KATRINA TELLS THE TALE: Racism and Classism in Capitalist America
by Kiilu Nyasha
”The rich were able to leave, the poor were left, enduring the hurricane. It is capitalism in its extreme individualist phase.” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Katrina has turned out to be the worst disaster in the recorded history of this nation. What’s most egregious is that it was predicted years earlier in books on climate change and the growing global warming crisis, as well as from local officials of the region who knew of the dangers and tried to get Federal assistance.
“Imagine being in a city, poor, without any money and all of a sudden you are told to leave and you don’t even have a bicycle,” stated Malik Rahim, a community activist in the Algiers section of New Orleans. “90% of the people don’t even have cars.”
At least 20,000 people left behind were told they would be sheltered at the Superdome only to find themselves trapped in a dark, dank, leaky stadium with no water, food, electricity, portopodies, diapers, formula, medical care and no leadership. They remained stuck there in absolutely wretched conditions with people being attacked, even raped, in the total darkness. People, especially babies, the disabled and elderly were dying all around them and the stench became more and more unbearable as the days dragged on with no relief in sight.
In short, the predominantly Black and poor citizens of a storm-ravaged city were herded like cattle into an inhumane, hugely overcrowded space and stripped of their dignity, maltreated as if they were all criminals. I personally know what the latter is like since I’ve lived in so-called nursing homes (medical prisons). The image of the disabled elder covered completely and left in her wheelchair against a wall of the stadium with a dead child wrapped in a blanket on the floor next to her still haunts me.
There’s no excuse whatsoever for the lack of preparation and planning for such a calamity. In truth, it was a catastrophe waiting to happen.
According to Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), sea-surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic – the breeding ground for most U.S. hurricanes – have been the warmest on record over the last decade.
Earlier this year, a Louisiana congressional delegation made urgent appeals to Congress to fund its hurricane protection project. They got one-sixth of what they needed, or $10.4 million (That’s likely the average CEO salary or the price of one of their mansions.)
Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Army Corps of Engineers commander, conceded Friday, August 26, that Washington knew the New Orleans levees could not withstand a Category 3 hurricane. “Corps officials shuddered,” he said, “when they realized that Katrina was barreling down on the Gulf Coast with the vastly greater destructive force of a Category 5 — the strongest type of hurricane.”
A category 3 storm has sustained winds of about 130 mph; a category 5 storm blows at least 155 mph. Katrina had winds of 160 mph as it approached shore, but slowed to 140 mph as it hit shore reducing it to a strong category 4 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.
When a Category 5 hurricane hit Cuba last year, over a million Cubans were successfully evacuated and no one died.
As Harvey Wasserman reported, “The Bush junta slashed funds for levees, let the wetlands be drained, let the developers rape and pillage....But even from this unelected gang of thugs and thieves, the horrifying abandonment of New Orleans has taken things to a new level.”
What’s still worse but gives credibility to my suspicions is the fact the so much help was refused and prevented from reaching the people.
Offering an initial 1,100 doctors, Cuban President Fidel Castro later increased the medical professionals to 1586 men and women ready to be deployed, but they were rejected, as were early offers of massive assistance from many other countries.
On radio interviews, the former Panther, Malik, struggling to meet the needs of his neighbors for ice and water, recounted the incredible obstacles and prohibitions placed on those volunteering to help rescue stranded, dying people. He reported decomposing bodies lying about on the streets where children could view them, Black men afraid to venture out at night for fear of being shot; armed White racist vigilantes shooting Black people randomly. He corrected reports that gunshots allegedly fired at a rescue helicopter were just shots fired in the air to alert potential help from flood victims stuck on roofs or inside buildings with water rising perilously. A whole fleet of school buses were left idle until they were swallowed up in the flood and rendered useless. Fire houses with a huge storage of bottled water refused to give it up for distribution, and the racist, classist indignities go on.
What was the Governor of Louisiana doing? Putting property over the lives of people, this fascist made the following announcement to the displaced citizens of New Orleans:
“These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.”
This strategic port that brings into the country about a quarter of its imports, supplies much of the domestic oil from its oil and gas refineries, is an exceptionally popular tourist attraction, remains a very valuable piece of real estate to say the least.
At this point, Tuesday, 9/6, the death toll has been estimated to be some 10,000 dead with no tally of the seriously injured and ill. Mass graves are being set up as volunteers and National Guards continue to rescue desperate, stranded people eight days later. People are being forced out of the city and onto buses and planes to go to whatever city or town these creeps choose for them -- no self-determination whatsoever, and in many cases, no knowledge of the whereabouts of their families or loved ones. Utah?!
Folks in New Orleans have already guessed that this is “urban renewal” or more accurately, “urban removal” as per usual. We’ve witnessed it right here in San Francisco. My guess is that investors, contractors, and builders are ready to make a fortune in the reconstruction, while the displaced natives won’t be able to afford to return. Sound familiar?
In lieu of the brutal war in Iraq and the ongoing massacres in Haiti by U..S. and U.N. backed death squads of local police and MINUSTAH troops, not to mention the occupations of Afghanistan and Palestine, I think this is another genocidal “ethnic cleansing.”
I also think that appealing to fascist white supremacists, with no humanity at all, is a waste of time and energy.
This system is too rotten, too corrupt, too bankrupt to fix. As countless volunteers have proven by virtually ignoring the stupid government do-nothings and rescuing people on their own, we don’t have to depend on this government, we can do it ourselves. We -- meaning average everyday people of good will -- are the majority. We have the right, in fact, the duty to abolish this capitalist corpocracy and replace it with a people’s government that puts people above property and recognizes one human race.
George L. Jackson once wrote, “I think the purpose of all political activity is to raise the people’s army.” A people’s army would always be ready to serve, assist, defend, rescue, and care for the people.
Let’s do it.
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