Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Peoples’ Justice: the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

From the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita courtesy of the New Orleans Independent Media Center:

Why a Tribunal is necessary

On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast leaving death and unparalleled devastation in its wake. The poor Black communities of New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama bore the full weight of the storms and floods. Local, state and federal governments had at least four days advance notice that the levees did not have the capacity to contain mass flooding expected from a category three hurricane. Yet, despite these warnings, the US government had neither prepared for evacuation, nor mobilized to evacuate thousands of people displaced from their homes and left to die on their roofs and in the rubble of the devastation.

In the face of this abandonment, the population of New Orleans took their survival into their own hands and neighbor-to-neighbor attempted to save lives and reach secure ground. In the chaos of their own incompetence and racist rumors, local, state and federal governments sent military and mercenary personnel to New Orleans. They launched a military invasion aimed at removing the Black population and containing a potential rebellion, rather than sending a relief effort. New Orleans became a battle zone between government and mercenary forces seeking to ‘protect’ the white neighborhoods of the city and the surrounding suburbs from the Black mass fleeing the floods and seeking refuge from the disaster and race induced neglect. Dozens were murdered and arrested by various government forces and mercenaries as the media fuelled and justified human rights abuses by their unfounded, and later to be found completely untrue, reports of mass looting and rape.

To this day, the government has produced no accurate count of the number of people killed. What is known is that some one million, mainly poor Black people, were forcibly dispersed to over 44 states across the US. They herded people onto buses and trains at gunpoint, separating mothers, children, grandmothers and cousins. They uprooted and separated families, friends, neighbors, support networks and violently ripped apart the social fabric of peoples lives in order to transform the ethnic and racial make up of New Orleans and the region forever.

Over the past two years the US government has fundamentally ignored the plight of the more than one million people directly impacted and displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When the government has been pressed to answer for its actions, it has ducked and dodged and basically washed its hands of any responsibility or liability. When the Army Corp of Engineers acknowledged its responsibility for the faulty and racially discriminatory design and maintenance of the New Orleans levee system, the government has not corrected its errors, nor provided restitution or recourse for its fatal policies. The net result of the systematic policies of intentional neglect and depraved indifference being executed in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is ethnic cleansing of the historic and politically strategic Black communities in the region.

More here.

Okay, so this event starts Friday, here in New Orleans, and runs through the weekend. I won't be attending because I'm unemployed and have no money, but I expect that it will probably get some left wing press coverage, maybe at Democracy Now! or over on ZNet. I fully expect the mainstream press to ignore it entirely, which renders problematic the organization's goal of furthering the Gulf Coast reconstruction movement--if the media ignore them, the politicians will too. However, I think this event's real value will be contextualizing Katrina within the overall global human rights movement, right alongside Israel's brutalizing of Palestinians, genocide in Darfur, Indonesian oppression of East Timor, and Iraqi refugees.

Really, what's going on here, especially with the African-American community, is that big of a deal.

"Ethnic cleansing" is a pretty good term to use. It's not quite genocide, but it's been looking all along like a concerted effort to break up concentrated black populations in the hurricane zone. I don't think it's a conspiracy or anything along those lines--after all, this is such a big undertaking that such info would have leaked. However, just because there's no conspiracy doesn't mean it isn't happening. The ethnic cleansing is a result of a confluence of interests, from real estate developers to chamber of commerce members. In New Orleans, for instance, the massive poverty-stricken black community was perceived as a problem by many in the white power establishment. Crime levels associated with poverty hurt business and lowered property values. And many money-spending white tourists are just afraid of black people. When Katrina came along, an irresistible opportunity to rid the city of its "problem" revealed itself to various groups at the same time. Each group has acted independently, but together. And, unfortunately, it's currently looking like they're going to succeed. As far as I can tell, virtually nothing is being done by anyone in power to help NOLA's poor black displaced citizens.

Go check out the Tribunal's site, lots of cool links to articles and other info.