Monday, March 27, 2006

Some New Orleans News and Jordan's Log

Fridges Gone, but Cars Remain Post-Katrina

New Orleans Flood-Map Delays Create Angst

Judge Refuses to Delay New Orleans Vote

FEMA to Prep Gulf Coast for Hurricanes

New Orleans Mayor Endorses Rebuilding Plan

Some Katrina Victims Struggle With Guilt

And Jordan Flaherty's Log

"Guantanamo on the Mississippi"

March 10, 2006

Sometimes the injustices here in New Orleans leave me numb. But the continuing debacle of our criminal justice system inspires in me a sense of indignation I thought was lost to cynicism long ago. Ursula Price, a staff investigator for the indigent defense organization A Fighting Chance, has met with several thousand hurricane survivors who were imprisoned at the time of the hurricane, and her stories chill me “I grew up in small town Mississippi,” she tells me. “We had the Klan marching down our main street. But still, I’ve never seen anything like this.”Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a New Orleans-based criminal justice reform coalition that Price also works with, has just released a report based on more than a hundred recent interviews with prisoners who have been locked up since pre-Katrina and are currently spread across thirteen prisons and hundreds of miles. They found the average number of days people had been locked up without a trial was 385 days. One person had been locked up for 1,289 days. None of them have been convicted of any crime.

“I’ve been working in the system for the while, I do capital cases and I’ve seen the worst that the criminal justice system has to offer,” Price told me. “But even I am shocked that there has been so much disregard for the value of these peoples lives, especially people who have not been proved to have done anything wrong.” As lawyers, advocates, and former prisoners stressed to me in interviews over the last couple of weeks, arrest is not the same as conviction. According to a pre-Katrina report from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, 65% of those arrested in New Orleans are eventually released without ever having been charged with any crime. Samuel Nicholas (his friends call him Nick) was imprisoned in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) on a misdemeanor charge, and was due to be released August 31. Instead, after a harrowing journey of several months, he was released February 1. Nick told me he still shudders when he thinks of those days in OPP.

“We heard boats leaving, and one of the guys said ‘hey man, all the deputies gone,’ Nick relates. “We took it upon ourselves to try to survive. They left us in the gym for two days with nothing. Some of those guys stayed in a cell for or five days. People were hollering, ‘get me out, I don’t want to drown, I don’t want to die,’ we were locked in with no ventilation, no water, nothing to eat. Its just the grace of god that a lot of us survived.”Benny Flowers, a friend of Nick’s from the same Central City neighborhood, was on a work release program, and locked in a different building in the sprawling OPP complex. In his building there were, by his count, about 30 incarcerated youth, some as young as 14 years old. “I don’t know why they left the children like that. Locked up, no food, no water. Why would you do that? They couldn’t swim, most of them were scared to get into the water. We were on work release, so we didn’t have much time left. We weren’t trying to escape, we weren’t worried about ourselves, we were worried about the children. The guards abandoned us, so we had to do it for ourselves. We made sure everyone was secured and taken care of. The deputies didn’t do nothing. It was inmates taking care of inmates, old inmates taking care of young inmates. We had to do it for ourselves.”

Benny Hitchens, another former inmate, was imprisoned for unpaid parking tickets. “They put us in a gym, about 200 of us, and they gave us three trash bags, two for defecation and one for urination. That was all we had for 200 people for two days.”State Department of Corrections officers eventually brought them, and thousands of other inmates, to Hunts Prison, in rural Louisiana, where evacuees were kept in a field, day and night, with no shelter and little or no food and water. “They didn’t do us no kind of justice,” Flowers told me. “We woke up early in the morning with the dew all over us, then in the afternoon we were burning up in the summer sun. There were about 5,000 of us in three yards.”Nick was taken from Hunts prison to Oakdale prison. “At Oakdale they had us on lockdown 23 hours, on Friday and Saturday it was 24 hours. We hadn’t even been convicted yet. Why did we have to be treated bad? Twenty-three and one ain’t nothing nice, especially when you aint been convicted of a crime yet. But here in New Orleans you’re guilty ‘til you’re proven innocent. Its just the opposite of how its supposed to be.”

From reports that Price received, some prisoners had it worse than Oakdale. “Many prisoners were sent to Jena prison, which had been previously shut down due to the abusiveness of the staff there. I have no idea why they thought it was acceptable to reopen it with the same staff. People were beaten, an entire room of men was forced to strip and jump up and down and make sexual gestures towards one another. I cannot describe to you the terror that the young men we spoke to conveyed to us.”According to the report from Safe Streets Strong Communities, the incarcerated people they interviewed described their attorney’s as “passive,” “not interested,” and “absent.” Interviewers were told that “attorneys acted as functionaries for the court rather than advocates for the poor people they represented….the customs of the criminal court excused – and often encouraged – poor policing and wrongful arrests. The Orleans Indigent Defender Program acted as a cog in this system rather than a check on its dysfunction.”

Pre-Katrina, the New Orleans public defender system was already dangerously overloaded, with 42 attorneys and six investigators. Today, New Orleans has 6 public defenders, and one investigator. And these defenders are not necessarily full-time, nor committed to their clients. One of those attorneys is known to spend his days in court working on crossword puzzles instead of talking to his clients. All of these attorneys are allowed to take an unlimited number of additional cases for pay. In most cases, these attorneys have been reported to do a much more vigorous job on behalf of their paid clients.“We have a system that was broken before Katrina,” Price tells me, “that was then torn apart, and is waiting to be rebuilt. Four thousand people are still in prison, waiting for this to be repaired. There’s a young man, I speak to his mother every day, who has been in the hole since the storm, and is being abused daily. This boy is 19 years old, and not very big, and he has no lawyer. His mother doesn’t know what to do, and without her son having council, I don’t know what to tell her.”

Pre-hurricane, according to the Safe Streets report, some detainees were brought to a magistrate court shortly after being arrested, “where a public defender was appointed ‘solely for the purposes of this hearing.’ The assigned attorney did not do even the most cursory interview about the arrestee’s ties to the community, charges, or any other information relevant to setting a bond. Other interviewees were brought to a room where they faced a judge on a video screen. These individuals uniformly reported there was no defense lawyer present.” The report continues, “after appointment, (defense attorneys) by and large did not visit the crime scene, did not interview witnesses, did not check out alibis, did not procure expert assistance, did not review evidence, did not know the facts of the case, did not do any legal research, and did not otherwise prepare for trial…with few exceptions, attorneys with the Orleans Indigent Defender program never met with their clients to discuss their case. Appointed council did not take calls from the jail, did not respond to letters or other written correspondence, and generally did not take calls or make appointments with family members…(defenders) frequently did not know the names of their clients.”

“This ain’t just started, its been going on,” Nick tells me. “I want to talk about it, but at the same time it hurts to talk about it. Someone’s gotta start talking about it. It’s not the judge, its not the lawyers, it’s the criminal justice system. Everybody who goes to jail isn’t guilty. You got guys who were drunk in public, treated like they committed murder.”I asked Price what has to happen to fix this system. “First, we establish who was left behind, collect their stories and substantiate them. Next, we’re going to organize among the inmates and former inmates to change the system. The inmates are going to have a voice in what happens in our criminal justice system. If you ask anyone living in New Orleans, the police, the justice system, may be the single most influential element in poor communities. Its what beaks up families, its what keeps people poor.”

How can people from around the US help? “Education, health care, mental health. All these issues that exist in the larger community, exist among the prisoners, and no one is serving them. We need psychiatrists, doctors, teachers, we need all kinds of help,” Price says.“One thing I can’t forget is those children,” Benny Flowers tells me. “Why would they leave those children behind? I’m trying to forget it, but I can’t forget it”Sitting across the table from Benny, Nick is resolute. “I’m making this interview so that things get better,” he tells me. “The prison system, the judicial system, the police. We got to make a change, and we all got to come together as a community to make this change. I want to stop all this harassment and brutality.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rescue efforts lead to arrest nightmare for N.O. businessman

Abdulrahman Zeitoun of New Orleans writes about his experiences rescuing storm victims, and about his arrest and ordeal on suspicion of terrorism and looting:

My name is Abdulrahman Zeitoun. I am the owner of Zeitoun A. Painting Contractors LLC, and Zeitoun Rentals LLC. I have been in business in New Orleans for almost 12 years. I have a very good reputation through out the City of New Orleans, and I am listed with the Better Business Bureau.

I am originally from Syria, and I came to the United States in 1973. I started my life from scratch, and worked my way up to where I am now. I am married to Kathryn M. Richmond, I have 3 daughters and a son with her.

Saturday - August 27, 2005
My wife and kids evacuated from New Orleans due to hurricane Katrina and headed to Baton Rouge. I decided to stay behind to try and minimize any damage that may happen to my property.

Sunday . August 28, 2005
Day 1
By Sunday evening, I lost my electricity and my roof started leaking due to the strong winds and heavy rain.. It seemed like it was raining as much inside my house as it was outside. I quickly went to the kitchen and got as many pots and pans as I could get. I put them under the leaks to contain the damage to the hardwood floors. I dumped water out of those pots and pans all through the night, and didn't stop until Monday afternoon. All I could think of was, man, had I not been here, those floors would have been ruined.

Monday . August 29, 2005
Day 2
The rain finally stopped falling. I looked outside my door and saw that we had a couple of feet of water in the street, and a few trees were down. I went on top of my roof, and saw that Katrina caused roof damage to my sun room and a few other areas on my house. I tried to temporarily patch them as best as I could just incase, it was to rain again. Anyway, after that, I took my canoe and went around the block to see what kind of damage my block had. I greeted a neighbor with his family, saw that more trees were uprooted, and a few power lines were down. I circled the block, then went back home. I spoke to my wife a couple of times on my cell phone, and told her that it was safe to come back. I was very exhausted from constantly draining the water out of the pots and pans, so I turned in for the night and went to sleep.

Tuesday . August 30, 2005
Day 3
I heard a strange noise coming from outside when I woke up so, I went to see what it was. When I looked outside, I saw the water passing in the street . It was moving so very fast, just like a rapid river. It was moving all around my house, and it looked like it was steadily rising. My first thought was the levee had broken. All I could think of was what to do next.

Should I move my vehicles? No, it was too late for that, so I quickly went inside and started bringing things upstairs as fast as I could, like food, water, any necessities. Then, I emptied all of the closets on to the kids beds upstairs and stacked all of the drawers on top of the dressers. I moved some of the kitchen stuff into the upstairs closets, and all of the books on the book shelf up to about 5 feet on top of my daughters' bookshelves and dressers. Then, I stacked the mattresses on top of chairs and end tables, the dining room chairs on top of the dining room table, and one sofa on top of the other.

My wife called and confirmed that the levee did break and to get out of there. I thought if I stayed there, I might be able to take care of my other properties, or even help people if they needed help. The only thing I could do next was wait. The water was moving too fast to go out in my canoe, so I went back inside my house and waited. By evening time, it was too hot and humid to sleep. I tried to call my wife, unfortunately, I couldn't because the cell phone battery died and the house phone wasn't working.

Wednesday . August 31, 2005
Day 4
The water was still rising when I woke up, it was now in my house. Around afternoon, the water finally stopped rising, so I took my canoe, and went out. I saw the same neighbor with his wife and children out on their porch. I asked him if he needed any help. He asked me if I would take him to see his truck on FontaineBleau Dr where he had it parked on the median.

I told him I was going to look at my properties on Claiborne so I wouldn't be able to come right back. He said he didn't mind then he climbed in my canoe and we started up Vincennes Pl. We reached the place on Fontainebleau Dr. where he had his truck parked. It was submerged. We continued up Nashville where we saw an elderly woman and her husband calling out to us for help. I told them I was afraid to put them in the canoe. It was small and might flip over and that we would go look for help and come back for them.

My neighbor and I continued heading up Nashville Ave. until we heard this muffled scream coming from somewhere. We couldn't find where it was coming from. I think the only reason we heard it was because the streets were so quiet. We yelled out to it. Asking "Where are You?" The muffled voice was found coming from a house on Nashville Ave. I hopped out the canoe and swam to the door. I tried to open it, but it was stuck. The lady inside kept yelling "Please help me!" "Please help me!" I kicked her door and finally got it open.

I found this old lady in a one story house, floating on her back, holding on to a piece of furniture calling for help. I told her I came to help her. She said she can't swim. I grabbed hold of her and tried to pull her out of the house. She was a heavy set woman, so it was very hard. When I got her out of her house, I told her to hang on to her porch railing. She said "Please don't leave me, Please don't leave me." I told her ," I can't put you in the canoe, it might flip," I promised her that we would be back with help. She yelled " I can't hold on very long. Please hurry, please hurry!"

I got back in my canoe and we continued up Nashville to look for help. As much as I was happy to have this little canoe, was as much as I hated that it was so small.We found many rescue boats going back and forth from Medical Memorial Hospital towards Jefferson Hwy. We tried to get them to stop. No one would. We called for them, begging for help. Not one of them stopped for us!Three men on one boat finally did stop and asked us if we needed help. I took him to where the lady was. She was still holding on to her porch railing. We tried to get her on the boat. She exclaimed she is a diabetic and couldn't use her feet, and we couldn't lift her cause she was too heavy. Then someone suggested that we use a ladder. The lady said that she had one by her garage. One of the men on the boat swam and got the ladder. Then we realized it wouldn't do any good because she couldn't climb.

One of the men suggested that maybe if we use the ladder as a stretcher, we could lift her up and put her on the boat. That was a great idea. With all of our might, and with much difficulty, we tried and succeeded to get her on the boat. On our way to pick up the first couple we met, we heard people calling for help. We searched for them all over until we finally found them on a little side street between Nashville and Octavia. We went to them and saw that there was an elderly couple. We picked them up and put them on the boat. Then we went to the first elderly couple we met.While we were getting the elderly lady on the boat, she told us that she has a canoe, and we could have it if we need it. We said our thank you's, and goodbyes - then the men took the people to safety.

My neighbor tied the lady's canoe to my canoe. I dropped him off at his home with the canoe, then I went home. I think he left with his family, cause I didn't see him or his family after that. After a little while I took off to my properties on S. Claiborne Ave. I saw that a few of my tenants, and neighbors stayed behind as well. I saw that the downstairs tenant was going into the upstairs tenants apartments. I asked him what he was doing there, he said he had permission. He tried to salvage some of his things by storing them upstairs. I asked him if the phone was working, and he said that it was. So I called my wife. She told me she was very unhappy in Baton Rouge, and wanted to go to her friends house in Arizona. I told her to enroll the kids in school as soon as possible because, we had no idea when they would be coming home.

While I was there, I found my neighbors German shepherd. We put her on the porch of the upstairs apartment and fed her. After this, I went home. It was very dark at night since there were no street lights. Thank God I made it safely. Other than a few barking dogs, the neighbor hood was pretty quiet.

Thursday . September 1, 2005
Day 5
As I was getting in the canoe to go to my houses on S. Claiborne Ave., I noticed that the dogs were still barking. I decided to look for them. I found them at the house diagonally across the street from my house. I knocked on the door. No one answered. I thought that perhaps the owner of the house might be upstairs because of the water. So I climbed the tree and got on to the balcony. The dogs were still barking inside the house. I knocked on the balcony door. No one answered. Then I walked around the balcony, looking in the windows. I did not see anyone. However, I did see 2 medium dogs in a cage with no food or water. I went back to the balcony door, pushed it open, and then took the cage outside on the balcony and let them out. They looked so skinny and weak. I went home to get some food and water for them. When I brought them the food, they were yelping, like a "gimmie, gimmie, gimmie" yelp. They scarfed that food down like there was no tomorrow. The poor things were making so much noise when they were eating, that the dogs next door started barking.

I went to the house next door to look for the other dogs, but there was no way to get in this house. So I found a large board that was floating in the yard next door. I took this board, and put it on the balcony on one house and on top of the carport on the other house. I walked across the board to the other side. I looked in the window, and saw 2 big dogs. They were in much better shape than the first 2 dogs I fed. I opened the window and called for the dogs. One of the dogs came to me, but the other one would run away when he saw me. I went home, got more food and water, and brought it to the dogs. The one dog woofed that food as fast as it could.The other dog refused to come and eat while I was there so I put food in the window for it, then I left.

I headed for S. Claiborne Ave. to call my wife. I saw my tenants from my house on the corner of Claiborne Ave. He said he wanted to leave. I brought him to a rescue station on St. Charles Ave and Napoleon Ave. I went back to my property on S. Claiborne and called my wife. She told me one of my neighbors from Vincennes Pl. called and asked if I could check out his house. After I finished my phone call, I headed back towards Dart St. I stopped at the mans house and accessed the damage. I saw that some of his trees were down, and the there was a lot of water in his house. He has a raised basement house and the water completely covered the basement section of his house and went up towards the windows on the second floor.I continued home. When I got there I got some food and water for the dogs, and fed them. Then, I went back home.

Friday . September 2, 2005
Day 6
Friday morning, I got up, went and fed the dogs, then headed towards S. Claiborne Ave. It was a windy day. it made it hard for me to row my little canoe. When I got there I called my wife, and my brother who was in Spain. They begged me to leave and then asked me how long I plan on staying there. I said as soon as I find out what is going to happen to our city. Meaning, if it was going to be a while for the water to leave the city, then I will leave. If it will only be a few days longer before the water goes down then I will stay. They asked me about food, I told them I had plenty. My wife did all of her shopping before she left for Baton Rouge. So my house was stocked with canned and frozen food.

While I was at this house, my neighbor from Dart St., who is a professors at Tulane called me and asked if I would check on his fraternity. He was in charge of this Fraternity and was worried about it. He wanted to know what the condition of it was. I finished using the phone, so I decided I would go and check on his fraternity on Burthe St. It seemed like the further I got out, the lower the water became. By the time I reached Burthe St., the water was about less than a foot deep. I saw that there were a few fallen trees, but the damage was not so bad in that area. I went inside the fraternity. I met up with an old friend. He was very happy to see me. He said that he had been there since the first day of the flood. I asked him if he wanted to come with me or stay there. He quickly decided to leave that place and go with me.

By the time we left there, the wind had gotten stronger. We turned back towards Claiborne Ave. When we got to my rental properties, I saw my neighbor who lived caddie-corner from my house. He asked me for help. He said he was out of his medication, and needed medical help. He had an elderly lady with him. She was taking care of him, but she needed medical help to. I told him, I would go and look for someone to bring him to safety. I promised him I would be back with help when I was leaving. He is a pastor, and he was in a wheel chair. He knew me for my word. He trusted me. I could not let him down.

I had a very hard time steering my canoe to the Memorial Medical Plaza. I finally made it. I tried to go inside. There was a lot of military men there. I told them about the pastor who needed help. They were very, very, cold, cruel and mean. They in a very ugly tone, told me they can't do anything for him, and I need to go St. Charles and Napoleon Ave. where the medical station was. I told them I can't go that far. The wind is making my canoe very difficult to steer my canoe. Not only that, it started sprinkling. I asked someone if they could come and get him. They are the military. With all of the technology they have, they could have called someone for this man. But THEY REFUSED! THEY REFUSED TO CALL FOR HELP FOR THIS MAN WHO WAS SICK AND IN A WHEEL CHAIR!

I felt like I had to do it myself. I had no choice. It took me a long time to get to St. Charles Ave and Napoleon Ave where the medical station was. But, I finally made it. When I got there, I saw many more military men. I spoke to someone, who told me to speak to someone else, who referred me to someone in charge. I gave him all of the information for the pastor. He told me he would get someone over there to the pastors house. The man in charge said he would. I believed him, cause he wrote the information down in his book. I left there and headed back to Claiborne Ave. and made a few phone calls. I saw at that time that my tenant had obtained a small motor boat. I asked him where he got it. He said someone gave it to him so he could help people in need of help. I thought, hey, that's great. As I was leaving, I thought I would check on the pastor to see if he and the lady had been picked up. That man was still sitting there since the time I left him. he was sitting in the rain on his porch, in his wheel chair waiting for me, because I said, I would bring him help. All those hours he waited. No one came for him. That doctor lied to me. I went and got my tenant because he had bigger boat than mine. We tried lifting the man and his wheel chair up. It was very hard, but with all 3 of us (me, my tenant, and old friend) we managed to lift the man, with great difficulty and put him in the small motor boat. He was yelling "Thank You! Thank You!" Then we helped the older lady in the boat as well. We asked him where he wanted to go. He said, anywhere that he could get help. We took them to the medical station on St Charles Ave, and Napoleon Ave. We left them at the medical station, and I took my friend to my house. When I went to give water and food to the dogs, I saw that one of the smaller dogs had been blown off the balcony by the wind. He was holding on to the tree branch with his teeth. I picked him up and put him back inside. I gave all of the dogs food and water, then went back home.

Saturday . September 3, 2005
Day 7
I made my usual rounds of feeding the dogs, and heading up to my properties on S. Claiborne Ave. Every time I would go to S. Claiborne I would take a different route. Hoping that I would be lucky enough to find someone in need of help. I mean, the feeling you get when you help someone is indescribable. This day, I took a really long route to S. Claiborne Ave. I went to FontaineBleau to Napoleon Ave, then from Napoleon Ave, to S. Claiborne. I found with box of water in the street, picked it up and put it in my boat. I also found a fog horn. Which I used when I would pass through neighborhoods. I would hope that someone would hear it and call out if they needed help.

When I arrived at my house on S. Claiborne Ave, I saw that the neighbor who left her German shepherd, came back for her. I invited everyone to my house to eat. The meat in the freezer had thawed out by now, and if I didn't cook it soon, it would have all been ruined. So everyone came to my house, and I started the barbecue grill on top of the flat roof at my house. My wife must have bought out the store. She had all kinds of meat in the freezer. We had lamb, beef, shrimp, fish, and a bunch of other stuff. I cooked enough food for 50 people. We ate all that our stomachs could hold. I gave everyone plates of food to take back with them, then I fed a lot of it to the dogs. By this time, it was all I had left to feed them anyway. Trust me, they didn't seem to mind. I saw a huge fire while I was on the roof. I got in my canoe and headed in the direction of the fire. I thought either my warehouse/office was on fire or it was one of the neighbors places. When I got there, I saw the entire block next to my office was on fire. There was a fire station just 2 blocks down. But no one was there to put out the fire. The staff must have re-located. The fire was out of control and there was nothing I could do so, I went back to my house on Dart Street.

Sunday . September 4, 2005
Day 8
When I got up, I went and fed the dogs, and gave them water. I went home and did a few things around the house, and then relaxed for the rest of the day. I did not venture out on this day.

Monday . September 5, 2005 .
Day 9
I got up early, gave water and food to the dogs, got in my canoe, and traveled to Claiborne. When we got there, I called my wife. She told me she was now in Arizona. I asked her if she enrolled the kids in school. She didn't have a chance at that time. She arrived in Arizona late Sunday afternoon, and Monday was labor Day so the schools were closed. We spoke for a while, then she said they might be forcing people out of the city by military force. I told her I feel like I am of some use here, but, if they tell me I have to leave then, I will. She also told me that a client of mine called and asked if I could go and check out their house on N. Hagen. I told her I would go tomorrow and look at it. She also asked me if I could find their cat. It went outside before the storm, and they couldn't find it before they left. I told her to tell them I would. I went back to Dart St, fed the dogs left over bar-b-que, then went home, ate, and relaxed. We really didn't get much sleep the past few days. There were many helicopters flying above our roof at a very short distance. They were very noisy.

Tuesday- September 6, 2005
Day 10
Tuesday morning, I fed the dogs, then headed to N. Hagen to my clients house. I passed my cousins house on Canal St., I didn't see his car, so I continued on to N. Hagen. On my way to N. Hagen, I saw a military boat with some journalist on it. They stopped an asked me questions, like why am I here, and who am I with. I told them I am here for anyone who needs me, and I work with everybody. Anyway, Some of the areas we traveled in had much water, other's had no water at all. In these areas we had to carry the canoe. It was very heavy for being so small. My friend accidentally dropped his side of the canoe. When he did this, my side somehow, twisted, and started hurting. When I got to N. Hagen, I looked for my client's cat. I couldn't find it. Then I started looking at the damage. I saw that he had a couple of feet of water in his house, and a couple of broken windows. After checking on my clients house on N. Hagen, I headed towards, S Claiborne Ave.

I saw a helicopter hovering in one spot for a few minutes. he was close to the ground. I didn't want to go close to the helicopter cause, every time I did, my canoe would spin around and almost flip over. So I waited for it to leave. When he left, I saw why they were hovering that area. They were marking the areas where the dead bodies were. This was the first time I saw dead bodies in our area. I went back to my house on Claiborne. As I walked up the stairs, I heard the phone ring. It was my wife. She was worried about me. It was unusual for me to go this long in the day without calling her. I told her about my clients house, and about the bodies I saw. She asked me if it was anyone we knew. I told her I didn't have the heart to look. After I spoke to my wife, I spoke to my brother in Spain. When I was finished, I tried the water to see if it was working. To my surprise, it was. I quickly took a shower. It felt so good to be clean. When I was finished, I told my friend that he should take a shower before the water runs out.

When I entered the area where the phone was, I saw a strange man there. I asked my tenant who he was, and what he was doing here. My tenant said that he was with the search and rescue team, and he needed to use the phone. I told him, "Oh, ok." We heard people outside. My tenant went to talk to them. It was the military. They asked him if we needed water. We told him no thank you, we have some. Then they jumped out the boat, went inside the house with their machine guns, and they were yelling at us to get in the boat. One of the military persons searched the house, for what? Only God knows. They treated us like hard criminals. They asked to see our ID cards, we showed it to them, they didn't even look at it. They only returned it to us. I told them I own this house, and my tenant was trying to prove to them that he lived there. They didn't care. They forced us out by gunpoint. We asked them where they were taking us. They said, "talk to my boss." We were taken to St. Charles Ave and Napoleon Ave. As soon as we got out of the boat, the military personnel jumped on us in a very rough manner, and handcuffed us. We were treated very, very badly. Then they put us in a white van. We asked the military who were they and why are they doing this to us. They said they were from Indiana, and they were only following orders, and doing their job.

They brought us to the bus station. We saw lots and lots of military personnel with many different types of weapons/guns. They made us sit down and wait to be as they called it "processed". They took our fingerprints, and photos. They had us under maximum security. We did not know what was going on. There were guards from Angola and New York prisons that were running the bus station like a prison camp. After processing us, they put us in a make shift chicken cage. Actually, it was the bus terminals that they turned into prison cells. It looked like a giant chicken cage. It was filthy dirty. They left us there for 3 days on this stinky, oily, filthy dirty floor. With no blankets or pillows. I swear, had we been in a prison in Afghanistan or Iraq, we would have been treated better. Somehow, I got a splinter the size of a tooth pick in my foot. It was the size of a tooth pick in width, and about half the length. It was getting infected, and caused me quite a bit of pain. I asked them if I could see a doctor. They refused me. Every day, I asked for a doctor. the splinter was lodged in my foot. I couldn't get it out. I saw a doctor helping other prisoners. I called out to him for help. He yelled at me in a very rude voice, that he was not a doctor. But he was a liar. He was a doctor. He was wearing green clothes, and he had a stethoscope. No one would help me.

On the third day I was in this hell hole, they fed us an MRE that came with a small glass bottle of Tabasco. I broke that bottle on that nasty floor, picked up a shard of glass, then cut my foot open where the splinter was. The skin had grown over the splinter. My foot was infected. So much puss came out. Very painfully, I managed to get the splinter out. I squeezed out as much pus as I could, and hoped for the best. We would ask the soldiers why we were here. One would say because of looting, another would say because of terrorism, and another would say something else. They were trying to stick us with whatever they could.Later that afternoon, they moved us to Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabrielle. They so called "processed" us again. They filled out a paper on each of us. It was asking us if we had any allergies to food/medication. We told her that we do not eat pork. We are Muslim, and it is forbidden in our religion. She also asked us if we had any medical problems. I told her about the left side of my body. I was in a great deal of pain from it. I didn't even bother telling her about my foot. Would not have done me any good anyway. She wrote this down in my file.

They brought us to a maximum security section of the prison. I asked if I could use a phone to call my wife. They refused me. Flat-out told me no. They treated us like we were hardened criminals. They put 3 of us in a cell the size of my bathroom. The cell was only 8'x8'. They had on open toilet in the room. So, everyone would see me use the bathroom. There was no privacy on the toilet. The pain in my left side was hurting so much. I tried to control it as much as I could. I asked to see a doctor. I was refused. I continued to ask for a doctor. they told me I had to fill out a form. So I did. A week went by, and still no doctor. I asked where is the doctor. They said I need to fill out another form, because they lost the last one. This was all a bunch of bullsh*t to me. I was suffering. I was in so much pain, I had to grit my teeth to stop from screaming. I filled out another form, and turned it in. I continued to ask for a doctor. Since a doctor wouldn't come, I asked for a Tylenol. They said I need to see a doctor to get any medication. But I couldn't see a doctor cause not one of them would come to me. Another week went bye. Still no doctor. Within the first week, an individual from homeland security came to us and interviewed us. He asked me a lot of questions. Then he said, I was clean, and he had no interest in me, and never has had any interest in me, nor my friend. I kept asking for the phone. After about 2 weeks they said we could finally use the phone.

There were 50 people trying to use the phone. Each one of them was allowed 3-5 minutes only, and we were only able to use the phone in the late ours of the night. Bye the time it was my turn, I had fallen asleep. I must have dozed off waiting. They did not wake us. They simply went to the next cell. In the morning, I asked for my turn to use the phone. They said I missed it. I was really upset. I knew my wife was worried. I needed to find a way to contact her and let her know where I was. But everyone I begged/pleaded to call my wife, just told me no. I had to talk to her. Oh, my God I was in so much pain. Still no doctor came. The guard told me it takes up to 3 days after the doctor gets your form before he will see you. It has been over two weeks. Two weeks and we weren't even allowed to leave our cells. We ate, slept, and crapped in one room. We didn't see the light of day. Also, every meal they served us, had pork on it. I was unable to eat. I was very lucky when they didn't put pork on the grits. Otherwise, I starved. They served pork just about 2-3 times a day. They knew I couldn't eat this. So many days, I did starve.

The next night I stayed awake the whole night waiting to use the phone. By the time it was my turn, they cancelled the phone service to us. I did not know that. The guard came to me when he saw me awake in the late night/early morning and asked me why I was still awake. I told him I was waiting to use the phone. He said the time was finished. I asked him to please let me use the phone. He spoke with another guard, and they agreed to let me use the phone. I tried to call my wife, but cell phones do not accept collect calls from prison. I felt I lost all hope.The first court date I had, the public defender told me not to say a word. Just listen. The judge came out and set the bail to $75,000. he said I was being charged with looting, and possessions of stolen goods. I couldn't believe they were charging me with that. I didn't have anything on my possession except my wallet. Which they took. They were just trying to stick us with anything they could. Since the terrorist accusations didn't work, they were going to pin us as looters. This was a bunch of bull.

Also, $75,000. for a bond. They knew that no one could come up with that kind of money. No banks were open in New Orleans, and the city was upside down. I needed to get in touch with my wife so she could get the papers and prove that this was my house. The Judge told me, that he was not here to hear me. Only to set a bond. Even if we did have the money, there was no place to pay the bond. There was not one in existence at that time. There was no bond system for New Orleans prisoners at that time. I felt I was really being screwed.The next court date, my real lawyer was there. Someone must have called my wife. She had MY lawyer there. However, there was no court system set up, so not much could be done for me at that time. I was very disappointed again. He said he could try to get the bond lowered, and the only way to get out was to pay the bond, or put up property. Still, there was no place to pay any bond at that time.

Finally, on the third week I was there, they decided to improve our living conditions. They moved us to a minimum security level of the prison, and we were now allowed to go outside for a couple of hours a day. Still, no doctor looked at my side. Which left me moaning through out the night, and sometimes I could deal with the pain. Other times, I couldn't. I can't believe it. I constantly asked for medical treatment. They didn't give me any. What did I do to deserve this treatment? Why were they treating me like this? I truly feel in my heart that I was discriminated against. Why else would they arrest me?Finally, my wife was able to come to New Orleans. She dug through a collapsed building to get the property documents to help get me out. On Thursday she signed over our the warehouse as collateral for my bond. I still wasn't released that day. They made me wait till Friday. They made me stay a total of 23 days in that place. I feel sorry for my friends that are still in there under bogus charges.While I was being released, I asked for my wallet. The Hunt Correctional Center said they didn't have it. they said it was in New Orleans.

All I had on me for ID was a prison ID. I couldn't travel with this. When my cousin, and wife came to pick me up, they took me to his apartment, where my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin's wife were waiting for me with delicious food. After I showered, I ate, then I was taken to Our Lady Of the Lake Hospital. I lost 15 pounds while I was in prison due to the food they were trying to serve me.They did blood work, and X-rays on me. It was documented that I have a torn muscle. I still suffer from this till now. I have been seen by three real doctors and I am on medication. I suffer so much from this. I think it would not have gotten so bad had they let me see a doctor at least one of the 23 days they kept me in there.

On that following Monday, My wife and I went to the bus station where they kept me. I asked for my wallet. At first, they said they couldn't find it. Then they said they need it for evidence. My wife did not except this. They told her she needed to speak with the District Attorney. She saw Mr. Eddie Jordan there and asked him for the wallet. he refused to give it to her. So she went in and fussed a little. She told them that I couldn't travel with a prison ID. She said I was Arab, and they might think I was a terrorist. Finally someone went and got my ID, green card, social security card, and drivers license. They stole my wallet, and all of my credit cards. They either kept, stole, or lost, my wallet, visa card, master card, Lowe's, and home Depot cards, and a lot of business cards. Well, at least I got my Green card back, and my driver's license.You know, the sad thing about all of this is, those dogs, that I saved from starvation, died. I pleaded with the people who arrested us to please take care of the dogs. I gave him the address where they were. He wrote them down and said he would send someone to get them. HE LIED. Those dogs died. When my wife and I went back to our house on Dart St, we saw the owners of the dogs. I told them what happened and I asked about the dogs. They wondered why there was a board leading from their house to the other. They thanked me for taking care of their dogs, and then they told me they found them dead in the house. They also found the other 2 dogs from the neighbors house. They were dead too. All of this could have been avoided.

The tenants apartment had been looted after we were arrested. All of her Jewelry had been stolen, along with the downstairs tenants laptop computer and a few other items. All the trouble he went thru to save what little bit of stuff he did have, was all in vain. He saved it from the flood, but had it stolen by the looters after we were arrested. My family, neighbors, and friends call me a hero. The military that were in this city called me a terrorist. When that didn't stick, they switched it to looter. What a bunch of liars.My wife tried numerous times to reach me. They refused her all of her rights. She was not allowed to speak to me, visit me, or anything else. They said she had to speak with the District Attorney. She left many messages for them to call her back. Eddie Jordan never called her back. She fought for me to see a doctor. Yet no one ever came. She wasn't even allowed to see me at the trial/bond hearing. It was all done at the prison. No one was allowed to see me.

She was told to come to court for me, she even brought people with her. No one was allowed in. I wasn't even convicted of anything. Yet I was treated like I had killed someone. My rights were violated, and so were my wife's. It is suppose to be innocent until proven guilty. In my case it was guilty until proven innocent. My wife asked me if I was read the Miranda Rights. You know, they didn't even do that. I guess that is why they didn't give me any rights. If they didn't read me my rights, then, I guess, that means I didn't have any.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nothing Stops Mardi Gras

by Jordan Flaherty

In New Orleans’ Central Business District, a prominent billboard advertising Southern Comfort liquor proclaims “Nothing Stops Mardi Gras. Nothing.” The festive ad haunts me, seeming callous and cruel, "you've faced a huge loss, and now we want to use your city and cultural traditions to sell a lot of alcohol."Citywide, Mardi Gras is everywhere, but not without controversy. Many are angry at the idea of a huge party taking place while bodies are still being recovered in Ninth Ward houses, And in diaspora communities such as Atlanta, there is a lot of anger at the idea of a huge party going one while they are kept out. A past leader of the Zulu Mardi Gras Krewe even sued his organization (unsuccessfully) to stop them from parading this year.

I have mixed feelings. I love Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Not the parades and Bourbon Street you see on TV, but the other Mardi Gras that the media doesn’t show. There are Mardi Gras traditions for nearly every neighborhood and community, a series of cultural customs ranging from King Cake and the lewd displays of Krewe Du Vieux to the dogs parading in Barkus; the clown punks and shopping cart battles of Krewe Du Poux; the fabulous costumes of the St Ann Parade; and more than anything the cultural traditions of Black Mardi Gras, encompassing everything from Zulu, the one Black major parade, to neighborhood celebrations involving the masked Mardi Gras Indians, Skeletons, and Baby Dolls.I spent a recent Sunday evening participating in an annual tradition called Indian practice in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood. As preparation for the music, dancing, and rituals involved on Mardi Gras day, more than a hundred people from the community packed close and sweaty into a small bar, singing, drumming and dancing to songs that everyone knew every word to, the room all singing and chanting together the classic song of Black Mardi Gras, Indian Red: “Here comes the Big Chief / Big Chief of the Nation / the whole wild creation / He won't bow down / not on that ground / you know I love you hear you call, my Indian Red.”

In the midst of this crowd, I could forget for a moment all the devastation outside. However, when I asked Nick, who had spent his life here, living in this neighborhood that decades ago was filled with Black-owned jazz clubs and businesses, how many of his neighbors were back, he estimated less than 10 percent. While official estimates are higher, the fact remains that even in a Black neighborhood like Central City, which was not heavily damaged or flooded like the now-famous Ninth Ward, people have still not been able to return. A range of obstacles, including redlining by insurance companies, the mass layoffs of city workers, closed schools and hospitals, and continued fear and uncertainty about the safety of the levees surrounding the city, has kept people out.During a recent Sunday service at a church a few blocks away, the Reverend Jesse Jackson asked the 500 people in the room how many of them had evacuated. Every hand went up. He then asked how many still had family and loved ones who had not returned, and again every single hand in the room went up.

Adding to the emptiness, Calliope and Magnolia, two public housing developments in the neighborhood that were mostly undamaged, remain deliberately empty; most residents have not been permitted to return.In fact, this week our at-large city council representative, Oliver Thomas, declared publicly that many of the residents should not be allowed to return. Reinforcing the stereotype that people are poor because they don’t want to work, Thomas stated, "There's just been a lot of pampering, and at some point you have to say, 'No, no, no, no, no,” and added, "we don't need soap opera watchers right now."

At the same meeting, Nadine Jarmon, the appointed chief of the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) declared Thomas’ position reflected their policy, adding if “they don't express a willingness to work, or they don't have a training background, or they weren't working before Katrina, then (we’re) making a decision to pass over those people.” These statements were made while, six months after the hurricane, thousands of undamaged units sit empty, thousands more homeless New Orleanians face eviction from FEMA hotels on March 1, and tens of thousands of renters that lived in damaged homes have no where to move to, and no governmental officials seem to care if they come back. In the midst of this crisis, Thomas, two other council members, and the chief of HANO blamed the victims. What about single parents and caretakers? What about the elderly, injured or disabled? Don’t they deserve housing, even if they don’t have training or an extensive job history? Why are only public housing tenants asked if they intend to work?At a recent demonstration organized by New Orleans Housing Emergency Action Team (NO-HEAT), former residents of the St Bernard Housing Development, many of them visiting for the day from their exile in Houston, expressed their desire to return to their homes. One resident proclaimed that he was going to move back into his home as a form of civil disobedience. While his action is inspiring, the idea that it requires civil disobedience to move back into your own undamaged home is profoundly disturbing. Is this what we’ve come to?

At a recent presentation at Tulane University, Thomas Murphy of the Urban Land Institute spoke about the Institute’s recommendations to the city, including their plan to develop the (wealthier, whiter) areas of the city on high ground first. He also recommended three books to the mostly student audience, including The Prince by Machiavelli and Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, saying, “our mission should be to stand up for those with no voice.” When I asked him how he reconciled his passion for the voiceless with his recommendations to build up wealthy areas first, and why he wasn’t standing up for renters or those in public housing, he evaded the question with comments about a “criminal sociology” that develops in public housing.The victims are being blamed. People of this city, who have contributed so much to the culture of this country, who have created a culture that is now being enjoyed by tourists and others, have always been left out of the profits, and are once again shut out, and put last in line. As Loyola Law Clinic Director Bill Quigley has said, “what if we turned the priorities upside down, instead of saying that we are going to start with building up the high ground, what if we prioritized restoring housing and justice for those who had the least to begin with?”

Even for many of us who lived in areas with minimal flooding, like my relatively privileged block in the Seventh Ward just off the high ground of Esplanade Avenue, the coming months hold a mostly unspoken fear. We have little faith in the levees, little faith in the Army Corps of Engineers, little faith in our government. As one friend who lives a few blocks away from me said to me yesterday, “it’s just a flip of the coin, and it’ll be us next time.”For many of us privileged enough to be here, its bittersweet to see another Mardi Gras. It’s a time of year we used to look forward to, and while there is much to mourn, we also want to embrace our loved ones, embrace our city, and maybe even embrace the decadence. Meanwhile, the city rolls on – plans are made, funds are distributed, some neighborhoods are declared unviable, more people are evicted, and that Southern Comfort billboard taunts us, “Nothing stops Mardi Gras. Nothing.”

Jordan Flaherty is a resident of New Orleans, an organizer with New Orleans Network and an editor of Left Turn Magazine. His previous articles from New Orleans are at

Imprisoned in New Orleans

By Jordan Flaherty and Tamika Middleton
From Colorlines Magazine (
February 2006

When hurricane Katrina hit, there was no evacuation plan for 7,000 prisoners in the New Orleans city jail, generally known as Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), or the approximate 1,500 prisoners in nearby jails. According to first-hand accounts gathered by advocates, prisoners were abandoned in their cells while the water was rising around them. They were subjected to a heavily armed “rescue” by state prison guards that involved beatings, mace and being left in the sun with no water or food for several days, followed by a transfer to state maximum security prisons. Although their treatment brought national attention to the condition of prisoners in Louisiana, and comparison to prison abuse scandals from Attica to Abu Ghraib, local government officials have attempted to dodge accountability and continue with business as usual.

Raphael Schwartz, a 26-year-old Missouri man arrested and imprisoned for public intoxication in New Orleans on August 27, was sprayed with mace and abandoned by officers in a locked cell with seven other prisoners. According to papers filed by the ACLU of Louisiana, the man had no ventilation and nothing to eat or drink for four days. Quintano Williams, a 31-year-old office manager picked up on marijuana charges just before the storm hit, testified in ACLU papers to being abandoned for days and then relocated to Hunts Correction Facility, a rural Louisiana maximum security prison, where he was left with thousands of detainees on a football field. There, he witnessed stabbings, but, he said, prison staff “did not interfere with anything that was going on as long as people did not try to get out of the area.” Rachel Francois was arrested in mid-August, and as far as her family was able to discover never had charges filed against her. “We tried to bail her out,” her mother, Althea Francois, said. “It was the day before Katrina, and the bail bonds places were all closed. If they had been open, she would have been released that day. Instead, we could not get her released until two months later.” Francois, a prisoner-rights advocate, searched for two weeks before she found out where her daughter was being held. Rachel and other women were taken to Hunts and then Angola, an all-male prison. “When I found out she was at Angola prison, just the idea really broke my heart,” her mother said. “She didn’t have a bed until the last few days she was there. She had no food for four days. She saw them throw food at the men like they were animals, but even then they didn’t give the women anything. The women were having panic attacks and were in fear for their lives."

Most of the people trapped in this brutal web of governmental abuse and neglect would have been released within a few weeks even if convicted. However, as of this writing several months later, many remain locked in maximum security prisons such as Angola, Louisiana’s notorious former slave plantation. The flooding of New Orleans showed vividly the results of local, state and federal governments’ misplaced priorities, as well as the privatizing and militarizing of relief. In the months after the disaster, while the people of New Orleans wanted to return and rebuild their city, what they got instead was “security.” Hundreds of National Guard troops, as well as police forces from across the U.S. and private security forces including Blackwater, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International began patrolling the nearly empty city. Long before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was hit by hurricanes of disinvestment, deindustrialization, corruption and neglect. Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the country—816 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 state residents. By comparison, Texas comes in a distant second place with 694 per 100,000.

Although Blacks make up 32 percent of Louisiana’s population, they constitute 72 percent of the state’s prison population. Pre-Katrina, New Orleans industry had already left, and most remaining work involved low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy. Orleans Parish Prison was the eighth largest jail in the country, made up of several buildings located in Midcity New Orleans. The population of the jail was predominantly people from the city’s many low-income communities and communities of color. The jail also rented out cells to the federal government to house immigration detainees and other federal prisoners. However, most of the prisoners left behind as the jail flooded had not been convicted of any crime, but were being held pre-sentencing. Lawyers and researchers working on behalf of the prisoners say that most were accused of misdemeanors, such as minor drug possession, parking violations and public drunkenness. Mary Howell is a civil rights lawyer who has been active in defense of prisoners from OPP for years. “Last year, 80,000 people came into OPP as arrestees,” she said. “Very few were eligible for rehabilitation programs. This prison has mostly been warehousing people. We’ve suffered under a policy where the city builds a huge jail that is then required to be filled with human beings, or else it's a waste of money.”

“Being a sheriff in Louisiana is one of the most powerful positions in the state,” adds Howell.
“There's virtually no oversight. At the time of the hurricane they had about 1,200 employees under the Sheriff in Orleans Parish. Those employees, under state law can also be used by the sheriff for political campaigns. That adds up to a political empire and a patronage empire.” Ursula Price is a staff investigator for A Fighting Chance, a nonprofit organization that works for indigent defense in Louisiana, as well as a part of Safe Streets Strong Communities, a coalition dedicated to transforming New Orleans' criminal justice system. She has been working around the clock since the hurricane hit, despite losing everything she owned in the flooding of New Orleans. “Investigating what happened to these prisoners and where they are is not supposed to be our job. This should be the city’s concern,” she said. Initial reports gathered from testimony of both inmates and guards put the number of inmates unaccounted for anywhere between a dozen and several hundred. Sheriff Marlin Gusman has been sticking with an official statement that, "all inmates housed in Orleans Parish were safely evacuated from our 10 facilities by boat and transported to state and parish facilities by bus." He also suggested to media that reports of abuse come from “disgruntled” inmates who “lie.”

Human Rights Watch and ACLU responded that these reports are consistent from many different prisoners and also match with reports from interviews with guards at OPP. In late November, Gusman’s office quietly put out arrest warrants for 14 inmates, while still denying that any were missing, other than two who had been recaptured. The defense of these prisoners has been managed by just a few organizations and individuals. Phyllis Mann, a lawyer from rural Alexandria, Louisiana, found that many of the OPP prisoners had been moved to a prison near her, and she started visiting them. According to Price, Mann dropped everything in her private practice to dedicate herself to their legal defense—and had 12 former prisoners living in her house. Official negligence is just the beginning of the obstacles advocates have faced. “Immediately after the flooding, the governor issued an order suspending the clock on court proceedings,” Price said. The state no longer had a time limit—formerly 60 days—under which to present charges or release prisoners. “It's stopped due process,” Price continued. “Almost all of the public defenders have been laid off. There are only seven left in Orleans Parish. Meanwhile, in trying to defend these folks, we have massive travel costs and almost no funding.” For the prisoners, there are other hardships. “These are Katrina survivors, but they’re not getting their FEMA money or Red Cross aid or food stamps," said Price. " They’ve lost contact with their families; many have children and they don’t know where they are.” Ross Angle, who has since been released, told Human Rights Watch, “Picture waking up everyday in a prison somewhere—you don't even know where you are—knowing you were supposed to be free, not knowing how long they were going to keep you there. Not knowing if it would ever end. After they moved me, I kept asking for someone to look at my case, and they just kept telling me, ‘We're waiting on the DOC guys, we don't know anything.' If my lady wasn't seven months pregnant, calling them everyday and yelling, then I would probably still be there…It made me feel worthless.”

After the hurricane, the incarceration of suspected “looters” was the first city function to restart. Due process and civil liberties were almost nonexistent for new arrestees, who were put in cages in a makeshift prison at a Greyhound bus station, with no access to phones or lawyers. When ACLU attorney Katie Schwartzmann went to observe proceedings, a sheriff’s deputy at first refused her access, as well as taking and reading her notepad. According to advocates and recently released prisoners, new arrestees are offered a choice—either plead guilty and be put to work on city cleanup crews, or plead not guilty and face months in Angola prison with no access to a lawyer. From the initial images broadcast around the world, demonizing the people of New Orleans as “looters,” and criminals, there have been two very different visions struggling for the future of the city. One vision is a vision of “security,” exemplified by Governor Blanco bringing in National Guard troops with the words, “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 is a vision of corporate security and restructuring, handing the city over to Blackwater Security’s armed guards and Halliburton’s disaster profiteers, while “redeveloping” Black neighborhoods into golf courses and luxury housing.The other vision is of justice and human rights. This vision involves restoring jobs, health care and housing for New Orleans, rather than offering minimum wage dead-end jobs, crumbling infrastructure and more prisons. It is a vision supported by the work of countless activists and organizers from around the US, as well as the overwhelming majority of the people of New Orleans. “Despite all of the horror we are seeing daily, my hope is this is an opportunity for change,” Price said. “OPP corruption is being laid bare—people being held past their time is nothing new in this system, it’s just more extreme now. This is something to organize around and fight against.”

(This article has been slightly altered from the version appearing in Colorlines Magazine)
Tamika Middleton is the Southern Regional Coordinator for Critical Resistance and a member of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition.