Two Years Post Katrina: Racism and Criminal Justice in New Orleans

ZNet | Activism

Two Years Post-Katrina:
Racism and Criminal Justice in New Orleans

by Jordan Flaherty; August 30, 2007

Two years after the devastation of New Orleans highlighted racism and inequality in the US, the disaster continues. New Orleans' health care and education systems are still in crisis.  Thousands of units of public housing sit empty.  Nearly half the city's population remains displaced.  A report released this week by the Institute for Southern Studies reveals that, out of $116 billion in federal Katrina funds allocated, less than 30% has gone towards long-term rebuilding—and half of that 30% remains unspent.   

The city's criminal justice system, already rated among the worst in the nation by human rights organizations pre-Katrina, continues to be in crisis.  After the storm, thousands of prisoners were abandoned in Orleans Parish Prison as the water was rising. In the days after Katrina, mainstream media depicted the people of New Orleans as looters and criminals, and a makeshift jail in a bus station was the first city function to re-open, just days after the storm. 

For Robert Goodman, an activist for criminal justice reform who was born and raised in the schools and prisons of Louisiana, this demonizing and criminalization of the survivors was no surprise.  He tells me that the primary crisis of New Orleans is a discriminatory and corrupt criminal justice system, adding that, "every time a black child is born in Louisiana, there's already a bed waiting for him at Angola State Prison.". 

On May 9, 2006, Robert Goodman's brother was killed in an encounter with the New Orleans police. This was another death in a long list of civilian deaths at police hands, a list that also includes three deaths in Orleans Parish Prison this year.  Advocates say these deaths have not received proper investigation, and point to larger, systemic problems. 

A Broken System