“Beating the Beatdown”


We’re in our final days of trying to keep public housing standing in New Orleans, and it’s fairly self-indulgent of me to use such a pronoun, given my marginal ties to New Orleans these days (not to mention my general exam blogging of the last 2 weeks). Nonetheless, if we don’t have some perception of solidarity in the midst of this tragedy, then blogging about public housing for the last 18 months, among other more important activities, has scarcely done its job. Consider this post an aggregate of information and resources for those who aren’t sure where to look.

Let’s begin with this video of activist and civil rights lawyer Bill Quigley’s arrest at a City Council meeting for protesting the demolition of public housing. In the last month, my feminist and progressive blogosphere has been spreading the word about the impending demolition of approx. 4,000 units of public housing in New Orleans, scheduled for this Saturday, and the resistance of tireless residents and activists in the face of a corrupt, ideological, myopic and ruthless HUD. I have little to add at this late juncture, except to add to the collective grief, anger and, for myself anyway, sense of despair that this is really happening.

The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, justiceforneworleans.org, Louisiana Weekly, and even the NY Daily News have more depressing and outrageous detail than you could ever hope to read (check out justiceforneworleans.org for updates, info and resources). National Journal has a series on HUD corruption under Bush and Sec. Alfonso Jackson. Several weeks ago Congressional Quarterly ran a great article on the role of LA Sen. Vitter (R) in blocking affordable housing development in the city and region.

The 896 units at Lafitte, the only development/neighborhood ironically being re-designed with one-for-one replacement (incl. beyond the original footprint), has been spared – for now – by the “hysterical preservationists”, as my boyfriend and his New Orleans historic preservation peers are mockingly referred to by developers and those interested in progress and growth and rising tides lifting all boats blah blah blah. Nonetheless, HUD proceeded to remove the doors and windows from the developments – presumably including those reinforced window covers that allegedly cost $1,500 a pop to install after the storm – leaving them open to the vandalism they wished the storm had ravaged on the buildings as their lies claimed. Furthermore, the City Council will now have to approve whether to override the preservationists, and with its new white majority (first time in 20 years), in-fighting and general ambivalence about public housing, I’m not optimistic that strategically located Lafitte – not far from the French Quarter and Canal Street – will long outlive the other targets, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper and St. Bernard.

The title of this post comes from an article by J.B. Borders, an organizational consultant in New Orleans, forwarded to me from a mutual colleague. In it he envisions “full-scale race war” that could erupt this summer in the city, using an imagined racial spat in the new white majority City Council as the tipping point:

I suspect we’ll begin to seriously regret this decision before the weather turns hot again. And then one day at City Hall – perhaps a week or so after the Essence Music Festival Empowerment Seminars take place – Spacey Stacey, Munchkin Midura or Wacky Jackie will say something offensive to a Civil Servant Sister. It will likely be some cutting remark intended to impugn the woman’s professional integrity and intelligence.

The sister will, in turn, slap the bejesus out of that person – how dare she speak to me like that! A black male security officer will attempt to intervene. He’ll put his hand on the sister and she will start scuffling with him. Gunfire might ensue. The sister will take the bullet. Whether she lives or dies, her colleagues at City Hall along with the usual strident community activists will stage a protest in front of the offending City Councilwoman’s home.

The police will be called in to restore order. Instead, they will inflame the situation. More violence will erupt. For several days thereafter it will spread across the city, infecting not just poor, predominately black neighborhoods and Canal Street but also the normally-oblivious white enclaves along Magazine Street and the Lakefront.

Another new New Orleans will then have to be confected – one which will provide greater levels of equity to the city’s black population.

I’m certain this is what Derrick Bell envisioned when he advised us to come to grips with the “permanence of our subordinate status� so that we can “avoid despair� and be free “to imagine and implement racial strategies that can bring fulfillment and even triumph.�

Read the whole thing. Public housing, and the whole precarious system of inequality and injustice it’s built on, is coming smashing down in front of us. Let me know when you feel the tremors in your own backyard.


4 Responses to ““Beating the Beatdown””

  1. 1 PZ
    December 12, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    The Vitter info is in a site you have to register for. I’m not doing it at this moment because I’m on deadline only on quick break. I need to post about his outrageousness on this issue, though. S.c.a.n.d.a.l.o.u.s.

  2. December 12, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Damn! I’ll have to find a way to print it out for folks.

  3. December 12, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    From the Times-Pic, courtesy of the activists with NOHEAT (NO Emergency Housing Action Team):

    T-P ON THE SCENE: Demolition crews arrive at B.W. Cooper
    by The Times-Picayune
    Wednesday December 12, 2007, 3:49 PM
    Demolition crews this afternoon began tearing down 14 brick buildings at the B.W. Cooper public housing development — work that had been scheduled long before Hurricane Katrina struck two years ago.
    STAFF PHOTO BY ELIOT KAMENITZProtesters at the B.W. Cooper public housing development.
    That meant nothing to protesters who tried to block a second crane that arrived to the 3400 block of Erato Street after 3 p.m., chanting “Housing is a human right.”
    “This is immoral and must be stopped,” said Don Everard, an activist who stood right in front of the wrecking crew’s path. “It’s a hate crime. It’s a hate crime against poor people.”
    Attorney Bill Quigley, a Loyola Law School professor who is leading a civil rights lawsuit against the demolition of public housing, said that more protests will follow the wrecking crews, which are set to descend on Cooper and two other complexes Saturday.
    “At least,” said Quigley, eyeing the scores of protesters, which included members of Safe Streets New Orleans.
    Known as the “new side” to Cooper residents, the flat-topped dormitory-style buildings were opened around 1950 and were designed much differently than the handsome pitched-roof style buildings that flank Earhart Bouelvard.
    With open, common-use hallways, the buildings became crime havens, said B.W. Cooper Resident Management Corporation president Darrell Williams.
    “They were never upgraded,” said Williams. “The criminal element was always present. We welcomed those being torn down.”
    Sharon Sears Jasper, who lived at the St. Bernard complex before the storm forced her out, held a bullhorn and led protesters to condemn the demolition.
    In June, the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced they would demolish the city’s four largest developments — B.W. Cooper, St. Bernard, C.J. Peete and Lafitte, to make way for “mixed income” modern-day housing.
    Demolition on all sites except Lafitte is scheduled for Saturday.

  4. 4 Sniper
    December 15, 2007 at 11:13 am

    What if you’re no where near New Orleans but would like to donate? What organization would be best?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: