News| Hurricane Katrina | Katrina Survivors Say Racism Slowed Aid

News| Hurricane Katrina | Katrina Survivors Say Racism Slowed Aid

Published February 11, 2008

Posted Dec. 7, 2005 – President Bush and members of his administration met Wednesday with several Black leaders, a day after angry survivors of Hurricane Katrina told Congress that the government was in no rush to save their lives because they are Black.

Bush and administration officials -- including adviser Karl Rove, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card -- met with NAACP Chief Bruce Gordon, BET President and CEO Debra Lee, National Urban League President Marc Morial and others, reportedly to discuss the federal government's follow-up for victims of the worst national disaster in U.S. history.

In an emotional hearing Tuesday, victims described being treated like criminals.  They told Congress that machine guns were pointed at their heads and they were trapped in temporary shelters in New Orleans, forced to lie next to dead bodies. One New Orleans resident described the ordeal as "one sunrise from being consumed by maggots and flies," AP reported.

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“We were abandoned. City officials did nothing to protect us,” Patricia Thompson, a New Orleans evacuee said.

“We saw buses, helicopters and FEMA trucks, but no one stopped to help us. We never felt so cut off in all our lives.  "No one is going to tell me it wasn't a race issue," she told Congress.

Community activist Leah Hodges said, with tears in her eyes, that Black residents “died from neglect.”

At times during the hearing, the survivors even compared themselves to victims of genocide and the Holocaust.  That analogy didn't sit too well with Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who called the comparison inappropriate, AP reported.

"Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed," he said. 

The longer the hearing went on, the more intense it got.  At one point, Thompson told Congress that she and her granddaughter were police targets and that a gun was pointed at the 5-year-old's forehead.

But Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) didn’t buy it.

"I don't want to be offensive when you've gone through such incredible challenges," said Shays, “but referring to some of the victims' charges, like the gun pointed at the girl, I just don't frankly believe it."

Emotions flared even more when Shays told New Orleans resident Dyan French that he didn't believe her claim that the levees were bombed on purpose. She fired back, saying that right before her neighborhood was buried by floodwaters, she heard two loud booms.

During Tuesday's hearing, only one of the Black survivors who testified said the government's response was not a race issue.  Terrol Williams, a former federal worker, said that authorities were just not prepared and that a mandatory evacuation should have been ordered sooner, AP reported.

Tuesday's hearing was requested by Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney (D-Ga.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who said that New Orleans has a history of racism.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is expected to testify next week.

Did race play a role in the government's response? Click on "Discuss Now" to post your comments.

Written by BET-Staff


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