We speak with three residents of New Orleans who were forced to flee–David Gladstone, Beverly Wright and Curtis Muhammad–about who gets saved and who doesn’t and even the question: will New Orleans be rebuilt? [includes rush transcript]
Well there are is still no official toll of the numbers left dead by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But as the Army Corps of Engineers began pumping the water out of the city earlier this week, officials estimated that the death the toll could be as many as 10,000 making it one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the country. More than 500,000 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina are being relocated to other states all across the country. It is a historic exodus and it is unclear what will happen to them and what support they will receive to try and rebuild their lives. An Associated Press analysis of Census data shows that the people living in the path of the hurricane’s worst devastation were twice as likely as most Americans to be lower income and without a car. The dead and the displaced are largely the ones who had no where to go, and no means to get there. They were the ones who waited for days at the New Orleans Convention Center and at other places throughout the city, without adequate food, medicine, housing and security. And they were mostly black and largely poor.
New Orleans is a city that is almost 70 percent black with nearly 23 percent of its residents living in poverty. Many African Americans are asking if this calamity would have been allowed to happen if the demographics of the city were different. And they are asking if the response would have been quicker if New Orleans had been a predominately white, wealthy city. On his way to Louisiana a few days ago, Reverend Jesse Jackson said that racial discrimination and indifference to black suffering was at the root of the disaster response. He went on to say, "In this same city of New Orleans where slave ships landed, where the legacy of 246 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow discrimination, that legacy is unbroken today."
The Reverend Al Sharpton spoke in Houston on Saturday and noted the difference between the government’s rapid response to the hurricane in Florida last year that hit mostly white upper-middle class areas and to Hurricane Katrina that hit the mostly black New Orleans and Mississippi.
- Rev. AL Sharpton, speaking in Houston, September 3, 2005.
Many in the hip-hop community have spoken out as well. On Friday night, hip-hop superstar, Kanye West appeared on a live NBC telethon and had this to say about the Bush administration’s treatment of the mostly black victims of Hurricane Katrina.
- Kanye West, speaking on NBC News, "A Concert for Hurricane Relief."
After the program, fellow hip-hop star P. Diddy told the program Access Hollywood, "I think he spoke from his heart. He spoke what a lot of people feel." And on his Sunday program on radio network, Air America, hip-hop luminary Chuck D, formerly of the seminal rap group Public Enemy, read the lyrics to a new song about the Hurricane entitled, "Hell no, we ain’t alright."
- Chuck D, rap artist.
Administration officials have been busy denying that the race of the victims of hurricane Katrina had anything to do with the slow government response. Bush appeared earlier this week with African-American conservative televangelist T.D. Jakes of Dallas and other local black leaders in an effort to counter this criticism. Last weekend the highest-ranking African-American in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed claims of racism. On the plane trip from Washington to her hometown of Mobile Alabama on Sunday, Rice said, "Nobody, especially the President, would have left people unattended on the basis of race." Later that day she had this to say.
- Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, speaking in Bayou la Batre, LA.
Well when Democracy Now producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and John Hamilton reported from New Orleans this weekend they encountered some of the white locals attitudes about race.
- Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! producer who went to New Orleans over the weekend to cover the disaster.
- New Orleans locals
We turn to three residents of New Orleans who were forced to flee about who gets saved and who doesn’t, and even the question: Will New Orleans be rebuilt?
- David Gladstone, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at University of New Orleans. He has recently completed a multi-year study of tourism and housing in the city of New Orleans, focusing on the neighborhoods closest to the French Quarter.
- Beverly Wright, founder and Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, LA.
- Curtis Muhammad, a veteran Student Non-Violent Cooordinating Committee organizer and co-founder of Community Labor United.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Al Sharpton spoke in Houston Saturday and noted the difference between the government’s rapid response to the hurricane in Florida last year that hit mostly white middle upper class areas and to Hurricane Katrina that hit mostly black New Orleans and Mississippi.
REV. AL SHARPTON: I feel race was a factor. Why? I remember almost a year ago to the day, I was in Florida when a hurricane was coming, not a point four, not a point five, and I saw the White House move. I saw the governor, the President’s brother, move. National Guard was already alerted before the storm ever hit. It seems to me that if we can be alert in Palm Beach, Florida, we could have been alert in New Orleans.
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Al Sharpton, speaking in Houston Saturday. Many in the hip-hop community have spoken out, as well. On Friday night, hip-hop superstar Kanye West appeared on the live NBC telethon and had this to say about the Bush administration’s treatment of the mostly black victims of Hurricane Katrina.
KANYE WEST: George Bush doesn’t care about black people.
AMY GOODMAN: After the program, fellow hip-hop star Diddy told the program, Access Hollywood, quote, "I think he spoke from his heart. He spoke what a lot of people feel." And on his Sunday program, on the radio network Air America, hip-hop luminary, Chuck D, formerly of the seminal rap group Public Enemy, read the lyrics to a new song about the hurricane, entitled "Hell No, We Ain’t All Right."
CHUCK D: Now, all these press conferences, breaking news alerts, this just in, while your government looks for a war to win. Flames from the blame game. Names, where do I begin? Walls closing in. Get some help to my kin. Who cares while the rest of the Bush nation stares as the drama unfolds as we, the people under the stairs. 50 percent of this son of a Bush nation is like hating on Haiti and setting up assassinations, ask Pat Robertson. Quiz him. Hmm, smells like terrorism. Racism in the news, still one-sided views, saying whites find food, pray for the National Guard ready to shoot, because them blacks, they loot.
Fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, I don’t mean to scare. Wasn’t this written somewhere? Disgrace is all I see is black faces moved out to all these places, emergency state, corpses, alligators and snakes. Big difference between this haze and them diamonds on them VMAs. We’ve got to look what’s really important under this sun, especially if you are over 21. This ain’t no TV show. It ain’t no video. This is real reel, really real. Beyond them same old keeping real quotes from them TV stars driving big rimmed cars.
Streets be blooding, B. No matter where you at, no gas. Driving is now a luxury. Urgency, a state of emergency, shows somebody’s government is far from reality. I see here, we be the new faces of refugees. We ain’t even overseas but here on knees. Forget the plasma TV, ain’t no electricity. New world’s upside down and out of order. Shelter, food, what’s up? Where’s the water? No answers from disaster, the masters hurtin’, so who the F we call? Halliburton? Son of a Bush, how are you going to trust that cat to fix things when help is stuck in Iraq, making war plans taking more stands in Afghanistan, 2,000 soldiers dying in the sand. But that’s over there, right? Now what’s over here is a noise so loud some can’t hear. But on TV, I can see, bunches of people looking just like me.
AMY GOODMAN: Chuck D of Public Enemy and the radio network Air America. Administration officials have been busy denying that the race of the victims of Hurricane Katrina had anything to do with the slow government response. Bush appeared earlier this week with African American conservative televangelist, T.D. Jakes of Dallas and other local black leaders in an effort to counter the criticism. Last weekend, the highest ranking African American in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed claims of racism. On the plane trip from Washington to her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, Sunday, Rice said, quote, "Nobody, especially the President, would have left people unattended on the basis of race." Later that day, she had this to say.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I am an African American. I’m from Alabama. I can tell you that this response is not a response about color. This is a response about Americans helping Americans. No American wants to see another American suffer. And I don’t believe for one minute that anybody allowed people to suffer because they were African American. I just don’t believe it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking Sunday. Well, when Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and John Hamilton reported from New Orleans this weekend, they encountered some of the white local attitudes about race. We’re joined now by Sharif Abdel Kouddous. Welcome, Sharif.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Hi, Amy. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to have you back from New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Can you talk about your experience?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, I think there’s serious issues of race and class here that need to be addressed. I mean, you have the initial media portrayal of black hurricane survivors as looters and whites as looking for food, and you heard Kanye West’s comments about that earlier, but I mean, just visually, when you are in New Orleans and you see that the vast, vast majority of the victims, the dead and the displaced are African American, and it’s — it belies, I think, a systemic racism there, and when I was on the ground, that was really revealing.
We were — I was on the border of Orleans parish and Jefferson parish where the flooding begins. I was waiting for my colleague John Hamilton who was out on a boat looking for survivors, and as the sun was setting, dusk set in, three police cars came, and I initially thought they were going to help with the rescue operations, but as it turned out they were there to take pictures, you know, together of the flooding of the water. And they were armed very heavily. They had pistols, assault rifles, knives, kevlar, wrap-around sunglasses, the whole deal.
So I got to talking to them, and I asked them about the reports of looting and violence. And we got to talking about the ninth ward, which is one of the poorest and blackest neighborhoods of New Orleans. And one of the policemen turned to me, and I won’t forget this, because I wrote it down right after, so I would remember. He said, "Don’t take this the wrong way, but the niggers you have in the ninth ward, you ain’t got niggers like that in the whole world. Those mother-[blank] are crazy."
He went on to say, "When you hear reports of police brutality, you just think about them." So, I mean, that was — this is coming from a police officer who is supposed to be helping out the residents of New Orleans, 80% of whom are black.
And the next day, as well, in that same area where people launch off to look for survivors, I was speaking with some Jefferson parish residents, just some local guys, and they also had some comments. We were talking. My colleague John Hamilton was next to me with a camera, and we are going to play this in just a moment. He kept recording. He was talking — what you are going to hear now is them talking about the black community in New Orleans. So, let’s take a listen.
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 1: I wonder how many will come back.
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 2: Well, that’s why when they shipped them to Texas, man —
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 1: They’ll be in New York next year.
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 2: But I tell you what, you guys keep track of this, the governor of Texas right now is getting all of this great publicity.
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 3: He getting federal money, that’s why
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 2: Six months from now, they’re going to vote him out of office. The disaster that he’s brought to Texas is incredible.
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 3: Yeah, they’re walking out with these little white jars, glass jars, so their crack cocaine won’t get wet.
JEFFERSON PARISH RESIDENT 2: It’s unbelievable. Every single person is the same — sociology kind of person — Well, I tell you what, that’s the only good thing. And the best thing before all of this started, my wife and I always used to say this: Declare Marshall law here and the federal government needs to invade this place. And they really do. So they finally did. We have schools that don’t exist. The feds are now going to come in and rebuild this whole place. It’s going to be much better after than it is now. But you all have no idea what — you know, what kind of city this is. I mean, it’s a fun place. Don’t get me wrong. As long as you have enough money to live up here. See ya.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the men that you recorded, one of them talking about little hard to hear, camera down low, but talking about how Texas may be applauded now for taking people in, but in six months —
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, I mean, he was talking about the Texas governor’s receiving all this praise for accepting all of these displaced people into the state and many of whom are in the Astrodome, but saying that he is being applauded now, but you just wait six months, he will be voted out of office, because of — and this is his words, the problems that he took in. You know, he’s dealing basically with them, the black community now.
And also talking about how New Orleans itself, and this is a much larger issue that needs to be addressed over and over again and — as the coverage of this disaster continues, is that people are actually considering, will New Orleans be rebuilt? Will these people go back into their community and be a part of that city. And so he is saying, you know, it’s going to be much better off now that they’re not here.
So, and another example which we’re going to play in just a moment, John Hamilton, when he was out on the boat looking for survivors with these local New Orleans residents, he spoke with one young white male, who was talking about the ninth ward. And I think it gives a clear image of what the portrayal is of what people think of the ninth ward as. So why don’t we listen to that.
JOHN HAMILTON: Where is the ninth ward at? From here.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 1: The ninth ward?
JOHN HAMILTON: Yes.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 2: Straight back that way.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 1: You ain’t getting there.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 2: You don’t want to.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 1: You don’t want to.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 2: You won’t make it. There’s too many hot spots. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t get there.
JOHN HAMILTON: What’s going on in the ninth ward.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 3: Imagine the [beep], and then times it by ten.
JOHN HAMILTON: You’re talking about the ninth ward? What do you know about it?
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 2: Actually, I don’t know a whole lot about it, just hearsay, but they told us that they pulled 950 bodies out yesterday morning.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT 3: Ninth ward is just everything bad. Everything, all the shootings you hear about, everything, other than the Superdome, that’s where it’s going to be is the ninth ward. Out here they’re pretty dry over there, but that’s the problem, is that they’re dry and that means the lot looters can get around and just loot everything. And it’s probably just tearing the place apart. I mean, I actually haven’t been there, but only what I hear. On the radio. I wouldn’t go down there. Not — not for anything. Only way I would go in there if I was in one of these military helicopters, and then still you would probably get shot at.
AMY GOODMAN: Young white males speaking in New Orleans this weekend to our producer, John Hamilton. Sharif Abdel Kouddous also with John, describing his experiences as people there talked about race, and we’ll continue that discussion in a minute here on Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: We continue a discussion about race and the response to Hurricane Katrina with Curtis Muhammad, co-founder of the New Orleans-based organization Community Labor United, joining us from Jackson, Mississippi. We’re also joined in New York by David Gladstone, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the University of New Orleans. And on the phone, Beverly Wright, founder and director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at the University of — in New Orleans. Three people displaced from New Orleans right now. David Gladstone, you are here in our studio. Tell us what happened to you, how you got out of New Orleans?
DAVID GLADSTONE: Well, I live and work out at the lakefront, and on Sunday morning, I realized I couldn’t stay there. So, I went — I don’t own a car and lost my last chance to leave with friends, so I checked into a hotel in the downtown area, which a lot of New Orleanians do during hurricanes, because they are old buildings and they have weathered many storms. This storm, unfortunately, was unlike any other we have had in the city. I was able to get a hotel room, and I did weather the hurricane itself on Sunday night. Monday morning, it was clear that help wasn’t coming anytime soon, people really weren’t sure what was happening. They didn’t have information. They couldn’t go back to their homes. I tried to go back to mine, but the streets were flooded. So, I decided to stay another night in the central business district.
By Tuesday morning, the streets were flooded. My hotel had diesel fumes, diesel fuel floating in about two feet of water in the lobby. It was a chaotic situation, and I realized I had to leave the hotel, as many other people were doing, because of fire hazard. So I found myself on the street with really nowhere to go. I had a couple of bags. I was wandering around Canal Street observing — observing looting and other things in the downtown area. I made my way to one of the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the French Quarter, Faubourg Mariné, where I was able to find some cold beer. New Orleans is New Orleans, after all. And I met some people with a car, and I helped them get it out of the city. And we left sometime Tuesday night.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened when you were walking by a car with military or whoever walking by?
DAVID GLADSTONE: The person I was with had driven with me back to the central business district to find some people he had offered a ride out of the city to, as well, and while he was in waist-deep water looking for them, I was standing by the car when some official people on a Caterpillar tractor pulled up to me and were screaming at me to move the car, even though they could get around it. I yelled back that I — that it wasn’t my car, and I didn’t have the keys. And I was yelling for the owner of the car to come back and move it, and in the yelling and screaming, at one point, the officer removed his gun from his holster and pointed it right at me and then another one jumped off the Caterpillar and butted me up against the side of a building with his — what looked like an M-16 rifle or something like that. And it was really at that point I realized that social order, at least as I knew it, had broken down in the city, and that I had to get out. Fortunately, I was able to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: What about these descriptions of looting? The now famous contrast of pictures, A.P. showing a black person carrying a bag, saying "one of the looters," and then A.F.P., Agence France Presse showing two white people, saying they had taken food and water, you know, to survive?
DAVID GLADSTONE: I think it’s really a shame that we have been hearing so many reports in the media linking looting with race. To begin with, most of the looting I observed on Canal Street and in the French Quarter was — consisted basically of people taking necessities, like food and water. Anything they could eat, like candy, because most people felt — most people I spoke with felt that they were on their own, that they were not — whether it was well-founded or not, they believed that they were on their own and that they had to survive. I saw some people — I did see some people taking clothes and things like that, but by far, most of the people I observed looting in shops were taking necessities.
AMY GOODMAN: Beverly Wright also with us, Founder and Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. Where are you now?
BEVERLY WRIGHT: I’m in Atlanta, Georgia.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re still in Atlanta?
BEVERLY WRIGHT: Still in Atlanta.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this discussion of: 'Will New Orleans be rebuilt?' I thought about after 2001, the attacks, if anyone said, 'Will New York be rebuilt?' That was not the question. It was how it will be rebuilt, but there is this question: Will it even be? Almost a sense of 'Is it worth rebuilding?' Your response?
BEVERLY WRIGHT: Yes. I believe that New Orleans will be rebuilt, because New Orleans is a world class city. I believe, however, that these questions are posed because of the way that New Orleans is being perceived at the present moment. And that is that it is a city that had a majority African American population, and that that population is acting in a way that’s — that we shouldn’t — less civilized than what we should be acting under these times of duress, so people are saying, 'Well, maybe we shouldn't build it.’
On the other hand, I really believe that developers, some of them, are doing a break dance at this moment as they watch so many African Americans being removed from the city, of course, because of these circumstances, because now they will have a chance to rebuild it the way that they would like to build it, and that is without us. You hear people say that the city of New Orleans will be bigger, it will be better, it will be stronger. And we also know that the plan is for it to be whiter. And that is one of the reasons that those of us who are scattered all over do plan to return. We are in the process of trying to organize in some way that we will be at the table for the rebuilding of our particular community, but what is happening in New Orleans and the way some of it is being reported is no different from the way we were being reported before the hurricane. And so, you basically have all of the prejudice and racist kinds of feelings that people have about us being played out in the media now.
I just have to say that some of the coverage has been absolutely extraordinary. I have seen reporters absolutely say that it is really a disgrace that some of the pictures are being shown over and over again because what they really see are people trying to survive. As a sociologist, you know, we were taught in introductory sociology about what happens when you have a breakdown of norms where everything is chaotic. The behavior that we are seeing in New Orleans is very similar to what you would see anyplace in the world under these conditions. And I believe that we were ill-prepared for this storm. I believe that our government was very late in stepping in. And a lot of what is happening is predictable, absolutely predictable based on human nature, and we have not received what I consider to be the appropriate reaction by our government in a timely manner. I can’t speak for what’s happening now.
I think that because so much attention has been given to this city, and the elderly and the children and then the violence that we are getting a very strong response from the government at this point. But I have to tell you, I have friends who went back into my community the day before yesterday; and I live in what’s called New Orleans East, which is predominantly African American and middle to upper class people. And he had a big truck, and he said he had to drive on the opposite side of the interstate, and that there were thousands of people still sitting on the interstate trying to get out of the lower ninth ward.
I do agree with Dr. Gladstone that there is a lot of looting, that there is — at night especially, people have guns, and they’re taking whatever they need, and if you have it, they will take it from you. Because it is desperate feeling that a lot of people are having, and you have to remember that we had a serious crime problem in our city before the hurricane, so those people are still there, and you can expect that they’re going to act the way they have always acted.
AMY GOODMAN: Curtis Muhammad is also on the line with us. He is from New Orleans, right now in Jackson, Mississippi, former S.N.C.C organizer, Co-founder of Community Labor United in New Orleans. Curtis, this weekend there will be a meeting in Baton Rouge of black leaders talking about rebuilding New Orleans. As we observe that this question is being asked right now: Will New Orleans be rebuilt, as opposed to how will it be rebuilt, but can you talk about how this whole hurricane is being framed and who will be involved in the rebuilding?
CURTIS MUHAMMAD: How are you?
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.
CURTIS MUHAMMAD: And hi, Beverly.
BEVERLY WRIGHT: Hi. How are you?
CURTIS MUHAMMAD: Well, I think there are two things where we started this process of talking to our people about how to move. First of all, that’s what we do. We have been doing community forums for about eight or nine years in New Orleans under something we call Community Labor United, a coalition of progressive organizations. So, when this happened and we found ourselves scattered everywhere, and we were all watching the news, and we realized that we had our people just all over the South, North, flying them all over the country, so we began to try to gather ourselves and talk about what we needed.
And one consensus emerged out of those phone calls and emails. And that is, we could not depend on our local, state, or national government for our future, that it was very clear that without the people standing and demanding something in a real serious way that we would not get our due. Now, this thing was so blatant, this thing was just so blatant, and there’s been so much skating and sliding around the facts of this thing, and we are looking at it on TV. And that’s what makes it so hard for me.
I mean, I saw T.D. Jakes on the — being interviewed, and I’ve forgotten who interviewed him. It was on CNN, I think, and the interviewer just tried to push him, said, "Reverend Jakes, just tell me how you feel in your gut. Just in your heart. Was this racism?" And he just kept running from that issue. It’s very few people who have really walked into that piece. I mean, here we are watching this thing happen, hearing the reporters talk about ambulances picking up people from the mostly predominantly white and upper middle class hospital at Tulane University, picking people up to evacuate them, and going right past the Charity Hospital where most of the Blacks were. And we had these reports of nurses using pumps by hand to keep people alive and stashing the dead in the staircase, and yet they were going uptown to empty out the predominantly white and middle class hospitals. And we were still skating.
Now, that convinced us that we had no caretakers. You know, those — the Mayor at one point goes into the Superdome and goes into the Convention Center, and says, "Just go walk. Don’t wait for help. Just get on the highway and walk out of here." That actually happened. And they stopped them. They set up checkpoints and would not let the people leave the city for fear they were going to loot the dry towns, white towns, Kenner, Metairie up the road. And they started locking these shelters at night so people could not sneak away. And no help was still coming. Now, somebody break into place and get water and food, and we call it looting. And people are dying.
And Bush, the President, finally shows up six days later, and he says, "Zero tolerance for people who break into places to get food and water," that that’s the same as looting. How can you call looting when the whole town almost is under water and people are starving and nobody has been to see about them for six days? And those people are being criminalized and thrown in jail as we speak. So, when we gathered our forces, we began to travel through the shelters so that we could locate. We couldn’t get cooperation from the government of where they were taking our people. But we just started going city to city up the highway, and every city, as we went out on 10 West, we traveled all the way to Houston. We started at Baton Rouge. Everything was filled. Churches, gymnasiums, civic centers, dormitories of college campuses where the students had brought the families into their dormitories.
But when we would go to the public shelters, they were almost like prisons. You could hardly get in. There was all kind of criteria for how you could get in to see the people that was almost like visiting somebody in prison. The people didn’t have access to the world around them for fear, again, because on TV they had been criminalized already. So, though the communities were willing to accept them, they were not willing for these people to walk the streets of their town. They were eating sweets and Cokes, still, to the day — I came to this studio this morning having driven from Houston. Every little town between Baton Rouge and Houston had shelters with our people. And they were all managed by FEMA and Homeland Security and soldiers and National Guards, and the ability to go visit these people was like tremendously hard work.
By the time we got to Houston, we had learned a little lesson. We learned if we took our already white volunteer as our leader to the shelters, we could enter without any problem, without any red tape. We were allowed to enter. So, we are convinced that the racism about the New Orleans black population, the black poor population, is so tremendous and so negligent and we don’t know the reasons. And maybe so all black people. Maybe that’s just — we just have this tremendous universal hatred for dark skin. I don’t know what it is. But we watched blatant racism, blatant racism.
We watched our government, whether it’s local, state or national, and I would rather say state or national because the local government has no National Guard. It has no helicopters. It has no big boats. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to have moved 150,000 people trapped in New Orleans underwater. The state and the feds are the culprits, and though they have not joined the International Court, there must be a people’s court somewhere that can charge wrongful death, that can charge murder. Because that’s what we have witnessed.
AMY GOODMAN: Curtis Muhammad is with Community Labor United; David Gladstone, in the studio with us, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at University of New Orleans; Beverly Wright on the line from Atlanta, Xavier University in New Orleans. All three from New Orleans, all three in diaspora right now. David Gladstone, this rebuilding issue of who gets to decide.
DAVID GLADSTONE: Well, I think when we talk about rebuilding the city, the first major issue that comes to my mind is the — some of the environment problems that undoubtedly will arise now, that most of the city was flooded under water. New Orleans has many Brownfield sites and at least one Superfund site, a 46-acre Agriculture Street landfill site which I believe is submerged or was submerged under water. I think the city will need a lot of remediation. I’m not an expert in that area, so I can’t comment on whether or not the extent of it or what is needed there, but my feeling is that that will be a first order of business. Now, provided that the — provided that environmental conditions are sound and people can return there, I think the city will need to do two things: One will be to convince the people who left to come back. I think that New Orleans without the people who left is just simply not the same city.
AMY GOODMAN: Some are talking about it as a New Orleans of casinos and oil.
DAVID GLADSTONE: Well, —
AMY GOODMAN: Without the people who live there.
DAVID GLADSTONE: In my experience, the culture of New Orleans is sold in the French Quarter, but it’s produced elsewhere in many of the neighborhoods that have been devastated by the storm and flooding. And in order to get the real cultural producers back in the city, I think they need to — we’ll need to feel safe that this won’t happen again, and they’ll also need to have adequate housing, which raises a big issue in my mind, because most people in New Orleans are renters. And most of the people who are poor and African American are renters. And the private sector cannot come back in and build housing and charge market rates and have people afford it, able to afford it. So there’s going to be — need to be a rather large-scale public — either public works program in New Orleans or some kind of subsidies. I hear companies like Bank of America advertise that they have three quarters of a trillion dollars that they want to invest in struggling communities. Well, why not in New Orleans?
AMY GOODMAN: Curtis Muhammad, we just have a few more seconds. Your final comment, and tell us where the meeting is this weekend?
CURTIS MUHAMMAD: The meeting will be at the Southern University in Baton Rouge. And on this rebuilding question, the — right as we speak, monies — these $10 billion that has been approved, they have already subsidized oil drilling rigs. They have already subsidized the casinos. This city is intended without the people’s input to go forward with the casinos, with the condominiums, with the Garden District, with the French Quarter. While I agree with the young man who spoke, I don’t think that there is a desire of the leadership of this Project New Orleans to bring those poor people back. They’re scattering them as far as California. 300 have arrived in a school, a former teacher of mine. They are all the way up in D.C. These are poor people.
If they find a way to live, they are going to stay there. If the people rise up, which we are pushing for, this is part of what our meeting is about, if the people demand oversight and transparency of all funds collected on their behalf and make priority the reintegration and the construction of places to live for displaced people, rather than casinos and hotels and condominiums, the people will come back.
AMY GOODMAN: Curtis Muhammad, I want to thank you for being with us, and we’ll continue to talk to you, the Community Labor United from New Orleans, now in Jackson, Mississippi; Beverly Wright, of Xavier University in New Orleans, now in Atlanta; and David Gladstone, the University of New Orleans, Professor of Urban Planning, now in New Jersey.