Davis in Town to Promote Human Rights

 Davis in town to promote Human Rights


By Nayita Wilson, Contributing Writer
December 18, 2006  

In her first visit to New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, legendary activist, author and professor, Angela Davis, partook in a private tour of the contrasting, thriving and flood ravaged areas of New Orleans.

Davis was in town for Amnesty for Prisoners of Katrina Weekend December 9 and 10. The local chapter of Critical Resistance, a non profit organization that does not view imprisonment as a way to end social problems, sponsored the event, which united community members and activists, members of the local faith based community and family members of prisoners' of Katrina in a campaign for amnesty for the prisoners.

The event strategically ended on Human Rights Day, Sunday, Dec. 10, with a public, outdoor prayer gathering at Watson Memorial on St. Charles Avenue .

"You should be aware that all over the country, and all over the world . . . there are people gathering as we gather today to reflect on the struggle for human rights to think about respect for people wherever they might be, wherever their circumstance may be. And here in New Orleans we're specifically focusing this day on the prisoners of Katrina," Davis told the crowd moments before departing for the tour, which was designed Brendan Nee, a third year graduate student from University of California, Berkeley studying recovery planning in New Orleans for one semester.

For more than two and half hours, Davis saw, firsthand, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in throughout New Orleans, including Central City, Treme the Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly, New Orleans East, as well as the B.W. Cooper and Lafitte public housing developments, soon to be demolished by HUD.

Davis also viewed the Orleans Parish Prison which set up temporary tents for prisoners, as well as the Greyhound Bus Station that served as "Camp Grey Hound," temporary prison for looters immediately following the storm.

Like a tourist, Davis pumped out questions to guides for nearly every site and area of the city-asking one tour companion and member of Critical Resistance to hold off on questions directed to Davis until the tour's end.

When the tour van passed the pumping station on Broad Street , Davis wanted to know how many pumping stations were there overall.

Riding pass Louis Armstrong Park, Davis said she wanted to know why Treme "was affected so severely," while the French Quarter seemed unscathed. She also wanted to know what the numbers painted on to houses on St. Claude represented, and if there were residents living in the B. W. Cooper Housing Complex.

"Well, where do you go to get your food," she asked of residents living in the Baywater areas.

As the van crept through the Lower Ninth Ward, eventually to the foot of the levee Davis asked, "Where did it break?"

On I-10 in New Orleans East: "What are those trucks that say disaster relief?"

On Morrison Road : "Did the water just come out of those canals?"

On the media coverage and national awareness: "Well one of the problems is that the awareness is waned because the news coverage is waned. When something is not new it is pushed to the back of our collective memory. The question is: How do we recover those memories . . ."

Davis gently pumped out question after question after question, sometimes resulting in an earful of responses from tour guides, and sometimes getting no answer at all.

When the van returned to Watson Memorial a stunned Davis exited the van. This time, there isn't a large crowd gathered in front of the sanctuary, only a man on the church steps delighting him self in the pages of a book.

The sun begins to set in the quietness, and Davis is at a loss of words.

"I'm actually quite speechless. The magnitude of the devastation we saw. It's quite unbelievable to think that each one of those devastated structures represents several people," she said.

"And then, when you think about the projects, there were huge numbers of people, thousands of people, displaced. And when you consider the fact that they're displaced all over the country, and then many of them never had the opportunity to come back and retrieve their personal goods-it's a tragedy the magnitude of which is impossible to grasp, and this is why I would say that the campaign for amnesty for prisoners of Katrina is even more crucial."