Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth – The Genocide Exhibit – NOLA’s Human Zoo

7th January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

They come in droves, looking, ogling, waving and snapping photos. They come in a steady stream to see the show. They come to see the habitat, but if they are lucky they can catch the occupants. So far there are no reports of visitors throwing peanuts to the inhabitants.

Everyone likes a trip to the zoo. However this is not the famous Audubon Zoo, located in Uptown New Orleans. This is the city’s other zoo, the Human Zoo.

This is the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

The show is free, although the damage they do to the streets and the quality of life is not. I am told that the city stopped the tour busses from crisscrossing the area, restricting them to certain streets, however the flow of curious people driving and walking through the area never stops, even in the dead of night.

On a recent visit to my mother-in-law’s home in the Lower Ninth Ward, I noticed the constant stream of sightseers who would drive or walk down the streets, some staring, some waving, most snapping pictures. They come to see the wasteland that has become the Lower Nine and the handful of homes erected by Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation. The rest of the Ninth Ward and most of the East still remind one of scenes of post-war Britain or other cities.

The city’s government is quite proud of its long-devastated areas. So proud, in fact, that it colludes with parish, state, federal agencies and private parties to use every device to hinder people from returning, re-claiming or rebuilding their homes which were destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita seven years ago. In international law this is called genocide. In moral language it’s called evil.

Immediately after Katrina there were obvious signs of what was about to happen. When I wrote about these signs I had a dear friend accuse me of trying to cause racial division. Another informed me that no one was looking at color, that the storm had united the city across racial lines. “It’s about the rainbow,” he told me.

Seven years later it would be hard for either of them to remain in denial. We have seen the racial purge in housing, education, health, infrastructure, law enforcement, employment, culture, politics and business.

When you hear the stories, as I do often, of the things people go through trying to get back to their property in New Orleans or the underhanded tactics the city will use to take property, you know that the condition of the Nine and Lower Nine is not an accident, nor is the growing absence of Black faces in places of power.

You don’t have to be a genius or an experienced city planner to see the play. Drive through the Nine and where there was once a thriving community, full of life; children playing, people barbecuing, folks sitting on porches, washing cars or playing their music and dancing in the yard. Now there is only the “abomination of desolation,” thousands of empty lots where homes…not houses…homes actually stood.

You have to wonder where those thousands of families are now and why they aren’t back home. You notice that the city won’t repair busted streets. They won’t even turn the street lights on in most of the area, including the I-10 in the East. Political and business leaders want the area to be desolate, foreboding and difficult to access. You see, somebody’s got plans for the Nine, the whole Nine and it’s not Black people.

You also have to wonder why.

Why are not Black elected officials waging war to address this problem? Why is there no opposition to the bleaching of nearly every decision-making body in the city? Why are so many Black leaders going along with this? Why are funds being withheld from the people? Why is the process so punitive, complex and convoluted?

Why is Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal unchallenged when he brags about having millions of dollars in “Katrina monies” to allocate to other pet projects of his? How the hell is one dime of “Katrina money” still left when thousands of people have not received their due assistance and are still trying to get home? How can one penny of that money be still in his pocket when there is so much need for infrastructure work? Why is he not in jail for misappropriating federal funds?

After seven years many are fed up with the madness and that’s a good thing. I believe that it is time for Black folks who have been on the sidelines to suit up and get in this fight. We must take this thing to another level.

I believe that Community United for Change has shown us the way. Their public hearings exposed the truth about police abuse in the Crescent City while at the same time giving the people a sense of their own power. Yes, the various levels of government have colluded to create accountability bodies that exclude citizens. However I believe some serious agitation will cause their work to finally bear fruit.

The same types of hearings need to be held on every aspect of the Katrina debacle from Day One up to now. There should be a massive effort to find the thousands who have been hindered from returning and document their stories. Schools and universities could help with this using census and other information. The United Nations needs to participate to witness the accounts

Every level of action, from local, individual lawsuits against public and private agencies and specific administrators to federal class-action suits, boycotts, pickets and other means should be used to fight for the right of return and rebuilding of the city in a way that is fair and just to Black people and to others who are being sidelined and penalized just because they are from the city.

“But Kojo, didn’t they already have some national and international hearings?”

Yes, and they obviously did not work, so let’s do the damned thing over until somebody gets it right.

The whole mess needs to be exposed. Names need to be named. People should go to jail. Others should be forced to vacate their comfortable careers because of the crimes they have committed against the poor. Organizations should have to close their doors out of shame for the way they have treated people in their greatest moment of need. A new standard of values and practices for dealing with Black and poor survivors of disasters must be created and enforced.

The ongoing orgy of greed and racism that is Katrina must be stopped, resolved and never repeated again…

…and That’s the Hard Truth!!!

This article was originally published in the January 7, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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