Wednesday, October 31, 2012
2012 Hurricane Sandy; 2005 Hurricane Katrina
Reflections on Natural, and Man-made, Disasters and Standing Up Against the Oppression of Black People
By Carl Dix
I’m hunkered down in New York City, riding out Hurricane Sandy. The trial of me and my three co-defendants for protesting the NYPD’s unjust and racist policy of Stop-and-Frisk has been postponed because of the Hurricane. I’m hearing reports that it may be a while before the city is back to normal functioning, but it’ll only be a few days before the court has this outrageous prosecution back in high gear. Meanwhile, I’m reflecting on the winds, rains and flooding that battered the whole northeastern coast of the country. This storm has drastically disrupted the lives of tens of millions of people. Millions have lost power, and thousands have been forced out of their homes by the flooding. Houses in parts of the New York City have had their roofs torn off by the winds that have whipped through. As Sandy goes further west, major snowstorms are hitting West Virginia and other states.
The full story of the impact this storm will have for many, many people has yet to be written. People one paycheck away from being forced over the edge are finding themselves right up against that edge. People could soon be unable to buy food for their families, and if areas remain shut down, it could become impossible to find any food in the stores. Historically it’s been people on the bottom of society who are hardest hit when natural disasters bring on human suffering that’s made worse by social factors.
All this takes me back to the months I spent in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. There 100,000 mostly Black people were left to die by the powers that be, and castigated as “thieves and looters” when they organized themselves to get food to eat and boats to save their own and others’ lives. While Katrina was still raging, police forced people walking across a bridge over the Mississippi River trying to escape New Orleans to turn back to where flood waters rose, at gunpoint. Five police officers were convicted last year of killing two Black men and wounding four other people, all of them unarmed, on New Orleans’ Danziger Bridge and covering up these crimes. The governor of Mississippi gave state police orders to shoot looters, meaning people acting to save lives ran the risk of being gunned down by society’s enforcers. Prisoners were left locked in jail in New Orleans as flood waters rose, and some of them drowned.
Hurricane Katrina exposed many people for the first time to the poverty and deprivation faced by huge numbers of Black people in New Orleans and throughout the U.S. The sight of people jammed into the New Orleans Convention Center without adequate food, water or sanitation horrified millions. Photos of people on their roofs begging to be rescued while flood waters rose made clear that what Kanye West said about George W. Bush — that he “doesn’t care about Black people” — applied to federal, state and local government officials. And there’s a deeper truth we need to get at here. The disaster being inflicted on Black people that Hurricane Katrina laid bare for millions of people had been going on for decades and has continued to deepen in the years since Katrina.
Mass incarceration has almost 2.4 million people warehoused in prisons across the country, two thirds of them Black or Latino. Almost 5 million people on parole or probation treated like second class citizens, discriminated against when looking for work, barred from living in public housing or receiving government loans, often not even allowed to vote. Racial profiling serves as a pipeline to mass incarceration. When you add in the loved ones of all these people, there are tens of millions of people living their lives enmeshed in the web of the criminal justice system. This comes down to a slow genocide targeting Black people.
This isn’t because people have chosen to get involved in criminal activity or because of “human nature.” Instead it flows from the way capitalism works, and from conscious policies by the country’s rulers. The factories that used to provide employment for people in the inner cities have been moved around the world by capitalists in search of higher profits. The education system has been geared to fail our youth. What choices does this system offer them? Living on the edge of survival, going in and out of prison death at an early age or joining the military and becoming a mindless killer in America’s wars, leaves millions of youth to grow up facing futures of hopelessness.
The system’s response to this has been racial profiling like stop-and-frisk that treats oppressed youth like criminals, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. Laws and law enforcement disproportionately target Blacks and Latinos.
I was and am outraged by this continuing disaster. It’s unacceptable and needs to be stopped. That’s why I joined with Cornel West to issue a call for a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to stop “stop-and-frisk,” and why I was arrested three times as part of that campaign. Now I’m on trial with three other stop-and-frisk protesters in Queens, NYC, and facing a year in jail. They have us in the same court where the District Attorney couldn’t, or wouldn’t, put on an effective prosecution against the cops who murdered Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets back in 2006.
As I said above, Hurricane Sandy has delayed our trial for the past few days, but this hasn’t changed what this trial is about. Despite the protestations of the judge and the prosecutors that this trial isn’t about Stop-and-Frisk, it’s clear to me that what’s on trial here is people’s ability and right to stand up and say NO MORE to Stop-and-Frisk and the whole way this country’s criminal “injustice” system comes down on people. If they get away with convicting and jailing us without a fight, it will send a message that those who resist all the brutality and repression brought down on the people will suffer heavy punishment for doing that. On the other hand, winning this legal battle will inspire many more people to join in resistance to injustice and feed the hopes of many that the continuing disaster this system has been raining down on Black people can be taken on and beaten back.