Gustav and New Orleans: Again, gov’t focus is on repression

What could be colder and more callous than this Sept. 2 Associated Press headline: “Gustav revives question: Is New Orleans worth it?”

Gustav was approaching Louisiana. Local, state and federal officials had begun posturing, assuring people in the U.S. that the “mistakes” made before, during and after Hurricane Katrina would not be made again.

Preparations for the Republican National Convention were scaled down, though police agencies continued to terrorize activists and the people of Minneapolis-St. Paul to minimize protests.

George W. Bush’s speech on the opening day of the convention was canceled. John McCain was rumored to be watching the storm to ensure “a proper response.” The same for Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Mayor Ray Nagin and Lousiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal issued mandatory evacuations.

Nagin called Gustav “the mother of all storms” and issued a threat to those who didn’t evacuate the city of New Orleans, saying, “Anybody who’s caught looting in the city of New Orleans will go directly to Angola [Louisiana State Penitentiary]. You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You go directly to the big house, in general population,” as he issued a “dusk to dawn” curfew.

On Monday, after the storm made landfall, the director of FEMA announced that the federal government would not provide assistance to evacuees. People fleeing the path of the storm would instead have to rely on charitable organizations like the Red Cross for food and shelter.

A repressive force of police and National Guards numbering over 3,000 patrolled the city with guns drawn. The front cover of the New York Post showed white vigilantes holding automatic rifles and threatening to shoot “looters.” One said, “I haven’t shot anybody yet, but if I have to, I will.”

These are not the people the police were concerned with, even though white vigilantes were allowed to roam the streets of New Orleans after Katrina and were responsible for a number of deaths.

Neither are the police concerned about cops with itchy trigger fingers. Charges against seven cops who, on Sept. 4, 2005, shot and killed several people on the Danziger Bridge trying to flee New Orleans were recently dropped.

Yes, it’s worth it

To answer the question posed by the AP article: Yes, New Orleans is worth it. Especially to the oppressed Black masses, for whom New Orleans is of great historical and cultural significance.

It is a bastion. Its moniker—the Big Easy—is derived from the relative ease of musicians to secure gigs. The city’s history is a testament to the long, arduous struggle of Black people for true liberation.

While fires and mudslides occur every year in California, often affecting affluent areas, it is never suggested that the rich move. Rarely are suburban sprawl and its effects on the environment questioned.

The oil industry in the Gulf Coast has caused the rapid erosion of marshlands, leaving areas along the coast, especially New Orleans, more vulnerable to storms. Marsh is a natural buffer but every year, because of industrial development and the oil industry in particular, miles of this buffer are lost.

While there has been a great deal of posturing regarding the response to Gustav, the government of the U.S. capitalist ruling class has no answer in times of disaster and crisis.

The major media touts the billions of dollars spent on disaster relief. Where that money went to is lost in the shuffle. Of the reported $133 billion spent for Gulf Coast recovery, only 30 percent was spent on long-term projects. Most went to debris removal and the Coast Guard. (Southern Studies Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch)

The U.S. Human Rights Network observes that $14.8 billion was allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers to repair levees—a job that is behind schedule.

And what of today’s evacuees? The USHRN highlights the attention to “security” and “law and order” by federal, state and local governments.

Rosana Cruz of Safe Streets, Strong Communities in New Orleans says correctly, “The most vulnerable people continue to be those in public housing, people without ID, the undocumented, people with mental illness and disabilities, and the hospitalized, so in considering how successful the evacuation has been, we have to look at how many rights were respected and how humane the process is.”

The USHRN makes the point that: “Essential social services on which residents depend have yet to be fully restored, for example public housing, elderly care services, homeless shelters, and shelters for women and healthcare. Funds targeted for the reinstitution of social services continue to be diverted to casinos, ports and other private business interests.”

It notes that people were put on buses without being tracked and were shipped to places without family members knowing—similar to what happened after Hurricane Katrina.

Thousands still have not been able to return to New Orleans since Katrina struck. They are displaced across the country. The Lower Ninth Ward is still a ghost town, with wrecked shells that used to be churches and overgrown grass where there used to be homes.

Public housing is disappearing in favor of privately run, “mixed-housing” units, leaving only a small fraction of low-income housing. Rents continue to run 46 percent higher than they were pre-Katrina, and, as the warnings from Mayor Nagin show, police repression is still high.

Another hurricane will come. It is guaranteed, whether it be Hanna, brooding to the east of Florida, or another later on this year or next. This capitalist-run government has no plans to adequately provide for people’s needs and cannot even ensure a minimum loss of life.

Gustav was much stronger when it struck Cuba, but that socialist island sustained zero fatalities, removing more than 250,000 people from its path. But in the affluent U.S., 12 deaths have been attributed to Gustav already.

This capitalist society is based on protecting the profits of a few. It wastes enormous resources on imperialist war and plunder. It is rebuilding New Orleans only to make it a playground for the rich. Only a society based on meeting human needs, which empowers the most oppressed, can ensure that no expense or resource is spared for the people facing natural disasters.


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