Dear friends,

Today, the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,
activists in New Orleans are still fighting for
justice. Below is an article I wrote on the anniversary
for The Root website.

Also, I'm excited to announce that I will be a producer
on this season of Fault Lines, the flagship current
affairs television news program on Al Jazeera English.
You can find out more about the show and watch episodes
online here:

Six Years After Katrina, The Battle for New Orleans

    Political power has shifted to whites, but blacks have
    not given up their struggle for a voice -- and justice.

By Jordan Flaherty

The Root
August 27, 2011

As this weekend's storm has reminded us, hurricanes can
be a threat to U.S. cities on the East Coast as well
the Gulf. But the vast changes that have taken place in
New Orleans since Katrina have had little to do with
weather, and everything to do with political struggles.
Six years after the federal levees failed and 80
percent of the city was flooded, New Orleans has lost
80,000 jobs and 100,000 residents. It is a whiter and
wealthier city, with tourist areas well maintained
while communities like the Lower Ninth Ward remain
devastated. Beyond the statistics, it is still a much
contested city.

Politics continues to shape how the changes to New
Orleans are viewed. For some, the city is a crime scene
of corporate profiteering and the mass displacement of
African Americans and working poor; but for others it's
an example of bold public sector reforms, taken in the
aftermath of a natural disaster, that have led the way
for other cities.

In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans saw the rise of a
new class of citizens. They self-identify as YURPs -
Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals - and they work in
architecture, urban planning, education, and related
fields. While the city was still mostly empty, they
spoke of a freedom to experiment, unfettered by the
barriers of bureaucratic red tape and public comment.
Working with local and national political and business
leaders, they made rapid changes in the city's
education system, public housing, health care, and
nonprofit sector.

Along the way, the face of elected government changed
in the city and state. Among the offices that switched
from black to white were mayor, police chief, district
attorney, and representatives on the school board and
city council, which both switched to white majorities
for the first time in a generation. Louisiana also
transformed from a state with several statewide elected
Democrats, to having only one -- Senator Mary Landrieu.

While black community leaders have said that the
displacement after the storm has robbed African
Americans of their civic representation, another
narrative has also taken shape. Many in the media and
business elite have said that a new political class -
which happens to be mostly white - is reshaping the
politics of the city into a post-racial era. "Our
efforts are changing old ways of thinking," said Mayor
Mitch Landrieu, shortly after he was elected in 2010.
After accusing his critics of being stuck in the past,
Landrieu -- who was the first mayor in modern memory
elected with the support of a majority of both black
and white voters -- added that "We're going to
rediscipline ourselves in this city."

The changes in the public sector have been widespread.
Shortly after the storm, the entire staff of the public
school system was fired. Their union, which had been
the largest union in the city, ceased to be recognized.
With many parents, students and teachers driven out of
the city by Katrina and unable to have a say in the
decision, the state took over the city's schools and
began shifting them over to charters. "The
reorganization of the public schools has created a
separate but unequal tiered system of schools that
steers a minority of students, including virtually all
of the city's white students, into a set of selective,
higher-performing schools and most of the city's
students of color into a set of lower-performing
schools," writes lawyer and activist Bill Quigley, in a
report prepared with fellow Loyola law professor Davida

In many ways, the changes in New Orleans school system,
initiated almost six years ago, foreshadowed a battle
that has played out more conspicuously this year in
Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and other states where
teachers and their unions were assailed by both
Republican governors and liberal reformers such as the
filmmakers behind Waiting for Superman.  Similarly, the
battle of New Orleans public housing -- which was torn
down and replaced by new units built in public-private
partnerships that house a small percentage of the
former residents -- prefigured national battles over
government's role in solving problems related to

The anger at the changes in New Orleans' black
community is palpable. It comes out at city council
meetings, on local black talk radio station WBOK, and
in protests. "Since New Orleans was declared a blank
slate, we are the social experimental lab of the
world," says Endesha Juakali, a housing rights
activist. However, despite the changes, grassroots
resistance continues. "For those of us that lived and
are still living the disaster, moving on is not an
option," adds Juakali.

Resistance to the dominant agenda has also led to
reform of the city's criminal justice system. But this
reform is very different from the others, with
leadership coming from African-American residents at
the grassroots, including those most affected by both
crime and policing.

In the aftermath of Katrina, media images famously
depicted poor New Orleanians as criminal and dangerous.
In fact, at one point it was announced that rescue
efforts were put on hold because of the violence. In
response, the second-in-charge of the New Orleans
Police Department reportedly told officers to shoot
looters, and the governor announced that she had given
the National Guard orders to shoot to kill.

Over the following days, police shot and killed several
civilians. A police sniper wounded a young African
American named Henry Glover, and other officers took
and burned his body behind a levee. A 45-year-old
grandfather named Danny Brumfield, Sr. was shot in the
back in front of his family outside the New Orleans
convention center. Two black families - the Madisons
and Bartholomews - walking across New Orleans' Danziger
Bridge fell under a hail of gunfire from a group of
officers. "We had more incidents of police misconduct
than civilian misconduct," says former District
Attorney Eddie Jordan, who pursued charges against
officers but had the charges thrown out by a judge.
"All these stories of looting, it pales next to what
the police did."

District Attorney Jordan, who angered many in the
political establishment when he brought charges against
officers and was forced to resign soon after, was not
the only one who failed to bring accountability for the
post-Katrina violence. In fact, every check and balance
in the city's criminal justice system failed. For
years, family members of the victims pressured the
media, the U.S. Attorney's office, and Eddie Jordan's
replacement in the DA's office, Leon Cannizzaro. "The
media didn't want to give me the time of day," says
William Tanner, who saw officers take away Glover's
body. "They called me a raving idiot."

Finally after more than three years of protests, press
conferences, and lobbying, the Justice Department
launched aggressive investigations of the Glover,
Brumfield, and Danziger cases in early 2009. In recent
months, three officers were convicted in the Glover
killing (although one conviction was overturned), two
were convicted in beating a man to death just before
the storm, and ten officers either plead guilty or were
convicted in the Danziger killing and cover-up. In the
Danziger case, the jury found that officers had not
only killed two civilians and wounded four, but also
engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy that involved
planted evidence, invented witnesses, and secret

The Justice Department has at least seven more open
investigations on New Orleans police killings, and has
indicated their plans for more formal oversight of the
NOPD, as well as the city jail. In this area, New
Orleans is also leading the way - in a remarkable
change from Justice Department policy during the Bush
Administration, the DOJ is also looking at oversight of
police departments in Newark, Denver, and Seattle.

In the national struggle against law enforcement
violence, there is much to be learned from the victims
of New Orleans police violence who led a remarkable
struggle against a wall of official silence, and now
have begun to win justice. "This is an opening,"
explains New Orleans police accountability activist
Malcolm Suber. "We have to push for a much more
democratic system of policing in the city."

In the closing arguments of the Danziger trial, DOJ
prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein fought back against the
defense claim that the officers were heroes, saying the
family members of those killed deserved the title more.
Noting that the official cover-up had "perverted" the
system, she said, "The real heroes are the victims who
stayed with an imperfect justice system that initially
betrayed them." The jury apparently agreed with her,
convicting the officers on all 25 counts.

Jordan Flaherty is a New Orleans-based journalist. His
award-winning reporting from the Gulf Coast has been
featured in a range of outlets including the New York
Times, Al Jazeera, Agence France Presse, and in
newspapers around the world, such as Argentina's Clarin
newspaper. He is the author of FLOODLINES: Community
and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be
reached at [log in to unmask], and more
information about Floodlines can be found at For speaking engagements, see

For regular updates from social justice struggles in
New Orleans, see:

Recent Reporting:

Did New Orleans Media Contribute to Police Violence
After Hurricane Katrina?

DOJ Report Finds Pattern of Discrimination by New
Orleans Police Department: Jena Sheriff Seeks
Revenge for Civil Rights Protests:

FLOODLINES: Community &
Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six ISBN:
9781608460656   - Trade paper  - 320 pages


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