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You Heard It Here!

October 2006 issue of the Greensboro Times

Hurricane Katrina Revisited: Twenty-first Century Lynching and Land-stealing

By Richard A. Koritz

At the end of June, on behalf of Open Hand Publishing, LLC, I traveled to Houston, Texas to meet and work with Dr. Lemuel A. Moyé, licensed medical doctor and current professor of biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health. He is the author of our upcoming book entitled, Face to Face With Katrina Survivors: A First Responder’s Tribute. Along with many other Houston doctors, nurses and non-medical volunteers, Dr. Moyé became a first responder for evacuees who had been bused to the Houston Astrodome Complex directly from the post Katrina hellhole that the New Orleans Superdome had become.

The corporate-dominated mass media described those who had been stranded and abandoned in New Orleans as “people who chose to abandon their children and desert their families to steal useless stereos.” Dr. Moyé initially expected to meet such people. This book is the product of the collision between his expectation and his actual experience with the survivors when he examined and interviewed them. As the author describes these evacuees: “[They] operated from a compassionate and gracious strength of heart …. It was an honor to watch, and even participate in, their reactions as they demonstrated their allegiance to family, to culture, to each other, and, in the end, to us all.”

Before I ever got to Houston, before I ever heard of Dr. Moyé and his book, I knew that the people of New Orleans and especially the poor and largely African-American segment of the population had been treated in a criminally negligent way. Indeed, in a You Heard It Here! column eight months before Hurricane Katrina, I exposed in these pages the fact that the only preparation for Hurricane Ivan done by federal emergency officials in New Orleans was to accumulate 10,000 body bags! I contrasted this with the evacuation of more than 1 million citizens of Cuba from the northwestern area of that island nation by the Fidel Castro led government in anticipation of the very same hurricane.

I reported: “The emergency services of the government in New Orleans had amassed ten thousand body bags!!! You heard it here! And they were busy seeking as many more body bags as they could. For they predicted that as many as 50,000 citizens of New Orleans might die as a result of a direct hit of Hurricane Ivan in this major city. According to the government authorities there it was ‘impossible’ to transport the citizens of this low lying metropolitan area out of harm’s way because so many poor people lacked their own private transportation, i.e. automobiles.

“So, while all the citizens of the island nation of Cuba, kept poor in large measure because of a US embargo against Cuba, were being defended by their government, the government of the USA, richest nation on earth, was passively standing by (except for actively seeking body bags) and fully accepting that as many as fifty thousand of its poorest citizens would die as a result of this storm.”

I concluded: “Fortunately, for the poor people of New Orleans, Hurricane Ivan largely bypassed their city, but “hurricane roulette” is just a tragedy waiting to happen there.” (Greensboro Times, February 2005, emphasis added)

Bush’s War Against the People of Iraq and New Orleans

In both New Orleans and in the Gulf Coast Region, during and after Katrina, and later in Houston and elsewhere, there were men and women of good will who selflessly rescued their fellow human beings. But the only branch of government that acquitted itself well during and right after Katrina was the Coast Guard, whose local forces (based in Alexandria, LA) performed heroically. Afterwards, the most substantial aid extended to the survivors of Katrina was from the citizens and local governments of Houston and some other regional municipal governments.

Ironically, the Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security, whose chief, Michael Chertoff, working directly under President Bush, blocked federal relief dollars by refusing to make a declaration of an “Incident of National Significance.” Chertoff, along with President Bush, was the key saboteur of the rescue effort, even more than his subordinate and ultimate scapegoat, FEMA Chief “Brownie”. Yet Homeland Security money flowed almost immediately from Bush-Chertoff to Blackwater USA and other private armed companies!

In August 2003, Blackwater USA, the private North Carolina company providing mercenaries to the US military effort in Iraq, received their company’s first high profile no-bid contract with the US government. It was to guard Paul Bremer, Bush’s choice to head the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq’s interim government. Later, they guarded US Ambassador John Negroponte. Now Blackwater has about one thousand contractors in Iraq. (News & Record, 8-4-06) Katrina survivors, after being abandoned by their government to both natural and man-made disasters, had their renewed contact with their government in the form of Blackwater company mercenaries who arrived before the US military! While Blackwater was and is under contract with the US Department of Homeland Security for post Katrina projects, other private armies were hired by the super-rich of New Orleans to guard their private homes and properties. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, correctly observed, “This vigilantism demonstrates the utter breakdown of the government.”

What I found perplexing throughout the several days of my visit to Houston was the following: The Bush-led government was already being criticized and scrutinized, even by portions of the mass media. Nevertheless, when they finally came into New Orleans, FEMA and the US military, along with the privately hired mercenaries, openly treated the victims as the enemy---their guns were pointed at the survivors; and they provided little or no food and water to these severely dehydrated and starving victims until spontaneous efforts by such groups as a contingent of the Black Men of Labor, a local social club, forced their hand. The Bush government rejected the help of the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Canada and other countries which offered timely aid. (The Spike Lee documentary provides dramatic evidence that FEMA and the US military, as they placed evacuees on buses, treated them like prisoners of war or even as slaves of old---dividing families and dispersing them to different cities and states around the country.) While in Houston I found out that even at the Astrodome Complex, once FEMA arrived (ten days after Hurricane Katrina had landed in New Orleans) FEMA turned away Houston citizen volunteers, stating falsely that there were already too many volunteers there!

CONCLUSION: 21ST CENTURY LYNCHING AND LAND STEALING!!!

There were several other facts that I pondered as Dr. Moyé and I pored over the book’s manuscript.

  1. The African-American population of New Orleans had a higher percentage of home ownership than the Black population of any other major metropolitan area in the USA.
  2. New Orleans, one of the most vulnerable areas in the USA to the wrath of Mother Nature, is also one of the most valuable land areas in the USA --- with vital shipping traffic through its magnificent Mississippi River-Gulf locale, its land base for vast oil and gas resources in the Gulf, and as a mecca of tourism.
  3. FEMA trailers were temporary shelters, in keeping with its emergency mission. However, The Washington Post and other papers recently reported that FEMA was still buying these flimsy trailers incapable of withstanding any significant bad weather when they could be purchasing “the so-called Katrina Cottage, a two-bedroom, … house that can not only take 200-mph winds, but is also cheaper than travel trailers and, perhaps more important, built to last.” (my emphasis)
  4. James Baldwin, the brilliant Black intellectual of the 1960’s civil rights period, had been famously quoted as observing that “Urban renewal means Negro removal”.
  5. While lynchings in the USA have been widely condemned “in general” for decades, it was only in the last few years of the twentieth century that US historians finally revealed to the broad public that a strong motivation for many lynchings, especially of African-American people throughout the agricultural South, was land stealing from the victims and their families.

On my way back to the aptly named George Bush Airport in Houston to fly back to Greensboro, it finally occurred to me ---- the US government led by George W. Bush carried out ethnic cleansing in New Orleans! You Heard It Here! In the wake of the barbaric treatment they received (and continue to receive) from the government, insurance companies, real estate sharks and others, is it any wonder that none of the survivors recounted by Dr. Moyé in Face to Face With Katrina Survivors was planning to return home to live in New Orleans?! In addition, the failure of the government to provide needed infrastructure in much of the Ninth Ward and large parts of New Orleans has made it impossible for many survivors to move back. Reconstruction work, which could provide a huge base of living wages that could bring African-American working people back, has been allocated to desperate Latin American migrant labor with no permanent ties to the area. Consequently, less than half the school children have returned, more than a year after Katrina. Today, massive foreclosures and seizures of property of the absent working poor and Black masses of New Orleans are occurring.

Just as in Iraq, the US military forces --- from the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for the deplorable condition of the levees, to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines--- have served in New Orleans as protectors of the system of private property, defenders of the wealthy and tools of their greedy ambitions. Just as in Iraq, seizure of natural assets and land stealing was the real mission of the US government in New Orleans. You Heard It Here!