New Orleans After 24 Months

'They wanted them poor niggers out of there.'

“They wanted them poor niggers out of there and they ain’t had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers, you know? And that’s just the bottom line.”

It wasn’t a pretty statement. But I wasn’t looking for pretty. I’d taken my investigative team to New Orleans to meet with Malik Rahim. Pretty isn’t Malik’s concern.

We needed an answer to a weird, puzzling and horrific discovery. Among the miles and miles of devastated houses, rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your home and we’ll arrest you.”

These aren’t just any homes. They are the public housing projects of the city; the Lafitte Houses and others. But unlike the cinder block monsters in the Bronx, these public units are beautiful townhouses, with wrought-iron porches and gardens right next to the tony French Quarter.

Raised up on high ground, with floors and walls of concrete, they were some of the only houses left salvageable after the Katrina flood.

Yet, two years later, there’s still bars on the windows, the doors are welded shut and the residents banned from returning. On the first anniversary of the flood, we were filming this odd scene when I saw a woman on the sidewalk, sobbing. Night was falling. What was wrong?

“They just messing all over us. Putting me out our own house. We come to go back to our own home and when we get there they got the police there putting us out. Oh, no, this is not right. I’m coming here from Texas seeing if I can get my house back. But they said they ain’t letting nobody in. But where we gonna go at?”

Idiot me, I asked, “Where are you going to go tonight?”

“That’s what I want to know, Mister. Where I’m going to go – me and my kids?”

With the help of Patricia Thomas, a Lafitte resident, we broke into an apartment. The place was gorgeous. The cereal boxes still dry. This was Patricia’s home. But we decided to get out before we got busted.

I wasn’t naïve. I had a good idea what this scam was all about: 89,000 poor and working class families stuck in Homeland Security’s trailer park gulag while their good homes were guarded against their return by mercenaries. Two decades ago, I worked for the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Even then, the plan was to evict poor folk out of this very valuable real estate. But it took the cover of a hurricane to do it.

Malik’s organization, Common Ground, wouldn’t wait for permission from the federal and local commissars to help folks return. They organized takeovers of public housing by the residents. And, in the face of threats and official displeasure, restored 350 apartments in a destroyed private development on the high ground across the Mississippi in the ward called, “Algiers.” The tenants rebuilt their own homes with their own sweat and their own scraps of cash based on a promise of the landlords to sell Common Ground the property in return for restoring it.

Why, I asked Malik, was there this strange lock-out from public housing?

Malik shook his dreds. “They didn’t want to open it up. They wanted them closed. They wanted them poor niggers out of there.”

For Malik, the emphasis is on “poor.” The racial politics of the Deep South is as ugly as it is in Philadelphia, Pa. But the New Orleans city establishment has no problem with Black folk per se. After all, Mayor Ray Nagin’s parents are African-American.

It’s the Black survivors without the cash that are a problem. So where New Orleans once stood, Mayor Nagin, in connivance with a Bush regime more than happy to keep a quarter million poor folk (i.e. Democrats) out of this swing state, is creating a new city: a tourist town with a French Quarter, loose-spending drunks, hot-sheets hotels and a few Black people to perform the modern version of minstrel shows.

Malik explained, “It’s two cities. You know? There’s the city for the white and the rich. And there’s another city for the poor and Blacks. You know, the city that’s for the white and rich has recovered. They had a Jazz Fest. They had a Mardi Gras. They’re going to have the Saints playing for those who have recovered. But for those who haven’t recovered, there’s nothing.”

So where are they now? The sobbing woman and her kids are gone: back to Texas, or wherever. But they will not be allowed back into Lafitte. Ever.

And Patricia Thomas? The middle-aged woman, worked sweeping up the vomit and beer each morning at a French Quarter karioke joint. Not much pay, no health insurance, of course. She died since we filmed her – in a city bereft of health care. New Orleans has closed all its public hospitals but for one “charity” make-shift emergency ward in an abandoned department store.

And the one bright star, Malik’s housing project? The tenants’ work was done this past December. By Christmastime, they received their eviction notices – and all were carried out of their rebuilt homes by marshals right after the New Year, including a paraplegic resident who’d lived in the Algiers building for decades.

Hurricane recovery is class war by other means. And in this war of the powerful against the powerless, Mr. Bush can rightly land his fighter plane in Louisiana and declare that, unlike the war in Iraq, it is, indeed, “Mission Accomplished.”

Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Anthony Ware said on August 31st, 2007 at 8:41am #

    Katrina rescue and recovery is a demonstration of the feelings plutocrats have for poor black folx-DISDAIN AND CONTEMPT. The entrenched black political class of misleadership in New Orleans shares responsibility as well.

  2. Daniel said on August 31st, 2007 at 8:36pm #

    Oh Brave New World! What a tale of tragedy, a double tragedy. First a hurricane, then an attack by the dogs of Capitalism!

    The once great dream of America is in shreds. That is the biggest tragedy of all!

  3. Bob said on August 31st, 2007 at 11:46pm #

    I have no doubt this is true.What I want from an investigative reporter is the actual Banks and Corporations behind these we as a people can read who is proffiting fromthese Experiments. Aiding in a boycott or altered investments at the least.Exposing them one by one for justice to be served

  4. abu hamza said on September 3rd, 2007 at 3:42am #

    the only thig that has changed in amerikkka over the past half cewntury are the faces of the oppressors and their victims. for the last 400 years until the early 60s they lynched americans of african descent for daring to be black, muslim and consider themselves an american.

    the former slave owners and their ancestors feel this overwhelming need to sideline and or kill black, muslim americans because of their jeaslousy and feeling of inferiority to them.
    however, they accept our women who were always revered as their mammies. now these black women are their confessors and advisors (Oprah, Tyra amerikkkan whites have become schizophrenics with dual and/or multiple personalities. they live in a TV fantasy world where prozac is the cure-all that makes life worth living.
    the european spawning ground where these child molesting, sex addicts and homosexuals originate from are continually producing more and more of these vultures who prey on society. their primary purpose in life is to gratify their lusts, sexualf fantasies and voracious appettites for luxury and the appearance of being civilized christians.
    in conclusion has anyone noticed that the christians are more like pagans in that they lead abberant lifestyles than ony other religion in the world.