Underreported Realities in New Orleans: Suicides, Teacher Firings and Public Housing Demolitions
As Bush travels the country raising $27 million for his fellow compassionate conservatives in one night, the people of New Orleans continue to suffer beyond comprehension. Suicide rates are higher than they've ever been, all of the city's public school teachers have been fired and over 5,000 public housing units are about to be demolished.
*According to an article in today's New York Times, New Orleans is experiencing a near epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, leading to a suicide rate that state and local officials say is close to triple what it was before Hurricane Katrina struck 10 months ago:
Sgt. Ben Glaudi, the commander of the Police Department's Mobile Crisis Unit here, spends much of each workday on this city's flood-ravaged streets trying to persuade people not to kill themselves.
Last Tuesday in the French Quarter, Sergeant Glaudi's small staff was challenged by a man who strode straight into the roaring currents of the Mississippi River, hoping to drown. As the water threatened to suck him under, the man used the last of his strength to fight the rescuers, refusing to be saved.
"He said he'd lost everything and didn't want to live anymore," Sergeant Glaudi said.
The man was counseled by the crisis unit after being pulled from the river against his will. Others have not been so lucky.
"These things come at me fast and furious," Sergeant Glaudi said. "People are just not able to handle the situation here."
*Yesterday, Democracy Now! featured an interview with Joe DeRose of the United Teachers of New Orleans about the firing of 7,500 public school teachers and employees. Have you heard about this? Control of many of the city schools has been given to private charter organizations. Last week, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced $24 million in federal aid to Louisiana for development of private charter schools:
Every teacher in New Orleans was fired. There weren't 7,500. There was 7,500 school employees, everybody from cafeteria workers, truck drivers and custodians to teachers, and there were about 4,000 teachers. Solid middle class employees, career professionals who had dedicated their careers to helping try to educate the children in one of the neediest cities in the country, a city with one of the highest poverty rates, as everybody saw in the days immediately following Katrina.
They were treated with utter disrespect. There was no notification that they would be fired until one day in October, when the school board called a press conference, notified us about an hour before that they were going to have such a conference. Therefore, most people found out that they were being terminated on the 5:00 news. Those who didn't have TVs or weren't still living in the city found out in the newspaper the next morning or by phone calls from friends and relatives who were in touch with the media.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened through this year? And what percentage of the public schools? Are we talking over 90% of the schools are African American?
JOE DeROSE: Yes, it's probably closer to 95%. And we also have a class division within the city, where many African Americans of means, middle class African Americans, were able to send their children to or chose to send their children to Catholic schools. So New Orleans public schools were left with really the most most impoverished students, and they were also in the buildings with terrible conditions, a school system that was not really adequately supported. There was not enough money. Nobody has ever determined how much money is needed to properly educate children in the state of Louisiana, for one, and certainly not in the city of New Orleans.
If people had seen before Katrina the conditions of these schools, they would have been appalled. In fact, there was a group of people from the great city schools who came in in October to evaluate the damage caused by Katrina, and because these people were experienced and because they were visiting schools mostly on the un-flooded West Bank of New Orleans, they could tell the difference between hurricane damage and previously existing damage. And they were astonished at the conditions that the city provided for its public school students.
*Bill Quigly, human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, writes passionately about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's announcement to demolish over five thousand public housing apartments:
HUD's demolition plans leave thousands of families with no hope of returning to New Orleans where rental housing is scarce and costly. In New Orleans, public housing was occupied by women, mostly working, their children as well as the elderly and disabled.The Times and Democracy Now should be commended for their continued coverage of what's happening in New Orleans. Where are the rest of the media?
To these mothers and children, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said: "Any New Orleans voucher recipient or public housing resident will be welcomed home."
Exactly how people will be welcomed home, HUD did not say.
How can thousands of low-income working families come home if HUD has fenced off their apartments, put metal shutters over their windows and doors and are now planning to demolish their homes?
As in the face of any injustice, there is resistance.
NAACP civil rights attorney Tracie Washington promised a legal challenge and told HUD, "You cannot go forward and we will not allow you to go forward."
Most importantly, displaced residents of public housing and their allies have set up a tent city survivors village outside the fenced off 1300 empty apartments on St. Bernard Avenue in New Orleans.
If the authorities do not open up the apartments by July 4, they pledge to go through the fences and liberate their homes directly. The group, the United Front for Affordable Housing, is committed to resisting HUD's efforts to bulldoze their apartments "by any means necessary."
If the government told you that they were going to bulldoze where you live, and deny you the right to return to your home, would you join them?