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City and state officials order a National Guard invasion
Blaming the poor in New Orleans

By Nicole Colson | June 30, 2006 | Page 2

THE NATIONAL Guard are on patrol in a city whose infrastructure has been decimated, with a green light to shoot at its impoverished residents.

But the city isn't in Iraq. It's New Orleans--where last week, 300 National Guard troops began patrolling the streets in an effort to "reduce crime."

The troops were requested by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and approved by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco following a weekend in which five teenagers were murdered in the Central City section of the city.

According to reports, the troops were assigned to watch for looters in neighborhoods such as Lakeview, Gentilly and the more heavily damaged Ninth Ward 24 hours a day, supposedly to allow New Orleans police to tackle growing violence in more populated--and heavily poor and Black--areas such as Central City and Algiers.

As she approved the troops, Blanco's message was all about blaming the victims and demanding more "law and order." "I have two warnings," she said. "First, to parents, keep your teenagers off the streets and out of trouble. Second, to judges, I am urging you to keep hardened criminals where they belong--in jail and off the streets. We must protect our citizens."

But which citizens? The city's elite and business owners see the Guard as a way to help "clean up" traditionally poor sections of the city with high crime rates--to ensure that rebuilding plans that push out the poor aren't put in jeopardy.

"We can debate forever whether the National Guard should have been called in, but the fact is they have been called in," John Casbon, chair of the crime section of the mayor's Bring Back New Orleans Commission, told Cox News Service. "They're not here to eat beignets. They're MPs, and they belong to a specialized unit, and they know how to shoot. We have a chance to clean this mess up, and we're flat going to do it."

In the weekend following the Guard's arrival, New Orleans police reportedly made triple the usual arrests--including 14 young people who were detained for violating the city's newly instituted 11 p.m. weekend curfew for teens.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, federal housing officials announced that they would raze 5,000 public housing apartments for the poor and replace them with "mixed-income" developments.

Most of the city's public housing has been off limits to tenants since Hurricane Katrina--despite the fact that many of the units are habitable, and a large number of public housing residents are still displaced.

While the government promises it will provide mixed-income units eventually, public housing residents say there is a need for housing now. "Right now, we feel it's not the time to start huge building projects because there are lots of people who are displaced as we speak and need a place to stay," Lynette Bickham, who was evacuated from the St. Bernard project, told the New York Times. "We're going to continue to fight for our homes."

Former residents have begun demanding the right to return, setting up a tent city outside the St. Bernard project, the largest of the developments.

According to Time magazine, whites are now 73 percent of the population of New Orleans, up from 59 percent pre-Katrina, while the city's Black population has dropped from 37 to 22 percent. The city's median income has risen by more than $3,600 to $43,447, due almost entirely to the displacement of poor Blacks.

As Lance Hill, director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, told the New York Times, "I think the people who've been planning the recovery process never wanted poor people to return to the city in the first place. And they haven't made it easy."

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