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2005-10-24

New Orleans Community Organizer Malik Rahim Demands Inquiry into Hurricane Katrina Deaths and Amnesty for "Looters"

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This past weekend, activists, scholars and survivors testified at a people’s inquiry set up to present evidence and assess whether President Bush and his administration have committed crimes against humanity. Malik Rahim traveled to New York to testify. [includes rush transcript]

Inspired by the Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience, a panel of jurors gathered on Friday and Saturday to put the Bush administration’s policies to the test of international law and a jury of conscience. The tribunal focused on four categories: Wars of aggression, torture and indefinite detention, destruction of the global environment and attacks on global public health–with an emphasis on the AIDS epidemic.

Day Two of the tribunal focused solely on the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. The hearing consisted primarily of eyewitness testimony from victims of Katrina, together with accounts from rescue workers, and testimony from experts on the Bush administration’s actions and policies before, during, and after the Katrina disaster. Today we are going to spend the hour hearing the testimony from the Bush crimes commission, but first we are joined in our studio by one of those who spoke before the tribunal–Malik Rahim.

  • Malik Rahim, veteran of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans. For decades he has worked as an organizer of public housing tenants both there and in San Francisco. He recently ran for New Orleans City Council on the Green Party ticket.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’ll spend the hour hearing the testimony at the commission. But first we’re joined in our studio by one of those who spoke before the tribunal. Malik Rahim, veteran of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans. For decades he’s worked as an organizer of public housing tenants both there, as well as in San Francisco. He recently ran for New Orleans City Council on the Green Party ticket. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

MALIK RAHIM: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

MALIK RAHIM: It’s always a pleasure to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: I last saw you in New Orleans, in Algiers. Here you are today. What are you calling for? What is your demand? Why did you speak before the tribunal?

MALIK RAHIM: During the aftermath, directly after the flooding, in New Orleans hunting season began on young African American men. In Algiers, I believe, approximately around 18 African American males were killed. No one really know what’s the overall count. And it was basically murder. It was murder by either the police or by vigilantes that was allowed to run amok. If it would have been — if these roles would have been reversed, right now it would be an investigation. Someone would have to pay. But now, because it’s African Americans, and we’re talking about in the Deep South, where racism have always existed, there’s no care. We had young African American men that were slaughtered on I-10. They said they had weapons. But at the same time, vigilantes was able — white vigilante groups was able to ride unchecked by anyone.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know they were killed there on the highway?

MALIK RAHIM: Because it was broadcast. And one thing about — that I found in tragedies, that words spreads like wildfire, and especially when such dastardly deeds are done. These young men was killed. They say they had weapons. But if they did, I mean, why the double standard? Why bodies was allowed to lay out in Algiers until they fester and rot?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to stop you at that point. Listeners and viewers may remember when we went down to New Orleans and Algiers, Malik Rahim took us around the corner to a community health center, a multi-service center, and he showed us a body. We’re going to go back to that day and, well, as you showed us the body, a number of different levels of law enforcement went by. Let’s go back.

MALIK RAHIM: You could basically smell it from right here. You know, and the police, they pass by. They look at it, and they ain’t gonna do nothing, you know, to pick it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik then walked us down the driveway next to the health center and lifted up a sheet of corrugated metal marked with an X, revealing the dead body underneath.

MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow. All right. That this man’s body been laying here. And there’s no reason for it. Look where we at? I mean, it’s not flooded. There’s no reason for them to be — left that body right here like this. I mean, that’s just totally disrespect. You know? I mean two weeks. Every day, we ask them about coming and pick it up. And they refuse to come and pick it up. And you could see, it’s literally decomposing right here. Right out in the sun. Every day we sit up and we ask them about it. Because, I mean, this is close as you could get to tropical climate in America. And they won’t do anything with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik, do you know who this person is?

MALIK RAHIM: No. But regardless of who it is, I wouldn’t care if it’s Saddam Hussein or bin Laden. Nobody deserve to be left here, and the kids pass by here and they are seeing it. I mean, the elderly, this is what is frightening a lot of people into leaving. We don’t know if he’s a victim of vigilantes or what. But that’s all we know is that his body had been allowed to remain out here for over two weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: We are standing right outside the health clinic. Its doors are chained. The building is not seriously damaged. Have you reached people there? What authorities have you talked to to pick up this body?

MALIK RAHIM: We done talked to everyone from the Army to the New Orleans Police to the State Troopers to — I mean, we done talked to everybody who we can. I even talked to Oliver Thomas, who is the Councilman-at-Large yesterday about this body. He said he was surprised to see that this body is still there. But it’s two weeks, two weeks that this man been just laying here.

AMY GOODMAN: As Malik Raheem was speaking, as if on cue, every level of authority he mentioned drove by. There’s a dead body right here. Is — who are you with?

SOLDIER: We’re with Bravo 15.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is?

SOLDIER: The cav.

AMY GOODMAN: Army?

SOLDIER: Army, yes. Regular army.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a dead body right here. Can you guys pick it up?

SOLDIER: I don’t think we can pick it up, but we can call the local authorities to come pick it up.

AMY GOODMAN: This gentleman who lives in the neighborhood said that they have been trying to get — here, let me ask these guys, too. Excuse me. Excuse me. Hi. There’s a dead body right here. Can Louisiana State Troopers, can you pick it up?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer, Ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s been here for two weeks. We have filmed it last week, and gentleman over here said he has been trying to get it picked up for two weeks. And Louisiana State Troopers, the Police, the Army, no one has responded. We’re looking right over at it right there.

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to the public information officer and contact him at the troop.

AMY GOODMAN: Your name is?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know about the body?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Sir, do you know about the body over there?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: Ma’am, you talk with our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what they should do to get this body removed?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: I have no idea. I can’t tell you. I don’t know. There’s been several people over here looking at it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Homeland Security that just went by. Sir, what were you saying?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: There’s been several people over here looking at it, but, you know, like I said, I haven’t seen anybody take it.

AMY GOODMAN: Several army guys?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: Army. I’ve seen police over here looking at it. Seen ambulances looking at it. That’s about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And he is with the Army National Guard, one of the many different levels of law enforcement that drove by really within minutes of us going near that body. It had been there for how long at that point, Malik Rahim?

MALIK RAHIM: 13 days.

AMY GOODMAN: 13 days. What happened after we left?

MALIK RAHIM: Well, after you left, I can’t say — I would rather talk about what happened after you aired it.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh.

MALIK RAHIM: Because as soon as you aired it, the body was removed. And not even a day after. I mean, all of a sudden—

AMY GOODMAN: How long had you been trying? Two weeks?

MALIK RAHIM: By that time, it had been two weeks. But two weeks and one day after that person’s body was dumped at the health clinic, the body was finally removed, and not only his body, but then they started picking up all the dead bodies that was in Algiers. And remember, Algiers was never flooded. So it was no reason for those bodies to lay and fester into the sun like they was.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re out of New Orleans, out of Algiers right now. What do you demand? One, investigations into those who’ve died?

MALIK RAHIM: Right. And then, a complete amnesty for all of those that were arrested for looting. The city, again, didn’t provide any service. And anyone, anyone that was — that the city or any law enforcement officer or any of the vigilantes accused of being a looter, was arrested. And many of them are still being held and haven’t even been to arraignment. So we calling for a complete amnesty.

AMY GOODMAN: And any word on prisoners at the parish jail?

MALIK RAHIM: That’s —

AMY GOODMAN: Who might have drowned?

MALIK RAHIM: That’s the saddest plight. We have seen young people who was forced to plead guilty and just in order to get out. You know, many of them are still held.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik, we’re going to break, and then we’re going to go to some of the other testimony. Among them, the mother of a young man who was held at the Orleans Parish Prison. Malik Rahim, a well-known community activist in the Algiers section of New Orleans.

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