Sunday, December 21, 2008

Katrina, the Left, and New Orleans Today

This article from the Nation is a painful read for a variety of reasons.

The investigation by A.C. Thompson details white vigilantism at Algiers Point during the immediate aftermath of Katrina. A group of white neighbors formed a militia to keep Algiers safe, which for them meant terrorizing African Americans, murdering them, shooting them in the back without any justification beyond what might be charitably described as a sick cowardly prejudice.

Thompson was able to interview some of the racist citizens who took up arms against victims of the floods. They express no remorse, instead glorifying themselves as protectors.

It makes your skin crawl.

Color of Change is pushing this petition
, which calls on Governor Jindal, State Attorney General Caldwell, and the Justice Department to investigate racist vigilante shootings.

I have signed it and I recommend that you do too.

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Yet on another level, I hate how the piece was written and am disheartened by Color of Change's call.

A little weird, I know, but let me try to explain.

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One of the things I thought the article lacked was a complete context. Dambala gets at some of this in his reaction to Mr. Thompson's work. There's something gratuitous about the use of the phrase 'race war' in reference to what happened on Algiers point. Maybe I'm the one overgeneralizing a little bit here but my sense is that only a certain "type" of white guy chooses not to evacuate during a huge hurricane threat but instead to stick around with a gun collection. "Choose" being an extremely operative word that provides a not so insignificant contrast to the majority of people with basic means that chose to evacuate and to the masses of poor black people without those basic means that had no choice but to stay.

But maybe it's parsing to get all bent out of shape over the use of that phrase. We're a little bit sensitive to it I think because 'war' implies a certain ubiquity, implies that everyone was involved and that everyone chose a side. It totally oversimplifies the issue of race, but particularly so for the city of New Orleans, which has a complex history of racial tribalism that is not as simple as black vs. white. I think that I would have gone with "Katrina's unrepentant supremacist terrorists" instead of "Katrina's hidden race war," but that's just me.

The much more consequential whiff, on Thompson's part, was the failure to contextualize these vigilante killings as a part of a chaotic whole. He pays only lip service to the reality that there were scores upon scores of murders and rumored murders on the East Bank during Katrina. He couches the NOPD's failure to keep records during the storm or to disclose public records to him as specific to his investigation of the shootings on Algiers Point.

We know that there were grizzly acts of violence committed throughout the city during that time, by citizens, by the NOPD, by black people, by white people, by Ray Nagin, by Kathleen Blanco, by Michael Brown, by the Army Corps of Engineers, and by President Bush. Thompson cherry-picks a specific incident and doesn't do nearly enough to place it into the context of what was a much larger event. He boils down the entire injustice that was Katrina and the Federal Flood AND decades of systematizing racism via the criminal justice system into a digestible 'nobody is investigating these rednecks!'

But I don't want to just blame A.C. Thompson.

Color of Change should consider its reaction to this story.

They call on us to get to force "Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the racist shootings, and to demand accountability from Louisiana's dysfunctional criminal justice system."

Certainly, it's a noble thing to ask for, but at the same time, it's also short-sighted and maybe even a little bit selfish.

Even if Bobby Jindal were to call on an investigation and supposing that NOPD was able to piece together charges based on records they never kept and evidence they don't have, would it really be credible enough in a court of law to yield a conviction? What kind of healing would that bring for the victims? What about all the other horror stories from those days? Are we investigating all of them? Are criminal convictions possible for any of them?

What we need is an independent federal investigation into all of it: All of the vigilante killings, all of NOPD's desertions, all of Nagin's mistakes, all of Brownie's incompetence, all of Bush's neglect, and the Army Corps of Engineers for the failure of the federal levee systems. We need the truth and we need accountability, but what we really need is healing. Color of Change's call, even if it succeeds in precipitating an investigation into what happened in Algiers, is just as likely to salt our civic wounds as it is to sanitize them.

We needed it starting in late 2005 and we still need it today. Color of Change isn't going nearly far enough. They're flailing in Bobby Jindal's direction in reaction to the Thompson piece instead of actually putting forth a proposal that might help usher New Orleanians toward some sort of closure.

But again, I don't just want to call out Thompson and Color of Change. This instance is emblematic of the larger role that Katrina and New Orleans play in national political discourse.

For the nation, the federal response Katrina signalled a final deathblow to President Bush and conservative governing philosophy. Polls demonstrate that the public pretty much turned on the GOP for good as a result of the Katrina saga. The PR battle that took place between the parties was one in which the Right blamed Nagin and the natives for their lack of "personal responsibility," while the Left (and the vast vast majority of the country) blamed Bush and his henchmen for their inexplicable and inexcusable inability to respond to an entirely predictable catastrophe in a major American city.

Since then, national analysis of New Orleans is through these lenses, not just the lens of 'Katrina' but the lenses of were was the immediate partisan reactions to Katrina.

The Left, during Katrina, was justifiably incensed over the way that African Americans were labeled "looters" while whites just looking for food. That's why it is unsurprising to see the lions of the liberal netroots (HuffPo, Think Progress, Color of Change) seize upon this story - it scores points in that old front against racist right wing media portrayal.

Katrina is an eternally smoldering political fire, that actual people live here New Orleans is an abstraction that most don't, can't, and won't think about in the midst of the constant drone of the 24 hour news cycle. That the story of New Orleans continues, that it takes on new twists and turns, that its existence continues to be tenuously propped up on a three-legged stool of racism, corruption, and incompetence seems lost on much of the progressive netroots, on thinkers who I respect greatly and read every day.

The most frustrating thing to me is that the progressive netroots really can be of great assistance in this city, without really sacrificing the opportunity to score those political points.

It's great that Color of Change is pushing Bobby Jindal to investigate these vigilante shootings and I'm sure they'd also support a real truth commission for Katrina, but neither option is particularly viable in the short, medium, or long terms unless we start changing course at the municipal level.

What we really could use at this moment is help forcing the reopening of Charity Hospital and help preventing the needless demolition the historic black neighborhood of Lower Mid City. That fight is right now. It has real tangible consequences for the African American community, it speaks to national progressive issues, and Bobby Jindal is an obstacle.

For Color of Change and other progressive/netroots orgs, it's a battle they ought to be itching to join.

Save Lower Mid City, Reopen Charity

It's real in our lives right now.

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*One of the biggest reasons national progressive advocacy organizations seem to be so ignorant as to the situation here is that local bloggers, myself very very much included, do a horrendous job of communicating to an audience that isn't totally ensconsed in the daily municipal minutia. We can definitely do a better job summarizing things more regularly for a national audience in a way that imparts the critical concepts without oversaturating names and locations. To that end, I'm crossposting this at Kos.

20 comments:

Kevin Allman said...

Katrina is an eternally smoldering political fire, that actual people live here New Orleans is an abstraction that most don't, can't, and won't think about in the midst of the constant drone of the 24 hour news cycle. That the story of New Orleans continues, that it takes on new twists and turns, that its existence continues to be tenuously propped up on a three-legged stool of racism, corruption, and incompetence seems lost on much of the progressive netroots, on thinkers who I respect greatly and read every day.

That statement deserves its own plaque, or cross-stitch, or something.

New Orleans Ladder said...

Noble E,
right. Charity.
We need it.
I love your blog. Really

One thing that flood taught me, other than how to live, was how to die.
It took both hands.
The Reaper is ambidextrous.
Junkies are too. Ever noticed that?
From what I saw during the flood, and especially its after math, big money (and power) seems to count as much on "the Left" staying "Left" as the "Right" staying "Right"
---and never the twain shall meet.

I swore if I ever got out of the city alive I would never truck with such bipolitical horse shit again.
It just doesn't matter when Death comes to town.
Charity matters.
Jus'sayin... survival really takes both hands, and progress takes all hands on deck, together.

Those ass'punks in Algiers Point would not have lasted 5 minutes on our side of the bank with that vigilante boo'rah. Not 5 minutes.

Love left us that first week of the flood.
Charity stayed.
Charity mattered then.
Charity matters now.
Charity is real.
We need Charity Hospital.

Thank you,
Editilla

ps-we also need all that other accountability about which you and a very short stick of others so fluidly blog, so thanks for that too.

Clifton said...

You are right that there were all kinds of things going on around here during the storm ordeal by all kinds of people.

I read this article and watched the video. The realization that one of the victims could have been me walking around looking for help makes it hard to be objective.

Red said...

“Even if Bobby Jindal were to call on an investigation and supposing that NOPD was able to piece together charges based on records they never kept and evidence they don't have, would it really be credible enough in a court of law to yield a conviction? What kind of healing would that bring for the victims? What about all the other horror stories from those days? Are we investigating all of them? Are criminal convictions possible for any of them?”

Yeah, I’d like a whole hog investigation of everything, but I’ll take the cherry picked cases I can get – especially when lives are at stake and there’s this kind of compelling evidence such as videotaped admissions and witnesses that can corroborate the story. Just because you can’t or don’t follow them all doesn’t mean you can’t pursue one. The Danziger 7 was like a small scale Rodney King without the riots. It was a slap in the face to the Black community that says to us the police has carte blanch to beat/kill us when they can get away with it. How can anyone expect racial healing to take place if Black lives are continuously treated with such a careless, shrugging attitude by the administration? On its face, there appears to be enough evidence and people willing to come forward – have tried to come forward – to make a prosecutable case here.

Pursuing this case and bringing those fools that bragged about shooting Blacks on sight would help to restore at least a small modicum of faith in the system that right now Blacks for the most part don’t believe in. I wonder what Herrington would say about the kind of healing he would receive from the conviction of these men? He took the time to go to the NOPD to report it – clearly he believed enough in the system to try and get justice for himself. I doubt he still feels that way.

I do agree with you that the piece was mis-titled: Katrina’s Hidden Race War. War implies that people on both sides were fighting. But A.C.’s investigation posits that in this particular scenario in Algiers Point there wasn’t a war but an all out hunt for Black humans. It’s one thing to protect your property and life from predators. It’s another thing to actively prey on people who’ve not approached or threatened you. And I’m sure there where Whites in the area that weren’t from Algiers Point but we haven’t heard about them being threatened or killed. These guys appeared to use the disaster as a license to pursue and kill Black people.

jeffrey said...

What Kevin said, exactly.

Thank you for writing this.

GentillyGirl said...

I don't think the article was done properly, but it does bring to light the B/S that went down right after the Federal Flood.

I watched it happen from a distance via 'puter and my contacts from the city.

This story grabs me because it's another example of "Man's Inhumanity To Man". Many of us who escaped where trying our damndest to try to funnel goods into NOLA.

It just makes me sick to my heart.

Leigh C. said...

Amen. Selah.

And I can cross-stitch it!

;-)

Anonymous said...

Good piece. Unfortunately, this piece is so stupidly written--accusing a neighborhood that went overwhelmingly (check the precinct totals from the Sec. of State's office, it's about 145-90 or something, compare with Lakeview and Garden District precinct totals) for Obama of being a "white enclave" with a "siege mentality" is not going to help the case, exactly, with anyone who can make a difference.

Meanwhile, I can't agree with others that the case would be easy to prosecute. Maybe it would be, but ... do you get the idea that these dudes think they're coming off, in some perverted way, as cool and badder than thou? The whole mercy scenario seems contrived, dubiously cinematic.

I'm not saying "don't investigate," just that I wouldn't place a bet on expecting the probe to go anywhere. And I certainly wouldn't place a bet on Jindal and Co. getting involved if this article alone is used to make the case.
Ray

E said...

Thanks everyone whose commented thus far.

In response to Red's preference for "taking the cherry-picked cases" we can get...

It is unfortunate that we've been put in a position where we have to settle.

It would certainly be "worth it" to me if this all yielded jail time for the racist animals on the West Bank, even if it does not bring forth the widespread commission investigation that I believe is truly necessary.

But I do thing that my long caveat was important to attach because none of the injustices of 2005 can be placed in a vacuum.

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I'm also glad that Red brought up the Danziger 7. That acquittal set an unfortunate precedent in my mind for the viability of any prosecutions of racist vigilantism during Katrina. That DOES NOT mean that it isn't 'worth it' to investigate the Algiers Point killings but it does underscore the need for something that more comprehensively investigates the whole of the event. The Louisiana criminal justice system just does not function in a way that metes out justice for black victims.

I could go on a rant about that, but I'll stop short.

The bottom line is that we MUST support the call to action of Color of Change and we MUST demand justice in each and every instance where injustice has been perpetrated.

But let us also not be naive about the scope of justice we ultimately need for Katrina the big picture and for New Orleans the bigger picture.

It is hard not to get wrapped up in an emotional visceral reaction to this and any anecdotal injustice. I'm fighting to rally against a systemic injustice that is about to happen right before our eyes - the demolition of LMC and the destruction of Charity Hospital.

I would feel much more secure with Color of Change's tactical strategy if I'd been receiving emails about Charity this whole time. That doesn't make their call for justice in Algiers any less important or worthy, it just makes it seem somewhat reactionary.

And I think that on this blog, we can talk about that without shrugging off what happened in Algiers.

mominem said...

You have articulated my emotional reaction to the article brilliantly.

I am skeptical that the claims these idiots made are prosecutable. There appear to be no identifiable victims. It seems little evidence will remain this long after the fact.

I tend to believe that these morons are probably making a lot of this stuff up. Probably to make up for the size pitiful of their penises.

Anonymous said...

I did not evacuate for Katrina and Thompson is right--there was a race war, though it was very one sided: it was open season on blacks. Obama himself could not have walked the streets of Algiers (and Algiers Point is a white enclave) or my uptown community without getting arrested or shot, yet I and every white person I knew could walk through any black neighborhood, unarmed, and without fear of assault. Not quite the impression you got from CNN and the local media right? The white vigilantes were allowed from day one to defy the "mandatory evacuation" while blacks were forcibly expelled from the city.

My only criticism is that Thompson leaves out that the black men were trying to access the separate and secret St. Bernard "white evacuation" that was taking place through the Algiers Point Ferry Terminal--using New Orleans school busses--another huge story that shows that color meant everything when it came to who got rescued and relief resources.

So what will local "anti-racist whites" do? Should we be satisfied with leaving this issue to an outside, African American group, Color of Change? Did we leave Ray Nagin, Bill Jefferson, and Veronica White to some outside group? Will blacks have a point if they say that whites are quick to protest black officials but we wont take the lead in dealing with white racism in our own community?

Anonymous said...

"And Algiers Point is a white enclave." But you don't think the "siege mentality" part was a tad senationalistic? Algiers Point, according to the Census, still had about a 20-25 percent black population pre-K, far far higher than the national average (although certainly far lower than than the local average). Census Tract 1 for Orleans Parish corresponds neatly to Algiers Point, you can find the info for yourself at census.gov.

Unfortunately, I could not block level info. Maybe Algiers Point still has the same "superblock" style racial residential patterns (whites living more toward the large thoroughfares, blacks on the side streets and alleys, etc.) as much of Uptown, but I doubt it's as distinct.
Ray

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty--no, totally--sure the more professional, non-sensationalistic way of describing Algiers Point would be "a predominantly white neighborhood."
Ray

Dambala said...

- there was a race war, though it was very one sided: it was open season on blacks. Obama himself could not have walked the streets of Algiers (and Algiers Point is a white enclave) or my uptown community without getting arrested or shot, yet I and every white person I knew could walk through any black neighborhood, unarmed, and without fear of assault.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit....I was all over this city during that time, shooting video, and I never saw anything close to what you've just claimed. I was speaking with NOPD Officers, National Gaurdsmen, SWAT team members, first responders....many of them African-American....and none of them suggested anything like this was taking place....none of them.

Plus....you're insane if you think you could have walked through any neighborhood unarmed without fear of assault...I have an interview, ON TAPE, with Jeff Wynn (African-American), the former captain of the N.O. SWAT team, who stated they "took out" over 22 individuals in the Fischer (West Bank) projects because they were shooting indiscriminately at ANYONE who walked through the projects. There were BellSouth workmen on poles 30 feet in the air trying to restore communications and these guys were taking pot shots at them...the SWAT team came in and cleaned house. Those thugs did kill people as well before the SWAT team could get to them...if one of those people was white....do we have a "Race War"?

That's one of many, many incidents which have never been reported and never will.

Look, these guys in Algiers were stupid, redneck fucksticks....but I am not going to sit back and watch people try and claim, or support the claim, there was a "Race War" taking place in that period. There wasn't one....it was a fucking free-for-all and while race may have played a minor role, desperation was the motivating factor.

On the whole, uptown was the most "sane" area in the city, but there were things going on in this city, from OPP, to the West Bank, to Central City, to the Dome and Convention Center which were anything but sane...those stories will most likely never see the light of day.

This story was cherry picked, sensationalized, and taken completely out of context by The Nation. The story itself should be told, but not the way they chose.

Editilla said...

Have Y'all read Harry's post on this today?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harry-shearer/new-orleans-faces-the-nat_b_153163.html

And btw, Y'all might wanna wish him a Happy Birthday too! 65.

OMG! your word verification thingy this time is: redremp
redremmmmm reeeedremmmm p:)

E said...

Mr. Shearer just totally sidesteps the point. He's not taking this seriously.

Dambala said...

Shearer is sticking to his talking points, Eli. Just keep in mind that his audience is much different than ours. I guess I agree with him that there are much bigger issues to deal with than fictitious race wars in New Orleans.

Anonymous said...

Dambala, is the NOPD of "Danzinger bridge" fame a reliable source on vigilante killings? Did SWAT tell you that on September 1, 2005 they entered the convention center to "rescue" two white women at the request of the a Jefferson Parish deputy--stepping over dying black folks (reported in the New York Times)? Was that action itself not evidence of a race war where blacks were left to die while whites were provided relief? This shooting story will lead to more stories about the pervasive racism of the rescue and evacuation: the "jim crow" evacuation at the Algiers Ferry Terminal; the relief blockade at the convention center.
As for Harry Shearer, he's on the record saying that the focus on black suffering by the media was "racist." He's joined the ranks of white people apologizing for white crimes by declaring a "pox on both houses." Why is it so hard to simply say that this is the truth. Hell, Nagin went on national television critisizing black behavior--when will white people own up to what they did?

The truth is, and we all hear this daily and read it in the TP blogs, is that most whites did not want poor blacks to return and the vigilante shootings were just another version of the dehumanization and ethnic cleansing attitude. It was, as the white vigilante said, "open season" on blacks.

Indeed, the race war has raged since the September 8, 2005 when James Reiss told the Wall Street Journal that the old white elite were going to remake the city into a whiter and more affluent city. That was a declaration of war on the black majority. (google for "Old-line Families Escaped"

Dambala said...

- Did SWAT tell you that on September 1, 2005 they entered the convention center to "rescue" two white women at the request of the a Jefferson Parish deputy--stepping over dying black folks (reported in the New York Times)?


where....where is that NYT article? and if it is true, could you, for one second, imagine that their lives may very well have been in danger simply because they were white? Is that even a possibility?

- Was that action itself not evidence of a race war where blacks were left to die while whites were provided relief?

NO...FUCK NO! You just did the same thing Thompson did...you cherry picked one story which may or may not be true, then made a sweeping generalization: "evidence of a race war where blacks were left to die while whites were provided relief". That could have been the Jeff Parish officer's Aunt....there are a thousand reasons why that could have happened....if it even did.

- the "jim crow" evacuation at the Algiers Ferry Terminal

You keep bringing this up but I have yet to see any evidence that race played a part in the evacuation at Algiers Ferry. If black people weren't allowed to evacuate on the ferry, how did African-Americans from the 9th Ward get into Algiers in the first place as reported in The Nation story? If this is true...it is a very important story, but so far you haven't provided a shred evidence or first hand accounts that it is true.

As far as the NOPD being a reliable source....I consider them much more reliable than you or I, considering they were on the front lines of the chaos the entire time. Once again...the majority of the NOPD ARE AFRICAN-AMERICANS...if there is any kind of war going on in this city, you'd think the police force would be the first to know...especially a race war.

- Hell, Nagin went on national television critisizing black behavior--when will white people own up to what they did?

Has it even occurred to you that most of us don't view it in terms of race, but in terms of a man-made disaster which affected every one of us regardless of our race? Plus....Plus....I don't think was calling out "Black Behavior"...I never heard that. Are you assuming that or did he actually specify it?

- As for Harry Shearer, he's on the record saying that the focus on black suffering by the media was "racist." He's joined the ranks of white people apologizing for white crimes by declaring a "pox on both houses.

WTF? You really must see your entire existence in terms of black and white. Aside the fact that I don't think I've ever seen Shearer apologize for anything, its not in his nature, how you have surmised that he condemned "both houses" is not just pretzel logic, it's fucking labyrinth logic. What the hell are you talking about?

- Indeed, the race war has raged since the September 8, 2005 when James Reiss told the Wall Street Journal that the old white elite were going to remake the city into a whiter and more affluent city. That was a declaration of war on the black majority. (google for "Old-line Families Escaped"

first off, Jimmy Reiss is a prick and he doesn't speak for this city (regardless of what he thinks).....and that's not even what he said. He said, "...it's not going back to the way it was." He's still a prick, but the comment wasn't nearly as conspiratorial as you portray it.

E said...

I don't think we need to rehash every single allegation from the Katrina chaos.

Was Thompson's article sensationalized? Yes. Is the term 'race war' particularly useful for us? No.

I think we should hold people who committed violent acts during Katrina accountable. We can start with the supremacists in Algiers.

I have reservations and questions about what the appropriate process for doing that would be.