Delegation Calls for New Orleans Not Rebuilt on Failed Policies of Incarceration

Tamika Middleton
Date Published: 
October 1, 2005

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Delegation Calls for New Orleans Not Rebuilt on Failed Policies of Incarceration
By Tamika Middleton
On September 2nd, Burl Cain volunteered to leave his post as the warden of Louisiana State Prison (also known as Angola) to run the new jail in New Orleans. The jail was converted from a Greyhound station to hold 700 prisoners, and has already processed 250 people, mostly Black men arrested for "looting." On the door, a sign reportedly says: "We Are Taking New Orleans Back."
But back from whom? New Orleans is a city devastated first by a storm and then by government indifference and inaction. The 100,000 people who didn't or couldn't evacuate, largely poor and Black, were left for days to fend for themselves under conditions most Americans cannot fathom. It is these same communities of poor Black people who give New Orleans its rich history of civil rights struggle and cultural innovation in all areas of the arts.
But never mind its history: Burl Cain says that it is the jail, the cages spread out behind the bus station, that is "a real start to rebuilding this city."
If the priority in rebuilding New Orleans is the jails, it is a telling reflection of the local and national government response to Katrina and its aftermath: "law and order" first, meeting needs and saving lives dead last. Just two days after the hurricane hit and thousands of people were without food, water, or shelter, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered 1,500 local police to cease search and rescue operations and focus instead on arresting "looters." Then, national guard units, some fresh from Iraq, were told by Louisiana's governor to shoot those "looters" on sight.