Red Cross Calls Cops on Peaceful Picketers

Date Published: 
August 20, 2007
Red Cross Calls Cops on Peaceful Picketeers

Katrina Donations Scandal heats up

It's been a busy few weeks for the American Red Cross. They've been sued for trademark infringement, had an official sentenced to 6 months in jail for theft and issued several conflicting statements to local and national media regarding the Means to Recovery program. The organization that is at the center of the Katrina Donations Scandal is showing signs of desperation.

On Monday, August 20 about 11 people, two of them on crutches, picketed in front of the Jackson, Mississippi office of the American Red Cross. As the picket wound down the Mississippi state Red Cross director, Rev. Sam Campbell drove up. Campbell, not feeling very religious, was less than civil with the Katrina survivors he had met with and promised quick results to earlier that month.
About the same time Campbell showed up a Jackson Police Department car appeared and confronted the picket line leader, Ms. Wilma Taylor. The officer informed Ms. Taylor that she needed to REGISTER to do a peaceful picket and wanted her to obtain a form to that effect. Fortunately Ms. Taylor was able to reach Attorney Chokwe Lumumba who made sure that the marchers would be able to finish their mission for that day. Most thought the very idea of having to register with the police to picket was a violation of constitutional rights. This will be taken up later. The scare tactic follows efforts on the part of Red Cross to deceive and even buy off protest leaders with jobs and offers of personal assistance.
Similar offers were made to protesters in Fort Worth, Texas. 'Divide and conquer' tactics have also been used along with punitive measures to stop groups from publicly demonstrating their displeasure with the organization's reluctance to distribute funds given to help Katrina survivors. Among service providers there seems to be a growing disdain for Survivors who try to get any of the monies that were donated to help them.
Since PHRF released information in mid-July about the nearly covert 'Means to Recovery' program to assist Katrina survivors, Red Cross has had to respond to a flood of requests for assistance and allegations from across the country of mis-use of donated funds. In that same period PHRF has responded to calls for assistance from groups of survivors in various cities to confront Red Cross and other agencies that have resources but make it difficult, if not impossible to access those funds.
In a two-week period the Red Cross has issued at least three conflicting explanations of the handling of over $80 million (according to their count of the week)  in the Means to Recovery program. Some accounts claim the program is now out of money, a statement that carries little credibility with those who have been involved with the matter for several months. It's difficult to get the same information twice from ARC.
In a televised debate on New Orleans station WDSU Red Cross Chapter Director Kay Wilkins claimed that workers went door-to-door spreading information about this and other assistance programs. In an e-mail poll sponsored by the station 77% of responding viewers sided with the PHRF. Most needy survivors do not own computers, so this had to reflect a large number of White middle class residents of the metro area. None of the 10,000+ people who came to the PHRF offices to get applications recall seeing Red Cross workers in their areas.
The door-to-door claim was repeated in a July 25th Red Cross media advisory which also claimed that the organization informed numerous other groups and over 1,000 partnering organizations to get the word out to the public. It seemed odd that PHRF could inform more people about the program with 200 e-mails than Red Cross could with a multi-million dollar advertising budget…that is, until another version of the story emerged.
In a conflicting account, Red Cross officials told the New York Times last week that the program had been deliberately kept a secret because it was only supposed to serve 4,000 people. Why would Red Cross contact 1,000 organizations to serve as few as 4,000 people? Only time (and legal action) will tell which version of the Red Cross story is actually closer to truth. However, secret or not questions of competence and ethics arise from the handling of the Means to Recovery funds and Red Cross has not revealed how much of the $80 million has been disbursed to date or why it has made it so difficult for survivors to access the funds. While the New York Times seemed hesitant to even publish an article about the scandal, much local media in New Orleans, including the major daily, have refused to even acknowledge the matter, ignoring the cries of thousands of residents.
To access any portion of the $20,000 maximum allotment per family, survivors have had to endure a process that is more elaborate and time-consuming that purchasing a home. A 30-page application had been reduced to 13 pages, then 8 pages, but survivors who applied for help in November of last year are still waiting for a response, not to mention actual help.   Applicants have to locate a case manager who presented their needs before a 'long-term recovery committee' which decided for them what they really needed and how much of that need would be met. These committees have shown extreme hostility, suspicion and condescension toward survivors in need.
Survivors in Mississippi met last week with the state director who responded only after they picketed the offices there. At the meeting, facilitated by PHRF staff, over thirty evacuees told of the lies and misinformation they were given about the Means to Recovery program by local groups including Catholic Charities, who supplies the case managers that are required by the program. Residents also complained about the Access to Care program which is supposed to provide health-related assistance to survivors but in that area has operated on a reimbursement-only basis, eliminating those who can not pay up front. Local health providers will not honor the program because of the length of time it took for Red Cross to pay them. Elders spoke of the disrespect and disinterest they experienced at the hands of social service workers from local agencies. Officials agreed to hire two case managers and train volunteers. PHRF is calling for the elimination of the case manager requirement to hasten the process of getting the aid to the people.
In Dallas, Texas over 200 survivors are struggling to get assistance from a social service community that is non-responsive in spite of the wealth of resources that have been donated specifically to help them. Red Cross officials finally met with them after PHRF exposed information about the Means to Recovery Program. "The Red Cross director came into the meeting holding a copy of your article," said Kim Ford, who has organized survivors in that area. "They begged us not to hold a press conference."

From Texas, California, New York and throughout the South the reports are flowing in about Katrina evacuees who are hurting and in need but being denied assistance that is available because of the attitudes or dispositions of the social service sector. In most areas those in need face a gauntlet of redundant forms, interviews, challenges, insults, delays, denials and lies to get the smallest amount of help. Yet the 'helping' organizations are quick to solicit and receive funds to help these people. Over $4 billion has been donated to Katrina relief. Over $2 billion of that went to Red Cross. Of $189 million available, $80 million (according to New Orleans ARC officials) was set aside for MTR. Of that amount less than $15 million has been disbursed since October of 2006.

In a classic 'David and Goliath' matchup, the $5 billion budgeted Red Cross has tried a variety of tactics to quiet the tiny PHRF, including sending lawyers to threaten PHRF's funding source, which did not work. Red Cross has also issued statements accusing PHRF of 'misleading' the public about the Means to Recovery program. Although it was not able to claim that statements put forth by PHRF were actually untrue, Red Cross used 'straw man' arguments and elastic interpretations of statements to claim they were being treated unfairly. Their national media advisory implicitly denied the documented fact that PHRF staffer Leon Waters used his personal funds to house survivors in Baton Rouge that Red Cross dumped after their apartments burned. They did not claim to have actually helped the survivors. 
The issue of the lack of race and class diversity in the board and staff leadership of Red Cross has also been raised as a factor in the mishandling of Katrina-related funds by the organization. 
Since the Means to Recovery revelations numerous other organizations have joined the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund in calling for immediate disbursal of all funds for survivors and full accountability for all funds received by all major agencies, including Red Cross, United Way, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and others. NAACP, the Nation of Islam, Katrina Home Drive, United Teachers of New Orleans, the Welfare Rights Organization, Liberation Zone Ministries, Nuthin' But Fire Records, the Katrina Action Network and others have joined in the call for accountability. This could require litigation or a congressional investigation because of the reluctance of recipient agencies to come forth with specific information regarding where and to whom the monies have gone.
The Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund expects to address these and other issues at the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita which will be held in New Orleans August 29-September 2. Witnesses will testify about crimes and human rights violations committed against the people of New Orleans before, during and after Katrina.
Article originally appeared on Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition - Fighting for the Right of Return (
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