New York is poised to dump $7.6 billion into dirty, dangerous and aging nuclear power plants as part of a policy that Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling the Clean Energy Standard. Although this policy would provide support for renewable energy by requiring utilities to meet New York’s goal of producing 50 percent of electricity from renewable energy by 2030, the real money in the plan is sadly reserved for bailing out nuclear plants. The governor wants to keep several aging nuclear plants open to preserve jobs in two upstate communities.
While some parts of New Orleans begin to come back to life, large swaths of the city sit largely empty still, a full two-and-a-half months after Hurricane Katrina. With water-damaged houses, spotty or no electricity, closed schools and few services, the areas are only livable for a few pioneers willing to brave the destruction and government neglect to come back home.
As New Orleanians figure out how to repopulate their deserted neighborhoods, many say trailer homes are crucial to their efforts.
"Why couldn't they put some mobile trailers right there where people could live at?" asked Alvin Cambric, an Upper Ninth Ward resident, pointing across to the street to an empty area. Cambric is living in the front room of his heavily-damaged house, without electricity, eating canned food donated by way of a grassroots relief organization. "We could wash and cook... [have] somewhere [we] could go into and turn the light on."
Beneath the facade of a city crawling slowly to its feet, long-existing fractures between low-income residents and developers are widening. Even before the storm, people in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods like the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, where home ownership rates are high and social ties are strong, felt pressure from the city to move over for corporate development projects.
Now, with most of the residents of those areas scattered across the country, fear is rising that the government and corporate interests will take advantage of their absence to gain an upper hand. Meanwhile, the limbo status of evacuation feeds the demand for a solution that puts people back in their own neighborhoods as quickly as possible.
"Why are you paying all this money for [evacuees] to live out of town?" said Veronica Robinson, who is living in one of her sister's buildings in the Bywater neighborhood. "Pay some money to help them fix their places in town... Let people come back, let them gut their houses."
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesperson James McIntyre told The NewStandard that the number of requests for trailers is not publicly available right now because the agency is sorting through and eliminating duplicate applications. He did say that FEMA has provided about 8,780 trailers and mobile homes to hurricane survivors in Louisiana.
In interviews with TNS, several residents living in New Orleans said FEMA has been unresponsive to their requests of trailers.
McIntyre said the Agency is filling the requests as fast as possible and is doing so in a specific order: special needs, senior citizens, single parents with school-aged children, dual-parent households with school kids, and then all others.
He also said that FEMA could not put trailers in places where essential services like electricity, sewage and water are not up and running yet. But it is in those areas where residents say they are most in need of the trailers, since their houses are not yet livable.
For instance, in much of the Upper Ninth Ward, water and sewage are working and the electrical infrastructure is coming back on line, but people whose houses are significantly flood-damaged are not able to receive power yet. In those cases, McIntyre said, FEMA would not put a trailer on the property because workers must connect the trailer's electricity through the house.
Nicole Chandler, another Upper Ninth Ward resident said she filled out an application for a trailer about seven or eight weeks ago at the FEMA relief station in Algiers. She said that on the application, she indicated that her house is able to receive utilities. At the time, she said they told her she would hear back from them in two weeks, but she has yet to receive notice. She said that when she called FEMA's toll free number to check on the status of her application, she was told that FEMA did not have a public number to give out for people to check on their requests.
McIntyre also said that FEMA was following the mayor's list of approved locations for trailers and that the Agency cannot install trailers in areas where the mayor has not given the go-ahead.
However, Mayor Ray Nagin's office released a statement yesterday denying that claim.
"We have discussed the statements made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency today in regard to needing written permission from this [mayor's] administration in order to place trailers on private property in the city," reads the statement. "FEMA's statements come as a total surprise, especially since we have two daily meetings with FEMA representatives and this issue has never been brought to our attention."
New Orleans, Nov 13 -- In their efforts to help the struggling residents of New Orleans, local relief activists say they have become a target for police harassment.
"We're not here for any confrontation," said Malik Rahim, co-founder of Common Ground Collective, a grassroots organization. "We are only here to serve the community." Rahim was addressing a press conference Friday after police arrested a volunteer working with the group.
Ironically, the volunteer, Greg Griffith from Ohio, had been monitoring the police when they arrested him.
Griffith said that he saw several police and immigration authorities "harassing" three young black men on Thursday night outside the community medical clinic where he volunteers in the Algiers neighborhood. A long-time activist with Copwatch, a loosely knit network of local groups that monitor and document police misconduct, Griffith went outside to videotape the exchange. He said the police let the three men go, but then proceeded to grab a man two houses down who had just walked out of his house.
"At that point we asked them why they were arresting him and what the charges were, and they told us to mind out own business," Griffith said. "I asked one of the officers what his name and badge number was and almost instantly he and two ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] cops came at me. He grabbed me, twisted my arm behind my back and slammed my face into the back of the cruiser."
Griffith, whose account was corroborated by two witnesses, told The NewStandard that the officers took his video camera, slammed it on the ground and kicked it across the street. "They justified arresting me by saying that I broke a police cordon or crossed a police line," he said. "There was no police line and I didn't cross one in any situation anyway." Griffith said that the police searched him without consent and found his pocket-knife and accused him of having an illegal weapon. "And they proceeded to say I was resisting arrest as they were slamming my face into the cruiser."
Griffith said that he was using his cell phone in the back of the police car when one officer saw him making the calls and came to the back of the car and took his cell phone, twisted his arms and slammed his face into the plexiglas barrier in the back of the cruiser.
In the car ride to the police station, the officers started joking about shooting him in the back and throwing him in the river, Griffith said. "They turned the radio up and started saying stuff like, "Yeah we're just gonna kill him, we're just gonna shoot him and throw him in the river, no one will ever know."
Griffith's ordeal increased alarm among fellow relief workers and community activists. "When did it become illegal for a person to document what the police is doing?" Rahim asked rhetorically at the press conference.
Rahim said police have constantly harassed the volunteers. "It has gone from members being pulled over and harassed to [being] threatened that if we are double-parked in front of our distribution center that that is not [just] grounds for a ticket, that is grounds for arrest," he said.
"Our only goal is to offer two things to the residents of New Orleans," Rahim said. "One, hope. And, two, to teach them by our example the importance of civic responsibility. And if that is a violation of any law in America then we need to go and revisit our Constitution."
At the press conference in front of the New Orleans Criminal Courthouse Friday, activists demanded a meeting with the acting superintendent of police and an immediate end to the harassment they are facing and asked that officers who have been documented abusing people be taken off the job. They also called for an independent civilian review board with authority to make changes in police policy and conduct.
Spokespeople for the police could not be reached for comment on this story, and officers would not comment on the record after numerous visits to various police stations.
The Common Ground activists stress that relief workers are not the only ones being harassed and arrested. Stories of police harassment and seemingly false arrests are common in post-Katrina New Orleans.
"The reason we are doing what we do as Copwatch is because young black men and people in general here are being arrested indiscriminately by the New Orleans police department," Griffith said. "They are not being afforded their legal rights. We've been coming to the court and asking for transparency, and we have not been given access to the process."
Chief Alfred Doucette, a prominent New Orleans musician, told reporters that he recently attempted to intervene in the police harassment of some volunteers who are working in the Treme neighborhood, and the police arrested him, accusing him of disturbing the police and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
"I'm 65 years old and in all my entire life, I have never, ever been arrested," Doucette said. "I've never been handcuffed. That was my freedom. But the other night, they stole that from me... They violated me, and I was just trying to help some people, and they gave me a false charge.
"They didn't hit me," Doucette continued, "but they took my dignity, they humiliated me. They put me in that funky costume that they have in there... That ain't me. It was nasty dirty, but they made me put it on. They fingerprinted me; they took my picture.... That's what they are doing to black people. They are picking them up and charging them with anything and everything... A black man doesn't have a chance in this town."
At the press conference, Brandon Darby, another volunteer with Common Ground, said, "We have a commitment to help the people of New Orleans. And it is that commitment that forces us to deal with the issue of police harassment in this city."
Darby suggested that using video cameras to monitor police activity was one way to deal with the harassment. "On that note," he continued, "we put a call out to everyone in this country to bring their cameras and come down and let's work together to establish an efficient means of documenting the police."