Friday, September 16, 2005

Police blocked bridge out of New Orleans

The report that follows is slightly old news now, but it's so egregious that it's worth retelling.

Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky were attending an EMS conference in New Orleans before hurricane Katrina hit, and they were trapped in the city afterwards. They wrote a detailed account of their ordeal and published it in The Socialist Worker; their story has been confirmed and published about in other sources (e.g., The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Times), and is worth reading in full.

The two authors were in a group of approximately 200 people who were informed by New Orleans police that there were buses waiting on the other side of the "greater New Orleans Bridge". Here's one portion of their story:
"As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.

"As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

"We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans.

"Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and, in the end, decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway--on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned that we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway, and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet-to-be-seen buses.

"All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away--some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot.
The Washington Times article includes an interview with the chief of the City of Gretna Police Department (Arthur Lawson), who confirms that his officers did indeed shut down the bridge. His reason?
"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."
(via a DU thread and Covington)

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