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Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Racism in America: Katrina to the Borderlands

Onboard the westbound train:

Racism in America, from Hurricane Katrina to the US/Mexico border

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Photos by Brenda Norrell: French Quarter, Amtrak in west Texas, US Border Patrol in Alpine, Texas.

NEW ORLEANS -- Walking down the irresistible Magazine and Decatur Streets, with the sun shining and yesterday's cold wind behind me, New Orleans reminds me now of a child who is given a lot of love. In the Garden District and the French Quarter, New Orleans is like a child with a freshly scrubbed face, sparkling and beautiful.

But there is another reality. The taxi driver says, "Yeah, they keep this area clean for the tourists, but there are other parts that they just bulldozed." In the news, there is more on the truth of what happened in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, police officers shot six unarmed blacks, killing two people, as they walked on Danziger Bridge. One police officer confessed to attempting to cover up the crimes with planted evidence, a gun.

The news is mixed, new housing, new homicides. This is New Orleans.

As the Amtrak pulls out of New Orleans, I look around for signs of Katrina. For miles, there are none. Gone are the piles of twisted metal and household appliances floating in the canals. Tar paper is no longer flapping on rooftops.

But in my mind, they are there, on the rooftops. The people will always be there, waving and calling for help, the help that did not come, morning after morning, after Katrina and the floodwaters. The Amtrak twists down by the Coliseum and the people are still there, in my mind, prisoners.

One neighborhood on this route does show the rip of hurricanes, a row of leaning power poles and torn up homes. But for the most part, New Orleans looks all better now.

"Oh, they cleaned it up by November," said another taxi driver in New Orleans of the year 2005 of Katrina. "There were refrigerators everywhere in the streets, full of rotten food. Gnats and flies was all that there was in the streets. It's all clean now, cleaner than ever."

I ask him if the people were bullied by the police, military and Blackwater. "Oh yeah, but they were told to put those big guns away."

In the gumbo shop, the waitress said there is still plenty of damage here from Katrina. "There's still a lot of damage in the Ninth Ward."

My mind was on the earthquake in Haiti and the hurricane in New Orleans. Why was George W. Bush appointed by President Obama to lead, with Bill Clinton, the US relief effort for Haiti. After what happened during Katrina, why? And I'm wondering why the CIA contractor Evergreen has teamed up with Elbit Systems, who builds apartheid border walls in Palestine and Arizona, in Haiti. The duo said they were flying drones over orphanages in the remote mountains of Haiti. Just trying to do some good. Right. I'm also wondering how many of those donated dollars from the US ever made it to Haiti. One report says the US military received one-third of the donations intended for Haiti victims.

I'm also wondering about the militarization of Haiti and whether the tectonic plates can be damaged, as some scientists say, to the extent to cause an earthquake. I'm wondering whether the earthquakes and even the tsunamis could be the result of US military tests or even oil and gas drilling.

West Texas, Zen on the train
On the train between New Orleans and Tucson, west Texas becomes Zen practice. Endless stretches of low lying shrubs flanked by forbidding desert mountains. On the first trip, to my untrained eye, there was nothing to look at, monotones of straw-colored grass and shrubs against treeless grey mountains. But after many times of passing now, the subtleties appear. Once I saw a wild javelina, a wild pig. On another trip I saw hawks and falcons, gliding, looking for prey. Now, on this trip, the eight hour stretch between San Antonio and El Paso, I see three deer, then a lone baby fawn without its mother.

In the Zen state, I can not stop my mind from imagining the migrant mothers walking with their children in these borderlands. I can not stop my mind from remembering the story of the volunteers who carried the remains of a migrant out because the authorities were too out of shape to hike in to retrieve the body. I remember the stories of the women raped and thrown of a cliff, the woman whose body was hung in the tree. I remember the little crosses and little shoes left behind, the backpacks that carried hope. Many of these migrants are Indigenous Peoples, walking out of desperation, Mayans from southern Mexico and Central America, others walking across continents, women walking across continents with their babies and young children.
When the cold rain begins, I say to myself, "I will not go to the desert tonight," wanting to shift away from the thoughts of those who are cold and wet out there. There are those dying of hypothermia out there; those with diabetes without food who go into shock or wander dazed and delirious.

What would anyone do if there was no choice, if there was no food, if there was no work and no means of survival.

Borderlands Predator
In Alpine, Texas, there is another predator, the US Border Patrol. The Border Patrol is carrying out their racial profiling. They are looking for brown people on the train. Brown people to bully. They ignore the blonds, the Europeans who may or may not have papers.

By official US policy, brown is the color of the skin they are looking for. The private prisons are banking on this. Those prisons were built by profiteers like CCA and GEO to incarcerate migrants, including women and children. The existing state and federal prisons were already filled with people of color, including large numbers of blacks and American Indians.

Just as happened during Hurricane Katrina, here in the borderland, it is the color of skin that makes one a target in the United States.
Police officer confesses in Danziger Bridge shootings

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