Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Refugee or Concentration Camp at I-10 and Causeway?

On September 2nd-3rd, the night after I evacuated my house in New Orleans, I spent several hours inside this massive encampment of suffering people at the intersection of Causeway and Interstate 10. There I saw the most horrific scenes that I have ever witnessed. I estimated that I saw 20,000 people. A few were corpses, many were elderly, and in bad physical condition. I saw many people with Down syndrome, and casts, catheters, wheel chairs, all sorts of stuff. They were almost all people of color, except for the National Guard and police, who were almost all white. The National Guard and police were not letting people out of his area. Total disorder reigned on the ground inside the camp. I was glad I had my dogs with me, as that place was anything but safe. People inside the camp told me that they had been there three days. They were sitting outside without food and water in near 100 degree heat just waiting for buses. Every once in a while a bus will show up and there would be a mad rush of people to get a few seats out of that hell. I never saw this, as apparently only a few buses showed up in the daytime. I later learned that once you were on the bus, you couldn't get off, and they would later tell you where you were going. If you lived in Jackson but the bus was going to Utah, they wouldn't let you off the bus as it went through Jackson. You had to wait. And friend and family couldn't just come and get you out of this camp. There were barricades set up blocking the I-10 at LaPlace, about 20 miles away. I still get very angry at this country when I think about those suffering people in that camp. I think about what if my mother or children had to see such sights, and I get furious.

Five African American residents of New Orleans, Katrina survivors, testified before Congress today. Many members of Congress didn't believe what they heard. Four of the five citizens claimed race played a big role in the lack of recovery immediately after the flooding and even now. Some claimed that race played a role in the flooding to begin with. They said that if the stranded people were white that the government would have done more to help them. They said that National Guard troops pointed guns at their toddlers, and they were treated like criminals. Personally I believe that class had much to do with the situation as well, but I still believe that race played a major role. I saw it personally. These National Guard troops were scared to death because of race. They were mostly from rural areas and for them their knowledge of African Americans comes from TV shows like Cops. They pointed guns at many people, and there were plenty of racial slurs from both white groups and black that I heard driving around the city in a boat, as well as inside the camp. Another blogger who saw the same camp at Causeway and I-10 describes it as well.

I thought in the Congressional testimony today, the most interesting moments came when Leah Hodges claimed that "people were allowed to die" and likened what happened to the black residents of New Orleans to "genocide and ethnic cleansing." Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., asked Hodges to stop referring to the camp at I-10 and Causeway as the "Causeway Concentration Camp." He then asked Ms. Hodges is she knew just what happened in the Holocaust. Hodges retorted "I'm going to call it what it is, that is the only thing I could compare what we went through to." Miller kept asking her to stop with the analogy, and said that "Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed." Hodges then said that the people "died from abject neglect" and "We left body bags behind."

I of course admit that nothing that happened in New Orleans was as bad as the Holocaust. And comparing tragedies and arguing about which was worse helps nobody. But I feel that New Orleans is on its own. And I believe that none of this would have happened in Connecticut.


Anonymous said...

actually, as a long-time professor and researcher in Holocaust Studies and Russian/East-European Studies I can tell you that Leah Hodges' definition of 'Concentration Camp' is much more accurate than Miller's. Miller is refering to 'Death Camps'. The majority of victims in German and Soviet WWII camps suffered on Concentration and Work Camps. The plan of the Mass Death Camps (Miller's gas chambers) came only in the last couple years of the war. What I know of the Causeway situation (the documentary, the Foundation founders, volunteering with Common Ground) is strikingly similar to the treatment of the oppressed in WWII.

We don't want to hear this as 'freedom-loving' Americans, but we are losing our freedom as gradually, surely and blindly as the 'freedom-loving' post-Weimar Germans did.
African-Americans are being victimized in order to provide a scapegoat and more bait for targets of hate in this country. As you stated in your blog, the National Guard were scared of them from 'Cops'. Remember, many of the National Guard were troops on loan from Iraq, already experiencing trauma and propaganda, and Americans were inundated with media lies about the looting and violence in NOLA (Blanco's call for Nat. Guard this last June was another cover up of "violence"--just to keep the masses caught up in fear so they wouldn't demand their citizenship and human rights, much less the housing they had been promised). These are all top-down tactics of systematization to distract the people from the real incompetency and exploits of this administration and their Disaster Capitalism/ Military Industrial Complex racist cronies.
Treating a dog better than a black baby is reason to "compare tragedies". People need to hear this-- it is the shocking truths that will help EVERYBODY.

Oh-- and it could happen in Connecticut. It certainly happened in Oregon. Check out the story of Vanport. Not much has changed here.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the President of the US do something and help these people? Maybe President Bush could use the $$$$ from Iraq, etc. and keep it in the US to help our people? Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

I just watched a documentary called, "Left To Die," here in Portland Oregon, which reported on what happened at the Causeway Concentration Camp. I was astonished, however that the producer was not able to find more people to share their experiences while there.

What happened to the 20,000 voices we have not yet heard from? I understand many died, many were and are still displaced, I also understand the whole role of the media and it's connections to our government, but I still ask why more voices have not been heard or have not yet spoken out about this tragic event, why has it been so hard for organizations such as yours to find these lost voices?

I can tell you one thing, I did not hear about the Causeway Concentration Camp until just yesterday and although I can sadly say I'm not surprised at all by the horrible mistreatment of Black people by this country and or the complete censorship of the event by the media, I can tell you that with my angry, frustration, and sadness I will use these emotions in constructive ways to speak out and tell the stories I do know about the Causeway Concentration Camp and all the tragedies that continue to be inflicted upon my people...

Michael Homan said...

Though it would be hard emotionally to watch, I would like to see that documentary. I'll watch for it.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the documentary. Yes, the conditions were very bad, but people need to understand a little about disaster management. Rescuing people from immediate danger (drowning etc.) is the first priority. Assembling people in a safe location is the second step in managing a disaster. Moving people to a better location or improving the current location is the next priority. After Katrina hit, there was no where to take the people. The Superdome and other sites were already overcapacity. People needed to be kept together so when busses or supplise were found, they could go to one spot. The questions that should be asked are: how long did it take for food and water to be provided? Were emergency responders communicating? Were emergency responders accurately informed on the availibility of busses/ medical supplise/ food etc? There is a scene in the film where a bus of refugees is diverted multiple times because the driver was talking on his cell phone. The film seems to blame the driver for being stupid, but I would guess that the refugee camps in the origional cities were already full and they were being diverted to a place that had room.

However, the most important questions are about what happeded before the storm. Was everyone informed that the hurricane was predicted to hit NOLA? (I think yes.) Why did people fail to leave the city before it hit? In all of the news pictures, there are many cars left behind in the wreckage. Why weren't they used to drive out of the city? Were busses available before the hurricane hit? And finally, is it the government's responsibility to rescue people who knowingly chose to stay for the hurricane? I'm sure some people lacked transportation, but of the people in the film, no one said that they were unable to leave before the hurricane. The only person in the film who said anything about what happed before the storm hit said she chose to stay for a hurricane party.

Anonymous said...

I am upset that you referred to our fellow americans as refugees. I am positive many of the victims were born and raised in new orleans. If not new orleans then somehwere here in AMERICA. It sickens me that people blame the victims for what happened to them. Did some choose to stay? Yes. Did most stay, because New Orleans is one of the poorest U.S. cities aand they were not financially able to get up and leave, because they are afraid of what may happen? Yes. Do you research. They were only given maybe a 72hrs notice to vacate, but no public transportation was in place to assist the needy. Citizens in other parishes stood at the borders with guns and ammunition denying NOLA citizens into their county. These people are taxpayers, they have social security numbers, said the pledge of allegiance in school and have survived many hurricanes before Katrina.....and you call the refugees? I guess you follow what your leaders say. I do agree that they were sent to concentration camps, because they way these victims were treated was and still is inhumane! I was so disappointed in my country. I truly held my head in shame on how Katrina was dealt with. You are right their are certain steps and protocols that need to be taken when dealing with an emergency, but the amount of money and power america has the process should have been expedited. People did take cars and boats to try to get out and they were shot or called theives and looters when they had to end for themselves when our government failed to do so. AND YOU CALL THESE PEOPLE REFUGEES?!?!?!?

Michael Homan said...

Hi Anonymous at 3:45AM,
I suggest you reread my post and let me know how I'm misusing the term "refugee." I only use it in the title as a means of asking which is the best term to describe the conditions as Causeway, and it's obvious to me that I prefer the term "Concentration." And to be honest, in the broadest sense of the term, a refugee is one who flees. This standardly refers to one who leaves his own country due to war or persecution. In that latter sense, no these people are not refugees. But in the broader sense, they were forced to flee from their homes/city, and weren't allowed back in for several months. When I was living in Nebraska during that time, I did feel as though we were refugees, despite the hospitality we received from these people. Anyway, keep googling "Katrina" and "Refugee" and keep the late night anger fueled.