Written by Greg Palast, this is a damning indictment of the state of the USA in the 21st century.
“They wanted them poor niggers out of there and they ain’t had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers, you know? And that’s just the bottom line.”
It wasn’t a pretty statement. But I wasn’t looking for pretty. I’d taken my investigative team to New Orleans to meet with Malik Rahim. Pretty isn’t Malik’s concern.
We needed an answer to a weird, puzzling and horrific discovery. Among the miles and miles of devastated houses, rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your home and we’ll arrest you.”
These aren’t just any homes. They are the public housing projects of the city; the Lafitte Houses and others. But unlike the cinder block monsters in the Bronx, these public units are beautiful townhouses, with wrought-iron porches and gardens right next to the tony French Quarter.
Raised up on high ground, with floors and walls of concrete, they were some of the only houses left salvageable after the Katrina flood.
Yet, two years later, there’s still bars on the windows, the doors are welded shut and the residents banned from returning. On the first anniversary of the flood, we were filming this odd scene when I saw a woman on the sidewalk, sobbing. Night was falling. What was wrong?
“They just messing all over us. Putting me out our own house. We come to go back to our own home and when we get there they got the police there putting us out. Oh, no, this is not right. I’m coming here from Texas seeing if I can get my house back. But they said they ain’t letting nobody in. But where we gonna go at?”Patricia Thomas
Idiot me, I asked, “Where are you going to go tonight?”
“That’s what I want to know, Mister. Where I’m going to go - me and my kids?”
With the help of Patricia Thomas, a Lafitte resident, we broke into an apartment. The place was gorgeous. The cereal boxes still dry. This was Patricia’s home. But we decided to get out before we got busted.
I wasn’t naïve. I had a good idea what this scam was all about: 89,000 poor and working class families stuck in Homeland Security’s trailer park gulag while their good homes were guarded against their return by mercenaries. Two decades ago, I worked for the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Even then, the plan was to evict poor folk out of this very valuable real estate. But it took the cover of a hurricane to do it.
Malik’s organization, Common Ground, wouldn’t wait for permission from the federal and local commissars to help folks return. They organized takeovers of public housing by the residents. And, in the face of threats and official displeasure, restored 350 apartments in a destroyed private development on the high ground across the Mississippi in the ward called, “Algiers.” The tenants rebuilt their own homes with their own sweat and their own scraps of cash based on a promise of the landlords to sell Common Ground the property in return for restoring it.
Why, I asked Malik, was there this strange lock-out from public housing?
Malik shook his dreds. “They didn’t want to open it up. They wanted them closed. They wanted them poor niggers out of there.”