Liddy Dole sees as a priority. No wonder their fundraising is in the tank. If Republicans want to make a real statement about their committment to winning elections, they ought to yank her BEFORE election day. Period.

Krempasky wrote that before the NRSC redirected half of their national staff to Rhode Island. I’m sure he’ll be particularly pleased at that bit of news.

Music to Baby Kos’s ears. LOL. It is not up to Liddy Dole. It is up to Rove. As both Krempasky and Kos know very well.

4. TustonDAZ - 28 August 2006

Well, this is a little OT, but hey, its definetely racist…

AZCentral.com

Border Patrol agent fatally shoots man rock-throwing man

Associated Press
Aug. 28, 2006 07:05 AM

YUMA – The Border Patrol said an agent fatally shot a man who was throwing rocks at him from the Mexican side of the border late Saturday night near Yuma.

Agent Lloyd Easterling said a suspected undocumented immigrant ran from authorities and tried to swim a pond along the Colorado River to get back to Mexico, but started floundering.

As agents tried to save him, men on the Mexican side of the border started throwing rocks and hit an agent. The agent then shot a man who was about to throw another rock.

Mexican authorities took the man to a hospital, where he died

Yeah, sticks and stones may break bones but a .45 slug will kill quicker than sidewinder on asphalt in july…thank white Jesus that every BP vehicle has fully automatic assault rifles ready just in case those pinchewets get slingshots …

5. gong - 28 August 2006

Murder is worse than kidnapping, right?

It’s just that your story brings to mind recently-popular ideas about legitimate responses to cross-border kidnappings, Tuston.

6. TustonDAZ - 28 August 2006

yeah, I’d say murder is worse than kidnapping…but Mexicans throwing stones is defintely up-there with child rape/murder, right?

That is of course unless the girl is a14 year old Iraqi and then its all good.

7. gong - 28 August 2006

Hmm, throwing stones at armed men. I’ve heard that one somewhere before.

The Border Patrol don’t use tanks, do they?

8. TustonDAZ - 28 August 2006

the ‘migra only have armored SUV’s but all patrol cars have full auto M-16s and some of the trucks have the .50 caliber M-60’s…I haven’t seen a “real” tank yet but the NG just showed up last month so we can all hope…

All snarking aside, gong, you are absolutely correct in noticing the paralells between Palestine and the US/Mex Border; we’ve even got the drones and my house gets buzzed regularly by army helicopters sporting air to ground missles…

9. marisacat - 28 August 2006

well as they ramp up the drones. soon to be weaponised I am sure, they will need tanks just to protect them from….

…..

FRIENDLY FIRE.

LOL.

10. Madman in the Marketplace - 28 August 2006

What the hell are they doing with M-60’s?!?! WHY do they need a heavy weapon like that?

11. TustonDAZ - 28 August 2006

The M-60’s are just in case Poncho Villa returns from the grave and to keep our country free of meceganation of race and culture of course…

When you consider that civilian police forces are required to undergo extensive training to be eligible to operate assault rifles and the BP hands out .50 caliber Machine Gunz to guys who can’t get on a regular police force let alone a SWATteam…FYI many of the BP agents use the BP as a springboard to gain entry to civilian police forces they couldn’t get hired on before joining up; the BP has a huge turnover rate…

12. marisacat - 28 August 2006

That’s America. Popups and TUrnovers.

LOL. After 9/11 it came out that some smallish EU country, god Belgium I think (tho Brussels would be angry to be diminished) has 400 percent less turn over of their airport security gate personnel. And they pay them something like twice or three times what we do. Better benefits… hmm might even be a form of Civil Service job… certainly is not randomly privatised… outsourced. Mismanaged. And whatever else..

BUT! Not for us.

Popups, turnovers and whatever else is half baked. Pop tarts. I knew there was a third “thing”…

We just are not a serious adult people. Not at all.

13. JJB - 29 August 2006

Last year, shortly after Katrina, I saw a news report on how Florida had not yet cleaned up the extraordinary amount of debris left over from the hurricanes that hit that state in 2004, and that there were still thousands of people living either in trailers or their cars/trucks waiting for the aid to rebuild their houses. With another big strorm about to hit Florida, I wonder what the situation is like there at this point? Hard to believe the Bush brothers care enough to have exerted any effort to finally get this done.

We are rapidly sinking to the level the USSR reached in its final decade. What’s really depressing is how little outrage there is over this. You’d think there would be mobs of people, not just in New Orleans, but in Mississippi and Florida, screaming at Bush to get things fixed. Instead, there’s just a fatalistic shrugging of shoulders. It’s as if our society is giving up the will to live.

14. marisacat - 29 August 2006

JJB, the report I read on FL said most of the people still trapped in trailers (with little access to city services, transportation, jobs fairs etc) faced EVICTIONS.

SOme one year dead line.

And the tenuousness of peoples’ lives for extended periods of time is just too debilitating. IMO.

Suicide rate is up 300 % in NO… has to be the same, or close, thru the Gulf Coast.

15. JJB - 29 August 2006

Evictions? Good god, and this is a place the Bush Boys consider their political base, to be fattened with a steady supply of pork. They don’t treat it much different than a place they don’t care about, i.e., New Orleans.

16. CSTAR - 29 August 2006

Illegal immigrants and rebuilding. Do a google search on keywords “Hispanic construction New Orleans”. Although anybody in the US that has been through a storm causing widespread roof damage knows this: The workers that climb on the roofs and reshingle all speak spanish.
From an article in “El Guapo” well before Katrina

He and others are part of a historic shift to Hispanic from white construction workers that has brought prosperity to some immigrants and helped support the region’s building boom.

His immigrant dream is not to have a big house in the American suburbs, but to earn enough money to return to Guatemala and start a business with his brother. That’s partly because he misses Guatemala and partly because the U.S. crackdown on illegal immigrants makes him angry.

17. wu ming - 29 August 2006

the cynical shrugging of shoulders was a big part of the collapse of the soviet union too, JJB. less mass movement outrage than tired resignation and retreat into alcoholism, for most people. similar in pre-kosovo war serbia too, from what i remember reading.

18. Nanette - 29 August 2006

If you ask anyone living in New Orleans, the police, the justice system, may be the single most influential element in poor communities.

Its what beaks up families, its what keeps people poor.”

This reminded me of a news report in the aftermath of Katrina of NO police, and I think possibly sheriffs as well, finally going out in boats to pick people up… maybe not in the 9th ward, but in some primarly Black area. Anyway, in the report I saw, some people just absolutely refused to get in the boats. They’d go with firefighters or national guard or others who were doing pickups, but they refused to go with the police.

I know many people who don’t trust police forces in general, and certainly some cops in particular, but can you imagine being so afraid and distrustful of your city police force that you would rather stay in what is a very dangerous situation and hope someone else comes along, rather than get into a boat with the cops?

Sounds more like some sort of Central American dictatorship country.

Also, that’s not the first time someone has been killed for throwing stones over the border. Not many months ago, an 18 year old was shot as well, on the Mexico side of the fence. He made it almost back to his parents house, from what I remember, before he died. The border patrol officer said that the stone throwing caused him to “fear for his life”.

IDF trained, no doubt.

19. CSTAR - 29 August 2006

Re: Sounds more like some sort of Central American dictatorship country

Let’s be specific. Guatemala under Efraín Ríos Montt (personal friend of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) and evangelical minister. Montt is a killer.

but they refused to go with the police. Replace african-american by indigenous. La misma vaina.

20. Nanette - 29 August 2006

I wasn’t familiar with Montt, had to look him up. Of course he was also our (the US’s) “good friend and ally” and graduate of the School of the Americas.

Sigh. It’s just unimaginable, some of the things that have been done with full knowledge and approval of our government. And increasingly, as the stuff becomes known, with full approval of much of the US populace, as long as there is some benefit in it and it serves “US interests”.

Many more chickens are on their way home to roost, I’m thinking.


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