New Orleans police enforce the “no poor folk in NOLA” rule

hat tip, Beautiful Also Are The Souls of My Black Sisters:7c964661-ca8a-4514-80c5-7aabb56def6b_ms1.jpeg
Image description: several people surround a woman who is being tended to on the ground by two women and a man. The woman on the ground has her mouth open and appears to be crying out. There are various people running past and milling about–at least one appears to be holding a camera–media perhaps? In the background are metal police barricades and more people behind the barricade. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber)
New Orleans police officers subdue protesters at the New Orleans City Council meeting where the council is expected to vote for the demolition of housing projects in the city of New Orleans, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007.stop-the-demolitions.jpg
Image description: a large white cloth banner is draped over a metal police barricade. On the banner are the words STOP the DEMOLITIONS. HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT. Several men, who are most certainly protesters, stand behind the barricade. In the background are New Orleans city buildings.

Police used chemical spray and stun guns Thursday as dozens of protesters seeking to halt the demolition of 4,500 public housing units tried to force their way through an iron gate at City Hall.

One woman was sprayed with chemicals and dragged from the gates. She was taken away on a stretcher by emergency officials. Before that, the woman was seen pouring water from a bottle into her eyes and weeping.

Another woman said she was stunned by officers, and still had what appeared to be a Taser wire hanging from her shirt.


Image description: a middle aged woman wearing a dark blue jacket with white stripes is lying on the grass. She appears to be weeping and in great distress. A man is behind her supporting her head, while a woman kneels in front of her with what appears to be gauze. This woman has been pepper sprayed, apparently directly in her eyes, and the man and woman with her are very probably rescue workers.

From the BBC:

New Orleans City Council has voted to demolish 4,500 public housing units despite violent protests against the development project earlier on Monday.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to replace the units, which were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with new mixed-income housing.

But critics say the development will restrict the stock of cheap housing.

Earlier, police used pepper spray and stun guns on the protesters when they tried to get into the council chamber.

Several people were treated for the effects of the pepper spray. It is not known if any of the protesters were arrested.

Following hours of debate and clashes outside the meeting, New Orleans City Council voted in favour of the government’s plan to replace the decades-old structures damaged by Katrina to be demolished.

What the fuck was the City Council thinking? Money talks, folks. For some, money is the only thing they listen to. Shame, shame, shame.

Police in action:
Image description:Several cops in blue uniforms stand behind the iron gate that was used to lock protesters out of the City Council meeting. The third cop from the left is holding a can of pepper spray and spraying it out toward the crowd of protesters.

Ok, these are the poor black, brown, and white dispossessed residents of New Orleans fighting for their lives. Their lives. And a hearty “fuck you” and relegation to moderation to anybody who tries to justify what the Rich Men are doing to poor people down there.

While reading about the housing protests over the last couple of weeks, I keep thinking of something brownfemipower said in comments over at her place:

This might be a good conversation to have, not a lot of people recognize that there’s a difference between protesting and civil disobedience. Or that the u.s. hasn’t seen true civil disobedience since the 60’s and 70’s with the various power movements and the queer movement. Or the environmental movement that shut down nuclear facilities. I was going to talk about how we’re seeing the beginnings of some great movement making with youths, about how they shut down citibank recently, and about how the zapatistas shut down major freeways, and how the immolokee workers have won unprecedented victories through civil disobedience and cultural movement making—I was going to talk about all sorts of things, because I thought–well, let’s see if we can find a way to bring these worlds together.

This is important, because there is a cynical strain of thought out there that all that protesting and milling about and getting arrested is just a waste of time. Tell that to the woman with pepper spray in her eyes. Tell that to the cops. Tell that to the City Council, which was so rocked and intimidated by the power of angry people with a righteous cause that they had to hide behind an iron fence and police with weapons.

This is getting coverage all over the place, so I’ll just provide some links and let them tell the rest of the story:
For more great photo coverage
Is This What Democracy Looks Like?
Protesters clash with police over New Orleans demolitions
Common Ground Collective has been a great source for on the spot coverage
New Orleans Indy Media
The Redstar Perspective

*crossposted at Super Babymama

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39 comments for “New Orleans police enforce the “no poor folk in NOLA” rule

  1. Donna Darko
    December 21, 2007 at 2:38 am

    Intense. I saw that. Kudos to all the protesters.

    Great coverage, kactus.

  2. December 21, 2007 at 4:14 am

    Reading this story makes my heart hurt.

  3. December 21, 2007 at 4:57 am

    Oh. Fuck. This makes me so angry.

    I hope COHRE gets on this soon.

  4. Sailorman
    December 21, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Moderately Insane: Latest developments in New Orleans regarding public housing

    Short summary with thanks to Feministe for the tip:
    1) New Orleans, LA, gets trashed in Katrina: public housing got beat up in the hurricane.

    2) The city council was voting on whether or not to tear down the housing.

    3) Tearing the housing down would theoretically allow for better rebuilding.

    4) Said “better” rebuilding (the teardown plan) might benefit the economy of New Orleans, though it’s never really simple to predict a magic pill.

    5) However, it is certain that the scrap-and-build-anew housing plan would fail to provide for many poor New Orleans residents, most of whom are black and politically weak…

  5. December 21, 2007 at 10:53 am

    This story sent me into quite the depression last night. Thank for posting on it.

  6. December 21, 2007 at 11:12 am

    One woman was sprayed with chemicals and dragged from the gates. She was taken away on a stretcher by emergency officials. Before that, the woman was seen pouring water from a bottle into her eyes and weeping.

    Another woman said she was stunned by officers, and still had what appeared to be a Taser wire hanging from her shirt.

    I will say it again. It is properly fair to blame the grunts on the ground for this.

  7. December 21, 2007 at 11:13 am

    (eh, “grunts on the ground” meaning the police officers, not the people actually on the ground.)

  8. Q Grrl
    December 21, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Thanks for keeping this on the radar.

    There are so many issues wrapped up in this. The thought that keeps running through my mind is, if the housing projects are demolished, it creates a wicked gap for slum lords to fall into. There is a lot of cheap property in NOLA right now. Cheap because it is flood damaged and toxic. I don’t know that there are measures in place that would keep a slum lord from buying up these damaged properties, improperly or poorly remodeling them, and then renting them to those dispossed who need immediate and low-rent housing.

    It completely boggles my mind and bruises my heart to see such blatent inhumanity. This shit is huge. If it were happening anywhere else, we would see it for the human rights violation that it is (by we, I mean US citizens).

  9. December 21, 2007 at 11:41 am

    damn damn damn.

    According to Common Ground’s website, the city is seizing and selling to developers homes that people aren’t rehabing fast enough. So not only are people in public housing being displaced but homeowners who are getting screwed over by FEMA are having their homes taken away.

    Behind all the liberal crap about revitilization and the creative class and redevelopment is this: forcibly removing poor people from their homes, erasing poor communities and replacing them with hip epcot center versions of themselves…and, oh yeah, torturing those who resist. This is what they would do everywhere if they could.

    I’m so sorry, New Orleans, for all you’ve suffered.

  10. Q Grrl
    December 21, 2007 at 11:50 am

    A lot of people can’t rehab fast enough because they can’t afford the insurance. From what I learned from a recent visit, homeowners insurance is almost as much as the body of the mortgage. That, and business owners, etc., have raised the price of building materials (even the nails!) to prices that are prohibitive.

  11. December 21, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Yep, annalouise. Follow the money trail, and you’ll find a lot of the answers.

    Racism, classism, capitalism and greed–all tied up in a nice bow for the holidays.

  12. Josh
    December 21, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I will say it again. It is properly fair to blame the grunts on the ground for this.

    No way. You have to look at their tax returns before you can decide whether they are blameworthy.

  13. December 21, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    My husband and I were talking about this last night. He grew up in New Orleans. His mother lost her home and now lives in AZ. His father lost his home and now lives in Baton Rouge. They all love the city, but they simply can’t take the financial risk to move back. The levees aren’t up to snuff and the city is still seriously devastated.

    We both think it’s great that the feminist blogs are taking up the issue. My husband pointed something out to me last night that I don’t remember hearing elsewhere:
    The powers that be have been trying to tear down these homes for years and years. Katrina is just the current excuse.

    He says the projects were never great buildings and there are some valid reasons to tear them down, but mostly it’s just a money and power thing. The idea is to remove the projects and thus send the poor folk out of town.

    Q Grrl said:

    “If it were happening anywhere else, we would see it for the human rights violation that it is “

    No, actually, it happens elsewhere. I remember not long ago in Vegas they were kicking poor people out of mobile home parks so that developers could build condos. It’s just that in Vegas there were fewer people and many were old and incapable of protesting this way.

    Eminent domain abuse happens all over the country on a very regular basis. This is not isolated to New Orleans.

    I think what’s interesting about New Orleans is that the people who live there have such a sense of community that they’ll fight like this to keep their homes. That sense of community isn’t as developed in some other parts of the country.

    It’s also coming at a time in our country’s history where activists are getting more and more energized to fight back. Instead of just sitting around and getting depressed by the news, many people are doing something about it. This is turning point. We’re on the verge of a revolution. It’s just up to us if it’s a minor revolution or a major one.

  14. December 21, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I will say it again. It is properly fair to blame the grunts on the ground for this.

    Still don’t like this. Insert “in part” after “blame.” There.

  15. nonskanse
    December 21, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Agree with DNNation. Please blame everyone in the long line of events before today that led to this protest even having to happen, the decision makers, etc, because they are just as guilty.

    Also,$ guilt.

  16. nonskanse
    December 21, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    ** that was “$ not equals guilt” but with divets for “not equals” because I forgot html eats them.

  17. William
    December 21, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Still don’t like this. Insert “in part” after “blame.” There.

    No, the grunts are wholly to blame. The cops in New Orleans are among the most brutal in the country. They’re worse than LAPD or NYPD, on par with Chicago. Yeah, sure, they got their orders from the city counsel, and the counsel deserves the blame for setting up this situation. But the blame for what happened on the ground lies in their hands, the blame for accepting their orders, the blame for escalating a conflict or using such extreme coercive force to shut some poor people up.

    Lets not mince words, and lets not show thugs any undue respect or deference because they happen to wear a blue uniform and we’d like to think they might sometimes be the good guys. I wouldn’t shed a tear if I found out tomorrow they’d all been killed in their sleep.

  18. December 21, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Well William, any person of color or poor person knows the police can be thugs. But they are hired thugs–they’re not just acting on their own. The NO City Council knew what they were doing when they got the police involved, they knew the potential for brutality, and after they weighed the risks they decided that it was worth it for them.

    The police don’t act in a vacuum (and I’m not talking about individual cops here, I mean as a force). They are the front line in keeping the wealthy safe from “the rest of us.” Guilty as sin–sure. Guilty alone? No way.

  19. William
    December 21, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    I wasn’t saying they were guilty alone. I even pointed out the fact that the NO city counsel was guilty for setting up the situation in the first place. I was more taking exception to the equivocation that seemed to be going on about how much blame should fall on the cops. My point was that, regardless of who put them there, the responsibility for shooting mace into an old woman’s eyes lies with the person holding the can of mace. Especially when you’re talking about a police force like that of New Orleans, a group of people who are essentially professional sadists, you cannot insulate them from blame. You cannot lessen their responsibility.

  20. December 21, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Guilty as sin–sure. Guilty alone? No way.

    Yes, what kactus said. These police aren’t any more wholly to blame than the Abu Ghraib guards were wholly to blame. It seems to me the blame lies with the city council and whatever company is getting money for tearing down these homes and rebuilding yuppie condos in their place, and then trickles down from there to include the cops.

    I’ll go ahead and say it: It’s classist to blame it all on the cops, while the ruling class gets to look down their nose and say, “Oh, what brutes!”

  21. C.
    December 21, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve been pepper sprayed before, and it hurts pretty badly. It’s unaccepable to use it against peaceful protestors, especially in a situation like this. It’s just far too extreme a measure. The pain lasts for days.

  22. Sailorman
    December 21, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    What i’m trying to figure out is whether the cops “stood fast” or whether they charged the crowd.

    I’m sure others here will disagree, but from my view there’s an enormous difference in culpability between the two. If I’m standing and waving a sign and a cop pepper sprays me, that’s quite different than if I’m pushing past that same cop against her orders/warning and she pepper sprays me to get me to stop. Isn’t it?

  23. nonskanse
    December 21, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    I think it is quite different, but it’s rare that it’s a case of “stood fast”. I don’t know if the acusations of N.O. cops being worse than others is true but I think we’ve all seen that in situations where there’s race and class involved, the people “in charge” are a little more trigger-happy.
    So in this case I’d imagine there was yelling, and threats, and some reaching over barricades, but there probably was very little physical contact if any before the tasers and pepper spray came out.
    Was anyone watching? Are there news-feed links I missed? I can’t tell from reading the blog post alone.

  24. nonskanse
    December 21, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    2 links deep I found a video clip. It doesn’t look like the pepper spraying I saw in the video was necessary….

  25. December 21, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    Nonskanse: I happened to be watching MSNBC yesterday when it was happening, and no, it didn’t look necessary. There was a field reporter talking in front of the crowd and it freaked him the hell out

  26. nonskanse
    December 21, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    understandibly so.
    Not only can’t you have a home, you can’t be angry about it. Gr.

  27. December 21, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Times like this i wish I watched TV, or had video capabilities, because pictures don’t cut it. I have to admit that initially I got the idea from what i had read that this was sort of a “crowd rush the gates” thing, which it now sounds like it wasn’t. I’m both relieved and also embarrassed that my initial assumption was incorrect.

  28. everythings.entangled
    December 22, 2007 at 3:13 am

    so is there anything to do about this besides be depressed and sign some online petition? if i go to new orleans could i do anything concretely useful? or would i just be another white kid doing my part for gentrification? .watching the destruction of such a community and culture is too much..i really want to do something about this but i have no idea what. i google katrina and New Orleans and it seems the only way to help is by donating stuff and writing letters. is that really the only thing a person outside of New Orleans can offer? i want to do more than just be aware of the problem…

  29. Skullhunter
    December 22, 2007 at 4:05 am

    Sailorman, usually it isn’t a “crowd rush the gates” thing, but the police will sure as hell claim it was. It’s pretty much standard operating procedure; “less than lethal” measures are used against protesters either on specific orders to force them to leave or just because some thug in uniform felt like doing it, then afterwards they make vague and unsupported claims about objects being thrown at the cops or people attacking them and the general public nods and agrees that the protesters deserved what they got. They know they’re dealing with a public that’s been indoctrinated for generations to unquestioningly trust authority and to believe that callous brutality by the authorities is almost always justified.

  30. December 22, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    everythings.entangled–new orleans is not the only place where gentrification and violent enforcement of government destruction is taking place. I think one of the most important things to do is to begin considering how the city you are located in is connected to new orleans–and then start making change within your own city in any way you can. it’s not just the police who are doing this, nor is it just the new orleans city council or the Louisiana state government etc–this is our entire system, our entire government, our entire population. we are *all* culpable in this because new orleans was allowed to happen at a different time in a different place over hundreds of years and nobody ever said anything. What is happening to the poor in NOLA happened on that same plot of land to native peoples (and continues to happen, native peoples are experiencing the same shit in that area as well).

    I think the place to start ‘action’ is by recognizing that if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. if it happens over there, it’s going to happen ‘here’. it’s all just a matter of time.

  31. kate
    December 22, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I agree with Brownfemipower. It is happening everywhere, fueled by racism, classism and the grab for available land for speculators and developers to make a buck. Also, as fuel prices rise and cause the increased devaluation of large suburban tracts with huge McMansions, the demand for innercity housing by the affluent will rise. Gentrification is occurring now Harlem, Chicago and other urban areas, even in smaller cities.

    The removal of industrialization and well paying low skilled work overseas is meaning that there are larger and larger groups of people who cannot find good paying work. The depend on government programs operated by HUD to have a decent place to live. As costs of living rise and wages remain stagnant, the demand on public services increases which also increases the propaganda machine of the far-right to engage in dismissing the importance of publically funded housing or even the importance of housing citizens at all.

    Republicans since Reagan have made a killing with misinformation feeding off of racism and classism. The propaganda allows the powerful and the greedy to divert funds that would normally go to helping the public, back into their pockets. Civil service is scorned and government is no longer seen as anything more than an institution to protect the wealthy the propertied. Social Darwinism has come back into vogue as we enter the new Guilded Age.

    Contrary to the lies propounded by conservatives, there is plenty of money for this country to do well and meet the basic needs of its population. Its just that we won’t have a country-sized population of the privileged, who will be able to exploit without accountability.

    I am a carpenter and I don’t know how many people in the trade have talked about going down to New Orleans to rake in big bucks rebuilding the city. Unfortunately, most common people have no idea or understanding that the people who need the rebuilding the most cannot afford it, that FEMA is shut up tighter than a bull’s ass and that only a small number of closely tied, favored and selected contractors will get any of the small amount of work that will be done in the ‘redevelopment’ process.

    If FEMA released their funds like they should have, if the insurance companies had been forced to release funds like they should, if there were tighter controls on contractors (safety practices, not trucking in and exploiting illegals) then possibly there would be a boon in the local economy, but its a lie to say so with the way things are now. Its only a boon to a select few.

  32. kate
    December 22, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    And tell me this. Why couldn’t HUD had taken this opportunity to offer ownership and condoiazation of the old housing units, with grants or low interest loans for each tenant to remodel as they pleased?

    Afterall, my black brothers and sisters were promised forty acres and a mule so many years ago. A condo of their own with a grant for fix-up is a start in the right direction.

    Just saying.

  33. everythings.entangled
    December 22, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    i’m aware that New Orleans is just one example of not just a national problem but a global one as well. i get all the -isms conservative agendas and how they work to screw over everybody (including themselves in the long run).
    im just looking for a more tangible response to the problem besides dissecting it. and new orleans in particular is still (kind of) on the media map and has a lot of strength as a community so if someone is going to try and make some kind of action against this nonsense i imagine new orleans has a lot of potential and opportunities to accomplish….something.
    i dunno maybe its the wrong question, maybe im looking at it wrong. and maybe i shouldnt except people to have that kind of answer for me.

  34. December 22, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    everythings.entangled, if it’s more hands-on that you’re looking for, the Common Ground collective link at the end of the post has tangible volunteer opportunities.

  35. louise
    December 23, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    I was sickened watching the video, sailorman- the crowds were NOT out of control and this was such a horribly brutal overuse of force. Actually, depending on what cable channel you watched, you could see the events unfolding from either inside the gates or outside- the outside shots showed alot of people, but looking peaceful enough, then large jets of mace flying out into the crowd.

    From the interior angle shots, one would think that the entire building was being rushed and that the police HAD to close the gates to save themselves! Eeks!!

    Really good editting in the control booths, huh? “Fair and Balanced”, my ass…

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