Volume 8, Number 21 December 12, 2005
Survivors of the New "Middle Passage"
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
On Friday, December 9th we arrived in Jackson, Miss. at the Anderson United Methodist Church as community activist and New Orleans Katrina survivor Bro. Curtis Muhammad spoke. He said, "If someone snatches you out of your home, puts a gun to your head, then pulls the trigger, but you duck and they miss, are you going back to that person for help? The government pulled the trigger, but missed." This sentiment was expressed by Katrina survivors throughout the day long "Survivor Assembly & National Conference" sponsored by the "Peopleís Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition (PHRF)". PHRF was launched by Community Labor United (CLU) after Hurricane Katrina, as it became clear that the government was not going to help folk hurt by the storm.
The PHRF along with its self-help programs also has a list of demands for the government and major organization which include:
1. Provide funds for all displaced families to be reunited;
2. Allocate the $50 billion for construction to the victims of the hurricane in the form of a Victims Compensation Fund;
3. Promote the representation from actual survivors on all boards that are making decisions on spending public dollars for relief and reconstruction;
4. Place displaced workers and residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in public works jobs, offering union wages;
5. Publicly account for and show the entire reconstruction process.
Survivors of the hurricane that were shipped all over the country had much to say about how the government treated them as they were being evacuated and since their deployment. Stories were told about how two days after Katrina in the city of Gretna which was not flooded, people living in the Fisher Projects were forced from their apartments at gun point by the police and military, loaded on buses and shipped out of the city. A documentary called "I wonít drown on that levee & you ainít gonna break my back" was presented showing how inmates, mostly Black, were left to drown in the Orleans County jail, but survived by bursting through the roof. Even after surviving the immediate danger they were left in fetid water without food or clean water for 4 days.
Stories were told about how people were being evicted from their homes and apartments without notice. Homes were being sold from beneath people without their knowledge or consent; insurance companies refused to pay for damages to the victimsí homes; rent was doubled and tripled forcing tenants out or preventing the poor from coming back; people received telephone bills, electric bills and water bills in the hundreds of dollars for the period during which there was no telephone, electric or municipal water service; young white vigilantes with guns kept Black people from going to relief centers that were located on the other side of white neighborhoods; Black men were prevented from coming into Black communities to get relatives out or bring supplies in; food was dropped from helicopters from a height of 100 feet splattering in front of victims; there were no medical facilities or means to get prescriptions filled; Black people were put in jail for curfew violations while white folk partied in the French Quarter; people were called "niggers" by the police and National guard; vigilantes dressed up to look like legitimate police or military; the military and vigilantes shot down Black men trying to bring supplies to the women, children and old people; number of dead has been severely undercounted; fences were put up around the Superdome after whites were taken out and Blacks left to suffer.
After the victims were evacuated the stories persisted of how they were treated like convicts on the evacuation buses and airplanes patrolled by armed guards. Women told the stories of how they were treated like prisoners and disrespected by the maids at the hotels in Detroit. They complained about how they were being bused around to rallies to raise money for major relief funds, but given second-hand clothes and rags to wear and no money. They all complained about how the government did not help and in most cases prevented the evacuees from communicating with each other or finding family members.
They complained about how the media was not telling the truth about what happened. The survivors stated that they want an independent investigation of how those levees broke. They also stated that they wanted complete amnesty for all those accused of looting while they were struggling to survive. The survivors knew about the aid offered by Cuba and Venezuela but stopped by the US government. They expressed a willingness to independently seek support from those and other countries that wish to help them.
Testimony by them highlighted the great love and concern that the Black people showed each other throughout the crisis. They mentioned how Blacks set up their own clinics and that the first responders in most cases were family members, friends and neighbors. Mention was made of how the Millions More Movement mobilized to set back the December 1st eviction of 150,000 evacuees from hotels across the country. Those deadlines have been moved from December 1st to the 15th and now January 1st. Conferees pointed out that continued exposure of the situation and community outcry could possibly force FEMA to move those dates further back and fulfill its promises of emergency housing to be located in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region.
The PHRF developed a set of strategies and committees to carry out ongoing programs of recovery. You can find information or make donations by calling 1-888-310-PHRF or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
After leaving Jackson on December 10th we traveled south to Columbia, Miss where a meeting of the Mississippi Black Farmers and Land Owners Association was held. The Black farmers were organizing to support legislation being developed to help Black farmers who were either hurt or not helped by the Pigford v. Glickman Black farmersí lawsuit.
Even here the injustices perpetrated on them by FEMA in the aftermath of Katrina was exposed. A 76 year old Black woman testified that she received no assistance from FEMA although she lost everything in the storm, while whites with little or no damage were getting large checks from FEMA.
However, the hypocrisy and political nature of how this disaster relief is moving forward was highlighted by an eyewitness of such games. Mrs. Francis Guy said that she had attended a meeting of Black preachers that was held in Marion county Miss. on Friday, December 9th where they were told by a FEMA representative to be sure to fill out their application to receive FEMA money, because the decision for how the money was to be dispersed was the following Wednesday and the checks would be cut Thursday. She asked the people in attendance how many of them knew about their pastor attending or applying for such monies. None knew anything about it, which prompted Mr. Sherri Jones from Marion county to say, "Tomorrow when you go to church and your preacher begins to talk about Job, tell him to tell you about FEMA."
Survivor Conference at Anderson Methodist Church in Jackson, Miss.
See Books and lectures by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min