Nagin's Never Land: Bulldozers on the Mississippi

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Nagin's Never Land: Bulldozers on the Mississippi
by C. L. Cook
The mayor didn't attend the meeting, but later held a press conference, where he congratulated city council for its unanimous decision on a difficult problem.
It's a story of a rare political consensus, agreed in the limelight cast by city, state, national, and international media; everyone wanted to know what the stricken city of New Orleans' leaders would do to address the masses of displaced citizens, locked out of their homes since the disastrous hurricane and flood suffered more than two years ago.

And the council's decision?
New Orleans will allow HUD, (an agency only slightly better thought of by those who have experienced its strangling bureaucracy and ineptitude on the ground than that famous author of the Katrina preparation and response, FEMA) to pull down 4500 public housing units, ensuring their former occupants remain displaced.
Despite winning the mayor's thumbs up to rid his jurisdiction of some untold thousands of the city's mainly poor, mainly black inhabitants, the decision didn't sit well with citizens, activists, and advocate organizations, who surrounded council chambers in strength.

Police actions guaranteed violence; "pepper spraying" and tasing the assembled, declaring on pain of the riot act, (a handy provisional device to criminalize almost everything done, or not done in timely enough fashion to suit the shock squads apparent everywhere there is a resident population unhappy with what they perceive to be injustice and official corruption) that the rabble be dispersed.
Then, the shit hit the fan, as they say.

When asked by the press about police "tasering" of demonstrators and the reported fifteen arrests made, a testy New Orleans Police Superintendant Warren Riley offered;

"You know why people were arrested, stunned with Tasers and pepper sprayed. You have it on videotape."

The video I saw from the New Orleans "riot" was of some clown shaking a gated fence violently, as the crowds chanted, "Let us in...[presumably to council's chambers] let us in." There was some pepper spraying going on after that, but I haven't found taser pictures yet.
Superintendent Riley is wrong though; no video of 'the boys' spraying and stunning the hoi polloi can explain the "why" of the matter. Why these housing units are being destroyed, and why 4500 families are now not wanted on the new New Orleans voyage is more complicated than the blunt instrument of state thuggery employed today against the marginalized.

To better understand what culminated in the police violence in New Orleans, this video may give you some idea of what the spray and electric stun gun shock recipients are angry about, and how what witnessed today was simply another battle in an ongoing war being waged against the poor by the city and a coterie of real estate speculators, holy roller social engineers, and a posse of racist out-riders. They beg the nation return to another time, where a more "black and white" view of things like race and privilege prevailed.

Alongside the unmistakable reek of perfidy permeating post-Katrina New Orleans and the Gulf region beyond, there is the more difficult to dismiss determined optimism to remake the city, as reflected in the city council's consensus; yes, tear down the towering public projects; and yes, maintain a public housing program, but not as a concentration of exclusively "poor" residents, but a "mixed" community; mixed racially, mixed financially, mixed politically.
Finally, the line goes, after more than forty years of universally failed social policy across the United States, New Orleans, led by mayor Nagin and his unanimous-council backers, will get civic planning right; the new New Orleans will have a public housing reborn; it will engender a new era of justice in a city too long known for the excesses of the southern caste system.

Or so the optimists would have it.

The truth is the council has been sucked in, as city councillors are wont to be when promised the moon by hucksters, shysters, and real estate tycoons. These liars provide themselves as the first to be blamed, for a cut, when promises made to the poor are broken, as they necessarily are. They say all the things city hall wants said, and provide "plausible" deniablilty later. In return, their purloining schemes against the public purse is guaranteed, should local tongues click, left alone to spin cash uninterrupted.

So what accomplishes the interests of city hall in the demolition (with a theoretical proviso from HUD to pony up for partial
rebuilding of public housing) of 4500 units of shelter from the calamitous housing climate of Louisiana in late 2007?

For a "mixed" public housing Shangri La down the road, the teeming thousands are decreed today to remain so; homeless now, in the dead of winter in a city where thousands of perfectly sound accommodations are available, if the city were to allow power and water service be restored, and (preferably) abandoned, never to inhabit New Orleans again.

HUD says about 3,000 families who once lived in New Orleans public housing remain scattered across the country, and social workers say the number of homeless people in the area has doubled to about 12,000.

There is no consensus on what's best for New Orleans' poor, even among public housing residents. Redevelopment would diminish the public housing stock and drive many into less stable voucher programs. Repair of brick and barracks-style projects badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina would keep intact poor but close-knit neighborhoods.

Mayor Ray Nagin said the resolution approved by the council includes language that will assure that public housing residents have a voice in the redevelopment plans.

Opponents were not immediately available for comment on the decision. Thursday's vote was required before demolition work could begin, but several legal challenges to the plan have not been resolved.

Just today, here in my little tourist town, citizens announced plans to march tomorrow, on the darkest night of the year, to mark the deaths in our city of our very own "street people." Here too the city and a coterie of hucksters, shysters and real estate tycoons wage war on the poor, and accomodation is hard to find and getting harder every day. Condominium towers are sprouting across the city, and the forests are being mulched at a tremendous rate to literally pave the way for a vision of the future that's seen through a rear view mirror half a century old.

Unlike any old days in Victoria I know, more than 1,200 people live, if not "on the streets," then not always knowing exactly where they'll sleep next. A paltry number of desperate lives when marked against the 12,000 in similar circumstance currently calling New Orleans home, I suppose.
While they are the living aftermath of the famous storm, those dispossessed of New Orleans are too signifier of things soon to come for all we the little people. Barred by law to return to their homes by a government corrupted, assailed by the armed force of that corrupted regime, and cut adrift from the culture they were born into, the progressing fate of the Katrina unfortunates is a charting of the devolution of society's heart and soul.  


Nagin Applauds Decision


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