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On the march for justice after Hurricane Katrina
No to Jim Crow in our city

December 2, 2005 | Page 8

MIKE HOWELLS is a longtime community activist in New Orleans who is a part of the grassroots struggle to defend the rights of residents following Hurricane Katrina. Here, he writes about a recent march across a bridge from New Orleans to Gretna, La.--which during the Katrina disaster was blocked by police to the mainly Black residents trying to evacuate.

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ON NOVEMBER 2, civil rights activists marched across the Crescent City Connection Bridge to protest the attack by Gretna police on evacuees attempting to flee hurricane-devastated New Orleans during the week that followed the landing of Katrina.

Demonstrators retraced the path of the thousands who attempted to flee the parish on foot by way of the bridge, but were turned back at gunpoint by Gretna police. A group called the Hip Hop Caucus organized the march, and about 150 people participated.

Despite the refusal of Gretna authorities to grant organizers of the march a parade permit, demonstrators crossed the Crescent City Connection into Gretna without incident. The ranks of the marchers included New Orleanians who were in the city at the time law enforcement and the National Guard imposed a post-Katrina blockade.

Three days after the landing of Hurricane Katrina, Gretna police fired above the heads of people, mostly African American, attempting to flee a catastrophe of the first magnitude. The collapse of the levee system left four-fifths of New Orleans flooded. Hurricane damage left the city's water system in a state of virtual collapse. No emergency supplies of food or water were being distributed by officials or charities in the city. All commercial outlets were closed. Police and military barred entry into the city.

Nearly all those who remained in New Orleans were without access to a car. No public transport out of town was available. For the vast majority of the people trapped in New Orleans, the only possible way out was on foot.

At the rally prior to the November 2 march, speakers denounced local authorities and the Bush administration for their abandonment and often racist brutalization of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Speakers included Malik Rahim, Diane "Mama D" French and Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.).

Rahim observed that not a single elected official from New Orleans bothered to join the march despite invitations from organizers of the action. He noted that these same officials, both African American and white, also refused to come to the aid of the victims of the storm in the days after Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Mama D, a holdout and longtime Crescent City activist, accused local authorities of engaging in ethnic cleansing by, among other things, refusing to reopen Iberville and other habitable public housing complexes. The Housing Authority of New Orleans, now operating under the direct authority of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has used Hurricane Katrina as a pretext for shutting down nearly all public housing in the Crescent City.

McKinney denounced the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Gretna police's brutalization of hurricane victims.

After the rally near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, participants marched across the Crescent City Connection Bridge into Gretna. Along the route, motorists frequently honked and gave the thumbs up in shows of support for the demonstration. Marchers repeatedly chanted, "Whose streets, our streets!" They also chanted, "No justice, no peace!" When marchers crossed into Gretna, local police made no attempt to halt the action.

This development was a victory against the de facto campaign by Gretna authorities to transform that town into a "no-go zone" for poor people and African Americans. The march made clear to Gretna authorities that their attempt to institute a neo-Jim Crow order is meeting with resistance from below.

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