Vermont Guard Brings Food To Projects
People Tell of Police Abuse, Express Anger at Feds

By David Van Deusen

Jefferson Parish, Louisiana - On the afternoon of Thursday, September 8th,
Vermont National Guard troops brought food and water, by truck, into a
number of poor and working class communities in Jefferson Parish, just
across the river from New Orleans. Throughout the day twelve Guardsmen
distributed an estimated 900 meals to hurricane survivors.

The first destination was a housing project in Tarrytown. The apartment
buildings were two story structures, built in the 1970s. These projects
are populated by poor Blacks. The streets were littered with debris.
Many buildings remained intact. Others showed signs of Katrina’s
devastating winds. Electricity remained out. At the flood’s height,
waters flowed waist deep through this neighborhood. By the time the
Guard rolled through, the flood had already subsided.

Before Katrina the projects were home to hundreds. As the Guard arrived
with provisions, it appeared that only thirty or so remained. These
were the poorest of the poor; those who had no means to leave on their
own accord. Many were children and elderly. This neighborhood received
little aid prior to the Guard’s arrival, and none whatsoever for the
first five days of the disaster. The fire department refused to bring
supplies into the community without a National Guard presence because of
fear for their safety.

As the Guard drove slowly through the streets passing out food and
water, I followed, interviewing residents. A young man named Renee
Rose, 16, made his way to the supplies. I asked him what he thought of
the government’s response to the crisis.

“I don’t think they done alright cause the power should have been on by
now,” said Rose. He continued to talk about the state of his
neighborhood, “The community right here is falling apart. Ain't never
been that many people who have left… we got a man who lived right here,
got killed.” The reason for the killing, as well as the perpetrator is
unclear.

“That was his van right there, and they left. See what they did-–the
anger--they messed up the van… see how messed up it is? They just went
berserk, see?” The van he points to looks as if its been bludgeoned
with sledge hammers. The sides are smashed in, and the windows are broken.

I ask Renee what he thinks the future holds. “I don’t know. I have no
clue. Bush needs to come down here and see himself… I don’t think he
would, but he needs to.”

Kathryn Nevels, 54, sits in a chair in front of her apartment. She also
contends that the government response to the storm was less than
adequate. “To tell the truth we wish it could be better. We wish it
could be much better.”

Despite these misgivings, Nevels remains optimistic about the community.
“Everybody is fine, they’re pitching in together and helping the best
way we can. We’re just hoping that once everything is over with our
dept to society is paid and we can rebuild and start all over again.”
She does not explain whom she feels the people owe a dept to.

I approached a group of four adults, three women and one man who all
appeared to be in their late thirties-early forties. This group was
standing around a car loaded with belongings. They immediately express
their desire to leave for Texas, but confess they have no gas. All
wished to remain unnamed.

A distraught woman, mother of three, tells me “everybody’s gone and
we’ve been living here for over five years, maybe six. We’re just
hanging on strong… I’m just trying to look after my children… We got no
gas, we got [some] water in jugs... We’re trying to keep [our home]
clean the best way we can, but it still has the whole filth and smell in
it. The damage is real bad… I’m trying to get out of here. I’m trying
to get to Texas. I don’t care where I go as long as I get the fuck up
out of here.”

I ask how she assesses the local and federal government’s response to
the crisis. Her eyes become sharp. “They [the government] are not
handling it [the crisis] right. They’re not doing what they’re supposed
to do. If they were to do what they were supposed to do, we would be
out of here right about now.”

Addressing local officials she becomes angry and proclaims, “People came
here and drew guns on us… The police… They were about to beat up my
[twelve year old] son on his birthday because he told them not to search
his bag… They came out from nowhere, just crept up on us. When it’s
dark we can’t see nothing. We didn’t know what was going on. They draw
guns on us, telling us to raise our hands up, you know –and everything.
My little niece was right there, she had her baby and they still was
drawing guns… We had no choice but to put our hands up or we’d get
shot. They [the police] said ‘we saw you breaking into peoples cars’
and were gonna shoot somebody.”

The woman claims that police shot and killed local residents without
just cause. “People that’s dear to us done got shot. People we know
got killed. They [the police] got the permission to shoot them on sight.”

A strong looking man in his forties stepped forward and said, “They draw
guns on all of us. Every last one of my kids, my wife, and my nephew,
and everything.”

The man discusses the plight of those who were forced to loot food when
government aid failed to arrive, “We got a lot of people who go get food
for their [family]. They [the police] killed them, since the storm, in
this neighborhood, on Manhattan [street] across the river and
everything. All down here. [The police] have been shooting on the
kids. They aren’t saying freeze or nothing. They shooting you in the
head and that’s bad.”

Another resident, a woman in her late 30s, attributed the alleged
instances of police killings to racism. “We got a lot of racist [White]
cops that are taking advantage of this fact that it’s supposed to be
marshal law, and they’re really taking advantage of it.”

With relative chaos still prevailing in Jefferson Parish, it is
impossible to verify or discredit these serious charges. It is also
difficult to tell if these alleged abuses are localized or widespread.
However, in the past 72 hours, similar reports have been coming in from
New Orleans. I can report that the night before, while on patrol with
the Guard no more than a mile away, two local cops from the sheriff’s
department pulled up to us. In the darkness they did not notice that a
member of the press was present. I heard them tell the Guardsmen “no
one on this street is innocent.” They went on to encourage the Guard to
shoot people, and informed them that they would cover up such events.
As they pulled away, they aimed their PA system at area apartments,
blaring the sounds of a woman screaming. To date the Vermont National
Guard has not fired a weapon.