A pepper spray victim being treated outside City Council in New Orleans. Police used excessive force to prevent people from attending a public meeting where decisions were made to demolish 4,500 housing untis on December 20, 2007. (BBC Photo).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
New Orleans: Resisting Demolition
by Carl Dix
On Thursday, December 20, the New Orleans City Council was scheduled to vote on whether to demolish public housing in New Orleans. The city's plan is to destroy more than 4,600 units of low-cost housing. This is happening in a city where homelessness is growing.
A city where tens of thousands have not been able to return since Katrina. A city where people are being evicted from FEMA trailers, where homeless encampments are being forcibly removed. And this plan has been met with resistance by people determined to be heard and determined to stop the demolitions.
Even before the City Council voted, the system delivered its answer in brutality: The police attacked people and arrested them inside the City Council meeting. BILLY CLUBS, PEPPER SPRAY, AND TASERS were also used outside against people protesting the demolitions.
A protester who was at the City Council meeting told Revolution: "We were denied our human rights. HANO [Housing Authority of New Orleans] brought a lot of people in there, in favor of demolition. All of those people were able to get their people seated fairly quickly without any problems.
And we was asking why weren't you letting more of our people in and also the people opposed to demolition, they were screening the guys. As we made the request, because we saw a number of seats available, maybe even 20 seats available for people to come in, but they had them close off the access to council chambers...
We got up in protest, screaming, 'Let the people in! Let the people in!' And the officers decided to silence us, so one of the officers grabbed me, put his hands on me. I told him don't put his hands on me, and the crowd was still chanting, 'Let the people in!' because they was illegally starting the process. Then another officer passed me up, so I started chanting again 'Let the people in.'
So another officer took it upon himself to use physical enforcement to silence me. A number of police officers then jumped me, physically hitting me, striking me. Knocked me on the ground, then one SWAT team officer tasered me. So while I was being tasered, another officer asked me to put my hands behind my back, but I was paralyzed from the taser, by the volts.
I was tasered again. So when I have two tasers in me I was tasered again. So I was tasered three times after being beaten and attacked by the police officers. They handcuffed me and dragged me out of the room. I was put in a paddy wagon and brought to jail."
Then the city council took their vote: seven votes to ZERO in favor of demolishing four large public housing developments.
A graphic display of bourgeois democracy in action.
Outrage On Top of All the Other Outrages
The night before the vote, TV news already announced that most of the city council was going to vote for demolition. It was also announced that cops would be out in large numbers to enforce order during the meeting.
The Message: forget about protesting this blatant injustice, the powers-that-be have already decided to go ahead and demolish more than 4,600 units of public housing—homes that could be fixed up for people who desperately need a place to live. The city's plan is to destroy more than 4,600 units and replace them with "mixed income housing" which will have less than 800 affordable units.
On the day of the meeting, HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) packed the council chambers with supporters of demolition. Several hundred people also came to the council meeting to voice their opposition to the demolitions.
But the police closed and chained the gates to the City Council chambers before the meeting began. They claimed there was no more room—even though there were dozens of empty seats and lots of standing room.
More than 100 people demonstrated outside, chanting "Stop the Demolitions." New Orleans residents who had been exiled after Katrina came from places like Houston and New York to oppose the demolitions, and they were enraged at being locked out of the council.
Inside the chambers, people refused to let the meeting begin, demanding those locked out be allowed in. Cops grabbed several young men by their dreads. Mothers and grandmothers from the projects joined youth and others to condemn this repression while it was going on and throughout the session. To enforce "order," the cops beat, tased and arrested people.
The crowd outside became enraged at the sight of people being dragged out in handcuffs. People surged against the chained gate forcing it to pop open. When some tried to get into the chambers the cops arrested several people, indiscriminately shot pepper spray into the crowd and started tasing people.
Three women were tased, one of them in the back, sending her into convulsions. At least 15 people were arrested.
It was AFTER all this—after opponents of the demolition had been beaten, tased and arrested—that the City Council went through the formality of hearing public comment for and against demolition. And then voted unanimously to demolish the homes and communities of thousands of poor Black families.
Were any of the council members bothered by any of this repression? Not a bit. The Los Angeles Times reported: "City Council members—some sipping water, others leafing through file folders —looked on impassively as a man was tasered, handcuffed and dragged from the council chambers."
Since Katrina, outrage after outrage has been perpetrated against the people of New Orleans. Tens of thousands left to die as Katrina's flood waters surged. People denied evacuation or rescue and food and water. People vilified and dissed as looters and thugs for taking what they needed to survive.
And now THIS—in a city where there is such a crying need for low-cost housing, the authorities are moving ahead with plans to demolish public housing. More than 200,000 New Orleans residents still live outside the city, 150,000 of them Black, unable to come back, in large part, because there's nowhere they can afford to live. Thousands are being evicted from FEMA trailers, and more than 12,000 people, more than double the number of homeless before Katrina, are living on the streets.
But the logic of capitalism sees no profit in providing low-cost housing for people. And plans to rebuild New Orleans have clearly been aimed at making it a city less Black, less poor, and more geared toward profitable enterprises like tourism.
Resistance Builds, Much More Needed
Resistance to the demolitions had been growing in the days leading up to the City Council meeting. At the BW Cooper development, where demolitions began, several people occupied apartments the day before the council vote.
Two people chained themselves to the buildings, shutting down demolition efforts for much of the day. The authorities responded by declaring the whole housing development a crime scene and threatening residents with arrest if they left their homes.
One of these residents called in to a press conference held to support the occupations and spoke by phone on a TV newscast, letting people know she was "being held hostage" by the police. People involved in the occupations were given felony charges of terrorizing and "using a simulated explosive device."
Headlines and photographs were seen around the world—showing the resistance of the people to this latest attack. And much more resistance is needed to take on and beat back these demolitions. For the authorities, the only thing left to work out is the details of how people's homes will be demolished.
But for many people, this battle is far from over. It has already been very important and very significant that this outrage has not been allowed to go down quietly, that it has been met with determined resistance from the people.
And it is an outrageous exposure that in order to have their vote to carry through with this plan they had to lock people out of the meeting, beat, tase, pepper spray and arrest people.
The stakes in this battle are very high. People across the country, and around the world, witnessed the criminal way the system treated people after Katrina. And people have seen how the system has continued to mistreat and abandon the people of New Orleans—making it impossible for most to come back and rebuild their homes and lives.
Politicians and the media continue to vilify Black people in New Orleans, calling them thugs and criminals and blaming them for the desperate conditions the system has put them in. It is right to rebel against all this! And it is heartening and inspiring to see people resisting in New Orleans.
New Orleans represents something special to people. Before Katrina it was seen as a vibrant city with a distinctive culture. Since Katrina, it has come to symbolize a blatant concentration of the whole history and the continuing reality of how this system oppresses Black people.
There has been widespread sentiment among millions of people of wanting to stand with the people in New Orleans, to do something to help. And in spite of government neglect and roadblocks, tens of thousands of volunteers of many different nationalities and walks of life have come to New Orleans to gut houses, clean up schools, and help the rebuilding effort in other ways.
In such a situation, RESISTANCE in New Orleans resonates with many people who could be allies in this struggle, who feel that this resistance has RIGHT ON ITS SIDE, who could "have the people's back."
Resistance to the demolitions has already struck a chord with and impacted many different kinds of people. In mid-December, dozens of mostly youthful volunteers responded to a call to come down to help stop the demolitions. Right after the City Council vote, a crew of people, including some youth from Jena, came to New Orleans to distribute Revolution newspaper.
On December 5, Brad Pitt was on the Larry King show talking about his project to rebuild eco-friendly housing in the Ninth Ward (a poor Black neighborhood devastated by floods). He expressed real concern about the situation people are in.
Speaking about the scene at the City Council meeting, he said: "What yesterday certainly reflects is the frustration and the helplessness that families are facing here. And, again, you know, it's been two-and-a-half years now. And, again, I don't know the details. I know there was some arguments that these places created crime.
I didn't hear the argument that answers that for me, is that you've got to address education, you've got to address health, you've got to address opportunities. And until you address that, what do you expect is going to be there? So I don't know that the issue is just about the housing itself.
But, again, I don't know enough. What I do know is that this tells you what an open nerve this place still is. And as hopeful and as great spirit as the people maintain here, you know, they need some help."
There is much need, and great possibility, for the resistance to these demolitions to grow broader and become more determined. The powers-that-be are serious about rebuilding a smaller, whiter New Orleans, with much of its Black population driven out. In a real way, this concentrates the killing program this system has for Black people nationwide.
As the resistance grows and becomes more determined, it can attract people who hate the outrages this system continues to inflict on the people and want to see a different and better way for people to live.
It can bring many more forward to join the struggle, and through the course of resisting, people can learn what they're up against and what it'll take to win. It can win allies from amongst people from many different backgrounds.
And all this can and must be part of building a broad revolutionary movement.
Revolution is calling on its readers to send messages of support to the people in New Orleans, which we will forward.