ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The anger at the changes in New Orleans black community is palpable. It comes out at city council meetings, on local black talk
radio station WBOK, and in protests. Since New Orleans was declared a blank slate, we are the social experimental lab of
the world, says Endesha Juakali, a housing rights activist. However, despite the changes, grassroots resistance continues.
Books by Jordan Flaherty
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Six Years After Katrina
The Battle for New Orleans Continues
Political power has shifted to whites, but blacks have not given up their struggle for a voice and justice.
As this weekends storm has reminded us, hurricanes can be a threat to U.S. cities on the East Coast as well the Gulf. But the vast changes that have taken place in New Orleans since Katrina have had little to do with weather, and everything to do with political struggles. Six years after the federal levees failed and 80 percent of the city was flooded, New Orleans has lost 80,000 jobs and 110,000 residents. It is a whiter and wealthier city, with tourist areas well maintained while communities like the Lower Ninth Ward remain devastated. Beyond the statistics, it is still a much contested city.
Politics continues to shape how the changes to New Orleans are viewed. For some, the city is a crime scene of corporate profiteering and the mass displacement of African Americans and working poor; but for others its an example of bold public sector reforms, taken in the aftermath of a natural disaster, that have led the way for other cities.
In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans saw the rise of a new class of citizens. They self-identify as YURPsYoung Urban Rebuilding Professionalsand they work in architecture, urban planning, education, and related fields. While the city was still mostly empty, they spoke of a freedom to experiment, unfettered by the barriers of bureaucratic red tape and public comment. Working with local and national political and business leaders, they made rapid changes in the citys education system, public housing, health care, and nonprofit sector.
Along the way, the face of elected government changed in the city and state. Among the offices that switched from black to white were mayor, police chief, district attorney, and representatives on the school board and city council, which both switched to white majorities for the first time in a generation. Louisiana also transformed from a state with several statewide elected Democrats, to having only oneSenator Mary Landrieu.
While black community leaders have said that the displacement after the storm has robbed African Americans of their civic representation, another narrative has also taken shape. Many in the media and business elite have said that a new political classwhich happens to be mostly whiteis reshaping the politics of the city into a post-racial era. Our efforts are changing old ways of thinking, said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, shortly after he was elected in 2010. After accusing his critics of being stuck in the past, Landrieu who was the first mayor in modern memory elected with the support of a majority of both black and white votersadded that “We’re going to rediscipline ourselves in this city.”
The changes in the public sector have been widespread. Shortly after the storm, the entire staff of the public school system was fired. Their union, which had been the largest union in the city, ceased to be recognized. With many parents, students and teachers driven out of the city by Katrina and unable to have a say in the decision, the state took over the citys schools and began shifting them over to charters. The reorganization of the public schools has created a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the citys white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and most of the citys students of color into a set of lower-performing schools, writes lawyer and activist Bill Quigley, in a report prepared with fellow Loyola law professor Davida Finger.
In many ways, the changes in New Orleans school system, initiated almost six years ago, foreshadowed a battle that has played out more conspicuously this year in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and other states where teachers and their unions were assailed by both Republican governors and liberal reformers such as the filmmakers behind Waiting for Superman. Similarly, the battle of New Orleans public housingwhich was torn down and replaced by new units built in public-private partnerships that house a small percentage of the former residentsprefigured national battles over governments role in solving problems related to poverty.
The anger at the changes in New Orleans black community is palpable. It comes out at city council meetings, on local black talk radio station WBOK, and in protests. Since New Orleans was declared a blank slate, we are the social experimental lab of the world, says Endesha Juakali, a housing rights activist. However, despite the changes, grassroots resistance continues. For those of us that lived and are still living the disaster, moving on is not an option, adds Juakali.
Resistance to the dominant agenda has also led to reform of the citys criminal justice system. But this reform is very different from the others, with leadership coming from African-American residents at the grassroots, including those most affected by both crime and policing.
In the aftermath of Katrina, media images famously depicted poor New Orleanians as criminal and dangerous. In fact, at one point it was announced that rescue efforts were put on hold because of the violence. In response, the second-in-charge of the New Orleans Police Department reportedly told officers to shoot looters, and the governor announced that she had given the National Guard orders to shoot to kill.
Over the following days, police shot and killed several civilians. A police sniper wounded a young African American named Henry Glover, and other officers took and burned his body behind a levee. A 45-year-old grandfather named Danny Brumfield, Sr. was shot in the back in front of his family outside the New Orleans convention center. Two black familiesthe Madisons and Bartholomewswalking across New Orleans Danziger Bridge fell under a hail of gunfire from a group of officers. We had more incidents of police misconduct than civilian misconduct, says former District Attorney Eddie Jordan, who pursued charges against officers but had the charges thrown out by a judge. All these stories of looting, it pales next to what the police did.
District Attorney Jordan, who angered many in the political establishment when he brought charges against officers and was forced to resign soon after, was not the only one who failed to bring accountability for the post-Katrina violence. In fact, every check and balance in the citys criminal justice system failed. For years, family members of the victims pressured the media, the U.S. Attorneys office, and Eddie Jordans replacement in the DAs office, Leon Cannizzaro. The media didnt want to give me the time of day, says William Tanner, who saw officers take away Glovers body. They called me a raving idiot.
Finally after more than three years of protests, press conferences, and lobbying, the Justice Department launched aggressive investigations of the Glover, Brumfield, and Danziger cases in early 2009. In recent months, three officers were convicted in the Glover killing (although one conviction was overturned), two were convicted in beating a man to death just before the storm, and ten officers either pled guilty or were convicted in the Danziger killing and cover-up. In the Danziger case, the jury found that officers had not only killed two civilians and wounded four, but also engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy that involved planted evidence, invented witnesses, and secret meetings.
The Justice Department has at least seven more open investigations on New Orleans police killings, and has indicated their plans for more formal oversight of the NOPD, as well as the city jail. In this area, New Orleans is also leading the wayin a remarkable change from Justice Department policy during the Bush Administration, the DOJ is also looking at oversight of police departments in Newark, Denver, and Seattle.
In the national struggle against law enforcement violence, there is much to be learned from the victims of New Orleans police violence who led a remarkable struggle against a wall of official silence, and now have begun to win justice. This is an opening, explains New Orleans police accountability activist Malcolm Suber. We have to push for a much more democratic system of policing in the city.
In the closing arguments of the Danziger trial, DOJ prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein fought back against the defense claim that the officers were heroes, saying the family members of those killed deserved the title more. Noting that the official cover-up had perverted the system, she said, The real heroes are the victims who stayed with an imperfect justice system that initially betrayed them. The jury apparently agreed with her, convicting the officers on all 25 counts.
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist and staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute. His award-winning reporting from the Gulf Coast has been featured in a range of outlets including the New York Times, Al Jazeera, and Argentina’s Clarin newspaper. He is the author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be reached at email@example.com, and more info can be found at floodlines.org. For speaking engagements, see communityandresistance.wordpress.com.
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Men We Love, Men We HateSAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.
An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men
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By Jordan Flaherty
Preface by Tracie Washington / Foreward by Amy Goodman
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was a tragedy. What followed was a government-sanctioned travesty. Flaherty, a white New Orleans resident and journalist, interviews a number of locals about the recovery effort, outlining a systemic pattern that includes restrictions of service, human rights violations, and destruction of property targeting the city’s African-American majority.
The behavior of the notorious New Orleans police department towards this community is appalling, but even more distressing is Flaherty’s reporting on the failure of the federal government to respond to the needs of its citizens, and their use of paramilitary mercenaries to enforce a pattern of brutal occupation. To learn how profoundly the system failed (and continues to fail) will be extremely difficult for some readers, and Flaherty pulls no punches in his quest to uncover failures, highlighting how the systems in place for rebuilding (foundation support, non-profit groups, military intervention) remain woefully inadequate. Readers will be compelled, depressed, disturbed, and angered by what they find in this well-written report. Crucial readingPublishers Weekly YouTube – The Jena Six
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 30 August 2011