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New Orleans Hit by Another “Hurricane of Racism, Greed and Corruption”–Community Activist Malik Rahim

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On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Democracy Now! broadcasts live from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. We take a look at the state of New Orleans two years after the storm with two local activists: Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective and Alice Craft-Kerney of the Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: I’m here in the Lower Ninth Ward. Behind me is the Industrial Canal levee that broke two years ago between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. At 9:38 a.m. local time on Wednesday, a moment of silence was held across New Orleans to mark the moment the levees were breached two years ago.

Hurricane Katrina flooded about 80% of New Orleans and killed well over 1,600 people, displacing another one-and-a-half million people from the Gulf Coast. Only two-thirds of the region’s population has returned home.

Few areas in New Orleans were as hard hit by Hurricane Katrina as the Lower Ninth Ward, where we’re broadcasting from today. This predominantly African American working-class neighborhood remains largely in ruins two years later.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, and Alice Craft-Kerney of the Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic, but first I want to go back two years ago to rebroadcast a part of Malik’s first interview on Democracy Now! just days after Katrina hit New Orleans.

MALIK RAHIM: I would have commandeered everything, Greyhound buses, Amtrak trains, school buses, public service buses, and had them all filled with people, getting them out of harm’s way. That was the very first thing I would have done. And then, second, I would ask for volunteers, volunteers of people that live in the community, that know the community, that didn’t need a map to find out where such-and-such a street exists, and had them to come back in here. I would have had my police force to commandeer every boat that was available, because everybody knew the flooding was going to happen, you know, to make sure that people would have been getting out. I wouldn’t have left it on a faith-based community. I would have made sure that everybody would have had a means that wanted to leave or they had the means to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malik Rahim speaking days after Hurricane Katrina. A week later, Malik was again on Democracy Now!, as he was giving us a tour of the Algiers neighborhood. As our video cameras followed him, Malik showed us how corpses still remained in the street.

MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow, alright, 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? And, 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’re seeing it. I mean, the elderly, this is what’s 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: Well, Malik Rahim joins us again today, as we broadcast from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. He’s a longtime community activist in New Orleans and cofounder of the Common Ground Collective. We’re also joined by Alice Craft-Kerney of the Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!, though it’s odd to welcome you both to your own neighborhood as we come in from New York.

But, Malik, let’s begin with you. Set the scene for us. I mean, outside the view of our camera, of our microphones right here, when we were down here two years ago, there were a lot of destroyed houses. Right now it’s mainly nature taking over. We don’t even see the foundations of the houses.

MALIK RAHIM: No. Most of the houses that wasn’t destroyed during Katrina was demolished under our city’s Good Neighbors Program. So what you have is — is just a series of empty lots. And it’s a testimony of the lack of recovery. This is a testimony of a lack of, truly, support by our federal, state and local government for the upliftment of this community. You find other areas of the Lower Ninth Ward that have a large population of whites, the Holy Cross area, and it’s doing well. But over here you only have —- I know of only one house that has been totally rebuilt. So maybe about -—

AMY GOODMAN: Who determines what gets built, what doesn’t?

MALIK RAHIM: Funds. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. You know, they make the — Hamilton — those are the ones who make the determination. If you don’t have the money or if you don’t have the strength to rebuild, then you are just in a dismal situation.

AMY GOODMAN: What is this Road Home fund?

MALIK RAHIM: You know what? When you find out, Amy, you ask me. Only thing I could say is it’s funding for those who are well connected, you know, because those who don’t have the connections, they haven’t seen nothing but promises from Road Home.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what happened two years ago here just behind us. There is the levee.

MALIK RAHIM: Well, three blocks — well, the levees broke, I believe it was because of the fact of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which is just about two miles away from here, and when it pushed that storm surge through that canal, it came through and it broke the levee here at Industrial Canal. And a barge came through, and that barge traveled about three-and-a-half blocks, just crushing houses.

You know, this is an area that had the highest death toll in the entire city. Somewhere between 300 to 500 people lost their lives right here. A good friend of mine now, he lost his mother and his granddaughter, you know, the morning of the 29th. So you have many people here that have really suffered that pain.

And there wasn’t no trauma counselors here. You know, you had people that, after going through this, after witnessing and experiencing the worst disaster to hit America, they have yet to have any type of counseling, and then they have yet to have any type of support in rebuilding their lives.

So you see the area where the people was hardest hit two years ago by a hurricane, now two years later they are still being the hardest hit by another hurricane, but this hurricane is called racism, greed and corruption.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are the people who had homes here who didn’t die?

MALIK RAHIM: They are displaced all over. We have a mailing list of roughly around 700 of the residents in this area, and they’re all over America. I mean, they all over America. We have some as far as Seattle, Washington, Miami. We have met some in New York, you know, from this area that’s now living in New Jersey, at least in New Jersey. You know, but they are displaced all over America.

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about recovery efforts, I want to play a clip of what President Bush told the country on September 15, 2005, when he visited New Orleans.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And tonight, I also offer this pledge of the American people: throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans. And this great city will rise again.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush. He was speaking — I believe it was Jackson Square, where there was a candlelight vigil last night. The generators were put on for the first time. He was flooded, bathed in light for that speech. And then the generators were turned off, and they didn’t see electricity for a long time. Malik?

MALIK RAHIM: Well, you know, anything that he said about Jackson Square — at Jackson Square, he was speaking to all the residents in that area. You know, and he has helped them. You know, they are recovered. The French Quarter is doing well. The New Orleans Saints is doing well. You know, the Garden District is doing well.

I’m talking about the Ninth Ward. I’m talking about this area, the Lower Ninth Ward. I’m talking about New Orleans East, where he wouldn’t even put a blue tarp on the roofs of these houses, where they put blue tarps on — a sea of blue tarps on every other community. Here, nobody received anything. And two years later, nobody is receiving anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Craft-Kerney, you founded the health clinic that’s here in the Lower Ninth Ward. You also lost your home.


AMY GOODMAN: Where did you live?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: My home was in eastern New Orleans. And I received five-and-a-half feet of water in my home.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you that day?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: Actually, I was here in the Lower Ninth Ward in my brother’s home. He has a three-story historic home in the Holy Cross area.

AMY GOODMAN: Is his home OK?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: Well, he has decided to rebuild, and he has completed that reconstruction, and he and his wife are living in their home now.

AMY GOODMAN: And your home destroyed?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: My home, through the efforts of friends, brothers and sisters who saw my plight, they came down and they started working on my home. And it’s about 80% complete, enough for me to move into.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to get Road Home funds?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: Not as of yet. I’m waiting to see what will happen. But you have to understand, Road Home appeared to be a program that was set up to fail. And many of the folks who did receive the Road Home money, really, that was not their intended target. The folks who were supposed to receive the money were supposed to be people who were flooded. Our state started giving money to people who had wind damage, and that was not the true intention. So those folks received money over folks who were actually flooded. So there’s a problem there.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw Cynthia McKinney yesterday, the former congresswoman from Georgia. She was up protesting at Kennebunkport and then drove her way down here to be here for the second anniversary. And I asked her what she thought of President Bush coming here, and she said, “Did he bring money?” She said that’s all that counted.


AMY GOODMAN: The clinic, tell us about it

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: Well, my friend Patricia Berryhill, who’s been with me the entire time, she and I decided, once we started the clinic — now, I must tell you that Common Ground Relief — this is a project of Common Ground Relief, the Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic, because Michelle Shin, who was an organizer down here in the Lower Ninth Ward, along with Leaders Creating Change Through Contribution, were able to come up with a plan for us to assist us to get this clinic up and running. Once we got the idea of a clinic, we needed people to run it who had medical experience, and then they turned to residents, and that was myself and Patricia Berryhill. This clinic was formed because there was a need. There was no primary healthcare here in the Lower Ninth Ward.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a nurse.

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: Yes, I’m a registered nurse. And my friend Patricia Berryhill is a registered nurse who’s Master’s-prepared with over thirty-two years experience. And we have dealt with this population before, because we were both working at the Medical Center of Louisiana, Charity Hospital, and she was at the other campus, University.

AMY GOODMAN: Charity is closed.

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: And Charity is closed.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t Charity where they had a ceremony yesterday, setting up a mausoleum for a hundred identified remains?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: That’s correct. But Charity was the safety-net provider for the medically indigent patients in the community, and with that being destroyed, with that infrastructure being destroyed, we knew that many people were going to be caught — the uninsured were going to be caught without any type of medical care. We saw people really just dying on both sides of the street, just because they didn’t have access to medical care. And we decided we weren’t going to wait. We saw people dying at Convention Center Boulevard, the Superdome, just waiting for the bus, and we decided we weren’t going to wait for the healthcare bus. So we determined we were going to open this clinic.

And the clinic was opened by people giving their time, their talent. And what happened was we had folks from all over the country who came to renovate the building, and we had supplies, medical supplies and equipment that was sent down to us, contributions from folks like yourself, as well as some foundations, that got us started. And so, that’s how the clinic actually started and opened.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you need now?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: Right now we need money for operating funds. We’re dealing with a scarcity of healthcare professionals, because, just like my family left the region, many of the healthcare providers left the region.

AMY GOODMAN: Did I see a figure, something like 90% of doctors gone?

ALICE CLARK-KERNEY: I’m not going to say 90%, but there was a large number that actually left, never to come back again. And we’re not just talking about doctors, we’re talking about nurses, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, pharmacists, anybody in the healthcare field. All of these folks are gone, and many of them are not going to return. So that leaves us here with a few healthcare professionals, and they can basically name their salary. So we’re competing against hospitals with wonderful fringe benefit packages, sign-on bonuses. And it’s very difficult at this point. So we need funds so that we can actually attract good people to the clinic.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik Rahim, as we wrap up this segment, we’re sitting in front of Common Ground Relief, and there are all different signs. One says, “Tourist, shame on you. Drive by without stopping, paying to see my pain. 1,600-plus died here.” And another says, “Wish list: men’s clothing, food items, cleaning supplies, baby supplies.” How do you keep going here?

MALIK RAHIM: Basically off the generosity of grassroots people.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the city?

MALIK RAHIM: Two years later, we have served 170,000 people in direct services, and we have yet to even be visited by any elected official. So we don’t receive no federal, state or local support.

AMY GOODMAN: I spoke to Mayor Ray Nagin yesterday. He had dinner with President Bush the night before. I asked him what his demands were, and he said it wasn’t a time for demands.

MALIK RAHIM: Well, you know, if your home is rebuilt, if you’re living well, if you’re full, then maybe it wasn’t the time. But if you’re hungry, if you’re homeless, if you have been traditionally disenfranchised, then the time has always been there, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: You travel not only around the country, around the world now. What is the message that you are spreading?

MALIK RAHIM: Well, the one that I’m spreading most is the fact that we had vigilantes in this city that have killed young African American males, I mean, with complete immunity. One equated killing young males as — equated it with pheasant season, shooting pheasants in South Dakota. And nothing is done. That person whose body that I showed you in Algiers who was killed by vigilantes, his body wasn’t identified. He is one of those hundred.

These are the things that we are spreading, the injustice that exists here, that Jefferson Parish refused to open up its border to African Americans, that there’s two forms of America: there’s America that’s for the white and the rich, and then there’s another America for the poor, the minorities, the disenfranchised. And that has to change.

So what we’re trying to promote now is that we have to come together, that New Orleans is a testing ground for this nation, that if we fail this test on bringing democracy and justice to New Orleans, then this country is doomed.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Malik Rahim is founder of Common Ground Relief. We’re sitting in front of Common Ground Relief and, behind that, the levee that was breached two years ago. Alice Craft-Kerney is executive director of the Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic, her home also devastated in East New Orleans. I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll be back with People’s Hurricane Relief Fund.

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