↑ Return to Hurricane Katrina

2006 Op-Ed re Katrina

Rev. Daniel A. Buford
Allen Temple Baptist Church/ Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute/
International Association of Democratic Lawyers/
Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond 7/29/06

I recently returned from speaking about Hurricane Katrina to the United
Nations Human Rights Committee meetings held in Geneva, Switzerland. The
Human Rights Committee has published its concluding observations regarding
Human Rights in the United States. With the one year anniversary of Hurricane
Katrina looming before us this article is a reflection on a long struggle to be
recognized as human beings in the United States.

I went to Europe shortly after the Fourth of July celebration and just before
the Bastille Day celebration in France. It was an ironic revelation to see officials
of the United States upholding values and practices that eventually led to the
American Revolution and the fall of the Bastille. The trail of tears that track the
trail of broken treaties that litter U.S history helped me understand the smug
condescending tone adopted by the U.S delegation. When a member of the
U.S. delegation quoted Thomas Jefferson I could only think of how many slaves
he owned and sired as he penned the Declaration of Independence.

Committee members raised questions about female prisoner rape by law
enforcement officers, Chicago Police Department torture of African-American
suspects, racial disparities in incarceration and death penalty rates, militarization
of the Mexican border and hate group activity, use of tasers, Guantanamo Bay
Prison Camp, voting rights, juvenile justice, torture of war prisoners, and plenary
power over Indian lands. They asked how and why the United States would take
exception to treaty language it had helped to create.

I observed our tax dollars at work as the State Department defended the use of
renditions, torture, cruel and degrading treatment and provided half-true answers
regarding racial profiling, structural racism, and the legacy of conquest that
characterizes the government’s control of Native American land. For example
they stated verbally and in writing that ”the majority of the land that is now
the United States was not acquired by conquest or ‘discovery’ by the United
States….The United States engaged with Indian tribes through federal legislation
and the treaty making process….”

The United States delegation was primarily comprised of representatives
from the State Department, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland
Security. Their testimony covered a list of twenty-five issues to be considered
with Hurricane Katrina’s human rights violations being the topic of question
number sixteen. This question reflects the concerns I raised before the Human
Rights Committee during their meetings in March13-31, 2006 in New York at
United Nations headquarters. The International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) has specific articles that apply to discrimination and equal

protection of laws (articles 2 & 26).
Question 16: “Please report on measures implemented during and after the
disaster caused by hurricane Katrina in order to ensure equal treatment of
victims, without discrimination based on race, social origin and age, in particular
in the context of evacuations. Please comment on the information that measures
taken have exacerbated problems in respect of the Afro-American population,
with regard to homelessness, loss of property, inadequate access to healthcare,
loss of educational opportunities, legal remedies and voting rights.”
The “Afro-American” part of the above question was never addressed or
referred to in the written and verbal responses of the United States
representatives. The African American community instead had its statistics
hidden in the ambiguous generalities of terms like “minorities,” “Katrina
victims,” “displaced victim,” “displaced voter,” “displaced children,” and “students
displaced.” Even when referred to as such it turns out we are not really qualified
to be counted as ‘internally displaced persons’ according to the US
Government’s official position.

The US delegation asserted that “Katrina victims did not fit the United
Nations guidelines on internally displaced persons, were not owed reparations,
and had not suffered discriminatory treatment by F.E.M.A. or any other federal
agency.” Furthermore, they stridently disagreed that “the evacuation plans for the
Gulf Coast region were inherently discriminatory.” With all these denials came
an explicit refusal to specifically refer to the impact of the discriminatory policy
failures that continue to plague the African American community in Diaspora
nation wide. The sad reality put before the world is that Black people in the
United States are still only counted as three fifths of a human being by the State
Department, Department Of Justice, and Department Of Homeland Security.
African-Americans are not entitled to enjoy equal protection of laws and effective
evacuation plans domestically or internationally to hear them tell it.

Even though the US delegation completely ignored a direct question
about African Americans in the U.S.A. their non- response was insufficient to
change the thrust of the Committee’s very specific question. In their concluding
remarks on Hurricane Katrina published on July 28, 2006 the Human Rights
Committee expressed concern that ”African-Americans in particular are fully
taken into consideration in the construction plans with regard to housing,
education, and healthcare….”

The prisoners left behind in water and the Gretna Bridge incident were also
singled out by the Committee for follow-up investigation ”the Committee wishes
to be informed of the inquiries into the alleged failure to evacuate prisoners at
the Parish Prison, as well as allegations that New Orleans residents were not
permitted by law enforcement officials to cross the Greater New Orleans Bridge
to Gretna, Louisiana….”

The last year has seen the birth of a multi-issue human rights movement in the

United States that weathered a storm of propaganda in order to get on to the
United Nations radar screen. After one year new life emerges from the U.S.
human rights community as the struggle continues.

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