Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Problems for New Orleans not only racism

Journal and Courier:

We're closing in on the first anniversary of Katrina, so it's time for politicians and others seeking fame and fortune to take advantage of the moment.

Director Spike Lee has teamed up with HBO to air a four-hour TV movie (Lee calls it a documentary) about the hurricane that ripped into the Gulf Coast. Among the claims made in the movie is that the levees protecting much of New Orleans were deliberately blown up -- presumably by the federal government -- as part of a conspiracy against the mostly black Ninth Ward.

And New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, in Indianapolis last week for a conference of black journalists, took the opportunity to use the race card to explain why his city has struggled to recover.

Nagin, recently re-elected, said his city would have fared better had it not been mostly black. He told the journalists in Indy that the response from the federal government would have been quicker and better had Orange County, Calif., been hit.

It's probably true that the response would have been better in Orange County -- or any city or state that had more competent government officials dealing with the disaster.

That officials dealing with Katrina were inept is one of the few points on which almost everyone agrees.

The local, state and federal responses to Katrina have been thoroughly reviewed and were the subject of congressional investigations. Mayor Nagin, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Federal Emergency Management Administration all received failing grades.

The three levels of government were unwilling and unable to work competently or cooperatively. Whether it was preparing evacuation sites before the hurricane, planning for the return of residents afterward, or anything in between, they botched the job.

That's not to say there was no evidence of racism. There were reports of suburban communities turning away blacks attempting to escape the flooding. And there were Nagin's comments complaining about Hispanics being hired to clean up the debris and his remarks about making New Orleans a chocolate city.

It's also apparent that income played a role in how victims fared. If you had money, you could escape the flooding, you could move to a new city or you could rebuild. For the poor, there were few options.

Examining how issues of race and class played out during Katrina could have benefits. Complex social and economic problems -- corruption, crime and poverty -- have plagued New Orleans for decades, and they put the city at a disadvantage in any recovery effort.

Combine those problems with a mayor and a governor whose idea of leadership is to avoid accountability, and it's clear that while racism may be among New Orleans' problems, it's far from being the most serious.

Apartment owners complain ordinance unfairly targets them


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