Black New orleans Residents Being Arrested for Returning Home

Date Published: 
October 12, 2005

"People have the right to return ... to reclaim their property"
– Jesse Jackson

by JDC

As residents begin coming home to New Orleans, arrests and police violence are on the rise in the militarily-occupied city. With every type of police and federal officer in the U.S. – from the DEA to the DFBI to the notorious New Orleans Police Department – roaming the streets of New Orleans, many former residents are afraid to come home. Some even wonder if the ongoing military occupation is being used to intimidate them into not returning.

At 8:00 this morning, in the Greyhound station that has become a makeshift prison, prisoners arrested last night lined the hallway. Each night, guards say, they have been arresting 30-50 people for curfew violations and other petty crimes. The arrestees are given no phone call or access to lawyers, but are addressed en masse each morning by a public defender who advises them to plead guilty or be shipped to a federal penitentiary near Baton Rouge to wait three weeks for a court date.

Wajid Jenkins describes the conditions in the Greyhound us terminal prison, "We were strip searched and brought to the bus terminal, where a cage was welded onto the bus parking lot. The guards were New York City corrections officers. They stood all night with their shotguns pointed into the cage at us. One woman was brought in and brought to a separate cage, hog-tied and chained to a pole for hours." Jenkins is one of two independent journalists arrested while photographing a damaged site in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans.

Also arrested was Tegas Coleman, a local resident of New Orleans who rescued over 2,000 people with his boat in the days following Hurricane Katrina. "The cars rolled up – seven cars full of police. They were talking bad about him(Jenkins), saying he wasn't a real reporter. They were kicking me , punching me ... after all I've been through, rescuing people the first two weeks of Katrina, and then to be treated like this – it makes me want to cry," Coleman says.

In the Greyhound bus terminal prison, the journalists met a number of people who had just returned to their homes that day. They were arrested that night for violating a 6:00 p.m. curfew. An entire family was arrested while sitting on their own front porch.

After a raid of Hispanic relief workers last week at an aid agency in Long Beach, Mississippi, and the announcement two days ago by the American Red Cross that anyone without proof of residence in a hurricane-affected area will be forced out of their shelters starting today (October 7, 2005) – even if their proof of residence was lost in the flood – many local workers, particularly undocumented workers, are afraid for their future livelihood and safety in the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, Rev. Jesse Jackson, the PUSH Coalition and other groups are mobilizing evacuees to return to New orleans to rebuild the city and to reclaim their homes, despite the military occupation still in place. He left Chicago Monday with a caravan of buses seating 600 people and plans to stop at shelters in St. Louis, Memphis, Jackson, and Mobile.

"People who have been displaced have the right to return, the right to reclaim their property," he said. The contracts being awarded to out-of-town companies for construction and debris removal should also go to displaced residents, Rev. Jackson declared.

Mama Dee is a New Orleans resident and activist who is trying to encourage people to return. "We're don' this. Come home! There is a lot of love in our neighborhood. Even if your home is gone, we'll take care of you."

The Rev. Jackson, too, has offered temporary housing for New orleans evacuees while they sanitize and rebuild their homes. He said they would be housed in hotel rooms, trailers, and on military bases until they can move back home.

[This story was originally published by New Orleans Indymedia in October 2005.
San Francisco Bay View staff contributed to the story.]