Wanted Them Poor Niggers Out of There”
New Orleans two years after by
Greg Palast, Aug 30, 2007
hey wanted them poor niggers out of there
and they ain't had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no
poor niggers, you know? And that's just the bottom line."
It wasn't a pretty statement. But
I wasn't looking for pretty. I'd taken my investigative team to
New Orleans to meet with Malik Rahim. Pretty isn't Malik's
We needed an answer to a weird, puzzling and horrific
discovery. Among the miles and miles of devastated houses,
rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful
homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like
Ninjas wearing "Blackwater" badges: "Try to go into your home
and we'll arrest you."
These aren't just any homes. They are the public housing
projects of the city; the Lafitte Houses and others. But unlike
the cinder block monsters in the Bronx, these public units are
beautiful townhouses, with wrought-iron porches and gardens
right next to the tony French Quarter.
Raised up on high ground, with floors and walls of concrete,
they were some of the only houses left salvageable after the
Yet, two years later, there's still bars on the windows, the
doors are welded shut and the residents banned from returning.
On the first anniversary of the flood, we were filming this odd
scene when I saw a woman on the sidewalk, sobbing. Night was
falling. What was wrong?
"They just messing all over us. Putting me out our own
house. We come to go back to our own home and when we get there
they got the police there putting us out. Oh, no, this is not
right. I'm coming here from Texas seeing if I can get my house
back. But they said they ain't letting nobody in. But where we
gonna go at?"
Idiot me, I asked, "Where are you going to go tonight?"
"That's what I want to know, Mister. Where I'm going to go
- me and my kids?"
With the help of Patricia Thomas, a Lafitte resident, we broke
into an apartment. The place was gorgeous. The cereal boxes
still dry. This was Patricia's home. But we decided to get out
before we got busted.
wasn't na´ve. I had a good idea what this scam was all about:
89,000 poor and working class families stuck in Homeland
Security's trailer park gulag while their good homes were
guarded against their return by mercenaries. Two decades ago, I
worked for the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Even then, the
plan was to evict poor folk out of this very valuable real
estate. But it took the cover of a hurricane to do it.
Malik's organization, Common Ground, wouldn't wait for
permission from the federal and local commissars to help folks
return. They organized takeovers of public housing by the
residents. And, in the face of threats and official
displeasure, restored 350 apartments in a destroyed private
development on the high ground across the Mississippi in the
ward called, "Algiers." The tenants rebuilt their own homes
with their own sweat and their own scraps of cash based on a
promise of the landlords to sell Common Ground the property in
return for restoring it.
Why, I asked Malik, was there this strange lock-out from public
Malik shook his dreds. "They didn't want to open it up.
They wanted them closed. They wanted them poor niggers out of
For Malik, the emphasis is on "poor." The racial politics of
the Deep South is as ugly as it is in Philadelphia, Pa. But the
New Orleans city establishment has no problem with Black folk
per se. After all, Mayor Ray Nagin's parents are
It's the Black survivors without the cash that are a problem.
So where New Orleans once stood, Mayor Nagin, in connivance with
a Bush regime more than happy to keep a quarter million poor
folk (i.e. Democrats) out of this swing state, is creating a new
city: a tourist town with a French Quarter, loose-spending
drunks, hot-sheets hotels and a few Black people to perform the
modern version of minstrel shows.
Malik explained, "It's two cities. You know? There's the
city for the white and the rich. And there's another city for
the poor and Blacks. You know, the city that's for the white and
rich has recovered. They had a Jazz Fest. They had a Mardi Gras.
They're going to have the Saints playing for those who have
recovered. But for those who haven't recovered, there's
So where are they now? The sobbing woman and her kids are
gone: back to Texas, or wherever. But they will not be allowed
back into Lafitte. Ever.
And Patricia Thomas? The middle-aged woman, worked sweeping up
the vomit and beer each morning at a French Quarter karioke
joint. Not much pay, no health insurance, of course. She died
since we filmed her - in a city bereft of health care. New
Orleans has closed all its public hospitals but for one
"charity" make-shift emergency ward in an abandoned department
And the one bright star, Malik's housing project? The tenants'
work was done this past December. By Christmastime, they
received their eviction notices - and all were carried out of
their rebuilt homes by marshals right after the New Year,
including a paraplegic resident who'd lived in the Algiers
building for decades.
Hurricane recovery is class war by other means. And in this war
of the powerful against the powerless, Mr. Bush can rightly land
his fighter plane in Louisiana and declare that, unlike the war
in Iraq, it is, indeed, "Mission Accomplished."
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