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Curfew and Cops Are Not Hurricane Relief for the Poor, Says Mutual Aid Activist

President Joe Biden is visiting New Orleans, which is under curfew enforced by police and the National Guard.

As the death toll from the remnants of Hurricane Ida in the northeastern United States climbs to 46, President Biden is visiting New Orleans, which is under curfew enforced by police and the National Guard as most of the city remains in the dark amid sweltering temperatures. “This is truly déjà vu,” says Malik Rahim, who joins us by phone from the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, where he co-founded the mutual aid group Common Ground Collective after Hurricane Katrina. “This hurricane happened when it was the worst time in America to be poor.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The death toll from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, that led to flash floods and tornadoes in the northeastern United States, has now topped 46. In a speech Thursday, President Biden addressed the natural disasters across the United States.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient and resourceful. We’re going to stand with you for as long as it takes to recover and allow you to rebuild. And to the country: The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here. We need to do — be much better prepared. We need to act.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency details how people of color in the United States will bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

Nearly a million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi are without power after Hurricane Ida made landfall Sunday. Nearly a week later, most of the city of New Orleans remains in the dark. Reports are coming in of tragic scenes, including in Independence, Louisiana, where four nursing home residents died and nearly 800 more were rescued from a warehouse, after they were taken there to ride out the storm from seven nursing homes, all owned by the same Baton Rouge businessman. They spent six days there, and several officials described the elderly living in inhumane conditions, some calling out for medicine, others stuck in diapers full of feces.

Meanwhile, the city of New Orleans remains under a curfew imposed Tuesday by the mayor and New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson, who spoke Tuesday.

SHAUN FERGUSON: Effective today, 8 p.m. tonight, we will be enforcing our curfew ordinance, meaning that we are expecting everyone to comply. We also continue to enforce our anti-looting deployment. That added capacity in which the mayor mentioned, LANG, Louisiana National Guard, LSP will be in here with us, as well. Our Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office has also assisted with this deployment. So we have more additional capacity to address the needs of our city.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to New Orleans, to the neighborhood of Algiers, to speak by phone with Malik Rahim. We spoke to him extensively during Hurricane Katrina — you know that Ida hit on the 16th anniversary of Katrina. We spoke to him during Katrina, its aftermath, when he co-founded the Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from all over the world to assist in the rebuilding of the city. He’s also one of the founders of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Panther Party. In 2008, he was a congressional candidate for the Green Party.

Malik, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. I spent a lot of time with you walking through Algiers. Now you are there, continuing to help people. But talk about who isn’t there and just the condition of where you are right now.

MALIK RAHIM: Well, first of all, Amy, I am honored once again to be able to do an interview with you. I’m in now — can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: We hear you perfectly. And I want to tell our audience, we didn’t want to bring Malik on Skype or use anything that would require more energy, because of the complete power outage in New Orleans. So, thank you, Malik, for joining us by phone.

MALIK RAHIM: All right. But, again, it’s an honor to be on your show. But before I go any further, first I’ve got to give praise to my lord and savior, Christ Jesus, and to the God of Abraham.

From there, Amy, I’m going to tell you, this is déjà vu. This is truly déjà vu. And by that, I mean it’s happening again, same day. Then that means in less than a month we have another hurricane coming here. This is not nothing new. This happened in Lake Charles. It was hit by two Category 5 hurricanes in a little over a month. So, if this is déjà vu, then we need to start getting prepared for another one.

Now, as for what is lacking, what is lacking is the understanding that, once again, the poor was left. You know, those who have wealth, they left. Those who had any kind of income, when this hurricane, when Ida came this way, they left. They locked their second and third car up in their yard, in their driveway, and they left. They didn’t worry about giving the food away, that they knew was going to go bad. They just left. So, that’s the reason why, once again, people start looting, because, once again, this hurricane happened when it was the worst time in America to be poor. After spending everything you had on school supplies, now you’re stuck. Now you’re stuck in a city that has a heat index of 105. And the thing that really got to me that was lacking up until yesterday was ice, because if you didn’t have any money because you were broke and you was waiting on the 1st, you couldn’t even go and buy a bag of ice. And if you bought one, walking in this heat back to your home, you already lost at least a third of it. So, you have people like this. Then the frustration came when the 1st came, when they had money in their account but they can’t access it. So that brings about it.

But there is a saying — and I love what President Biden said, because he has the experience. He had witnessed what happened during Katrina. He was in government then. Then he was vice president when other national disasters happened. So, and by that, I mean he has the experience. And the experience is, when he said we need to get prepared, that it can’t be no just one-sided preparation.

In the aftermath of Katrina, we served over half a million people. This has been acknowledged by groups all over the world — with the exception of the city of New Orleans. I mean, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience has designated not me, but my house, as an International Site of Conscience, recognized in over 65 nations — but not in the city of New Orleans.

You know, so, again, we have — because the thing that is needed is the emergency disaster teams made up of people of their community. They could work in conjunction especially with the fire department and make sure that their community is taken care of. And if this was going on, then we could be better prepared, that if we’d be hit with another Rita, it wouldn’t catch us in the same dismal situation, where we have to force people to go to shelters. Then we could prepare for it.

And the thing that is needed, that’s happening now, Amy, is the fact that now we have this going on, this going on right now. And look at where the need is. You know what I mean? This is going on during a pandemic. Nobody is talking right now how about what’s going to be the next impact that we’re going to hit — get hit with, with all these roofs that is leaking, where the only person that can afford to get their roof repaired is the rich, and the only person right now that is able to afford to get somebody to put a tarp on their roof is those with some kind of money.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik, on Tuesday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell imposed a citywide curfew for all the residents from 8 p.m. to 6:00 in the morning. The police chief said that the Louisiana State Police and National Guard are supplementing police patrols. Have you seen these troops? Have you seen the National Guard? How are they being used?

MALIK RAHIM: Well, I’m going to tell you one thing right now, what I’ve seen. I’ve seen more of a — at least until he enforced this anti-looting law, bill, that we was working together, like we didn’t work during Katrina, that they was paying people the type of respect.

But, Amy, you know, I mean, it’s heartbreaking when you see a woman with three kids in a house with no air conditioning, no fan, with nothing, you know, not even ice; when you see people that are fearful of taking their medication because they feel that it’s gone bad, because, again, there’s no ice.

But the thing that we have to look at is the next wave that’s about to hit this city. And that is mold infestations, because every house that got water in it gonna suffer with mold infestation. Are we prepared for it? Will you have people that’s taking bleach and bleaching out their walls and killing themselves in the act trying to rid their homes of mold? Because that’s the next thing that’s going to happen. Mold abatement got to be right there on top of it.

And then the next thing is our — is the Gulf Coast, our wetlands. Our wetlands was hit: Port Fourchon, Galliano, Cocodrie — I could go on — the Grand Isle. These people took the brunt of this. But they also sit right there in the petroleum industry. We have almost — we have thousands of abandoned oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. We have thousands of them. What has been the impact of them? We need groups like Greenpeace to come down here and step up, and not just for agitation or for anything. But how can we work together? How can we work together with companies that have the reputation of working during these type of crisis?


MALIK RAHIM: Next year, we — yes.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden is coming to New Orleans today. What message do you have for him?

MALIK RAHIM: No, well, he came yesterday. I thought he came yesterday. But if he’s coming today, only thing I could — you know, again, I’m not one of the privileged few that would be able to see him. But my message to him would be, is to work with the community. The community is, you know, a strong community. They don’t need nobody to lead them. They know what to do. Work with the faith-based institutions here. Amy, right now in Algiers, we’ve got three movie studios that have produced movies for over the last 10 years, have made billions of dollars. None of them have contributed nothing to this community, other than making it now unaffordable for you to even rent. That’s the reason why the crisis in New Orleans is so bad. People here can’t rent in New Orleans. They can’t afford it, not the working poor. They’re already making half of what the average white family here are making. And now they can’t afford it. Every time there is a lot that’s empty, you see a house, a big, beautiful home, built in there. But nobody’s helping the poor families and trying to keep them.

Amy, listen, for over 12 years, I’ve been living in this house without water. I haven’t done no repairs. My garage, it just about done fell down. So, the need is — and I’m going to tell you, if something isn’t happening, don’t happen, because we are — we are reorganizing Common Ground with the assistance of mutual aid and other former Common Grounders. Maybe they cannot come down, but they know what is needed to help us. We’re looking for Tyvek suits. We’re looking for respirators. We’re looking for gloves and boots that can be used so that we could show people, when they have to gut out their houses, how to correctly do it and how to do the mold remediation.

But then, at the same time, we’ve got to look at that Gulf. I heard you mention about that oil spill. We’ve got to understand this. That’s why next year, during Katrina, we’re going to have déjà vu again, because I’m calling for an environmental conference to be held here in New Orleans, where we can come together and talk about making sure that the safeguards is in place to assure that that Gulf is kept as clean as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Malik, we’re going to come back to touch base with you. I want to thank you so much for spending this time and the electricity you have in your phone. Malik Rahim, in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, with a powerful message for the world. We first met him during Hurricane Katrina, in its aftermath, when he co-founded the Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from around the world to help rebuild New Orleans and the surrounding areas. He’s also one of the founders of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Panther Party, was a congressional candidate for the Green Party. Be safe. And again, we will talk to you soon.

Next up, ahead of this Labor Day weekend, we look at Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America with New Yorker writer Eyal Press and the people he profiles, like a former drone operator and a family member of a meatpacking worker. Stay with us.

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