[News] New Orleans Police Taser, Pepper Spray Residents Seeking to Block Public Housing Demolition

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 21 12:22:28 EST 2007

<http://www.democracynow.org/2007/12/21//>December 21, 2007



New Orleans Police Taser, Pepper Spray Residents 
Seeking to Block Public Housing Demolition

The New Orleans City Council has unanimously 
voted to move ahead with the demolition of 4,500 
units of public housing. Under the plan, the 
city’s four largest public housing developments 
will be razed and replaced with mixed-income 
housing. Hundreds of people were turned away from 
the City Council meeting. Police shot protesters 
with pepper spray and tasers. We go to New 
Orleans to speak with two local community 
activists and a former SWAT commander. [includes rush transcript]


Kali Akuno, executive director of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund.

Sess4-5, a New Orleans Hip Hop artist and a 
member of the Coalition to Stop Demolition.

Howard Robertson, retired major with New Orleans police.


Related Links

    * <http://www.peopleshurricane.org>People’s Hurricane Relief Fund

AMY GOODMAN: We are going first to New Orleans. 
The New Orleans City Council has unanimously 
voted to move ahead with the demolition of 4,500 
units of public housing. Under the plan, the 
city’s four largest public housing developments 
will be razed and replaced with mixed-income housing.

On Thursday, hundreds of people were turned away 
from the City Council meeting. Some of the 
protesters were shot with pepper spray and 
tasered. Inside the City Council chambers, the 
scene turned chaotic when police began making arrests.

PROTESTERS: Let the people in! Let the people in! Let the people in!

PROTESTER: Let those people in! Let them in! Let 
them in! This is not Germany! Let those people 
in! Let those people in! There’s seats right 
there! There’s seats right there! Let those 
people in! What is wrong with y’all?

PROTESTERS: Let the people in! Let the people in!

PROTESTER: Ain’t no order until the rest our people get in here.

PROTESTERS: Let the people in! Let the people in!

AMY GOODMAN: New Orleans police also tasered 
protesters inside the New Orleans City Council chambers.

PROTESTER: They’re tasering us! They’re tasering! Stop it! Stop it!

AMY GOODMAN: Police cited fire marshal 
regulations to bar many protesters from attending 
the meeting, but many housing advocates say there 
were empty seats inside the council chambers. 
Some protesters began banging on the gates to 
City Hall to try to get in. They were met with 
pepper spray and tasers. Eyewitnesses said one 
woman tasered in the back collapsed in a seizure on the ground.

PROTESTERS: Let us in now! Housing now! Let us in 
now! Housing now! Let us in! Let us in! Let us 
in! Let us in! No justice, no peace! No justice, 
no peace! No justice, no peace! No justice, no 
peace! What do we want? Justice! When do we want 
it? Now! What do we want? Justice! When do we 
want it? Now! Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!

PROTESTER: Stop pushing my people!

PROTESTER: [screams]

PROTESTER: Let us in!


PROTESTER: Let us in!

JUAN GONZALEZ: Police say at least fifteen people 
were arrested on Thursday. New Orleans Police 
Superintendent Warren Riley said the force was 
needed after protesters tried to tear down the gate to City Hall.

During the hearing, members of the City Council 
defended their decision to approve the demolition 
of public housing. Councilmember Shelley Midura 
described some of the protesters as “demagogues 
and terrorists.” Midura said, “The choice is to 
either support redevelopment by approving 
demolition or to reject redevelopment by denying 
these permits. I am choosing to support what I 
believe is the reasonable middle ground, a plan 
to replace and reform public housing.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by three guests right 
now in New Orleans. Kali Akuno is the executive 
director of People’s Hurricane Relief. We are 
also joined by Sess4-5, a community activist. And 
we’re joined on the telephone as well by Howard 
Robertson; he is a retired major with the New Orleans Police.

We turn first to Kali of Hurricane Relief. 
Describe what happened yesterday and why you were 
outside and inside the New Orleans City Council.

KALI AKUNO: Yeah, well, Amy, I was outside, 
because I was barred entry to the inside. They 
made an arbitrary decision yesterday to cut off 
the inside, when there were clearly seats that 
were still available. I was getting 
minute-by-minute reports as the events were 
starting, as the proceedings were starting, that 
there were still seats available, and they just 
made an arbitrary decision to keep those of 
us­there were probably about a hundred of us 
still outside at that particular point in time­to 
close the gates and to keep us outside. And from 
there, events just really escalated, as they 
particularly­as the folks who were on the inside, 
from what I can see­and Sess can give you a more 
detailed account­as the folks on the inside 
started advocating for us to be able to actually enter into the building.

So, you know, they made a situation of trying to 
control it and basically stifle and cut off any 
vocal dissent or opposition to their decision. We 
knew when we walked in, based on their comments 
the past several days and based on how they had 
been treating this issue the past two years, that 
we were going to lose the vote on the basis 
primarily of Clarkson’s new addition to the City 
Council and that at the very least it was going 
to be a four-to-three vote along racial lines. So 
we knew what we were walking into. And we just 
clearly wanted to make sure that our point was 
heard, that we disagree with the plan towards 
demolition and that we were going to stand fast 
and fight this through the courts and through 
other means as we moved forward. So they made a 
decision to basically shut everything down and shut everybody else down.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Sess, what was happening 
inside? Obviously, it was a seven-zero vote, but 
could you talk a little bit about what was happening inside?

SESS4-5: Well, I’ll definitely start with just 
the process of entering the City Council 
chambers. They changed the whole process for this 
particular vote. And, you know, upon entering the 
building, you know, they just made it hard for 
all the Africans who was coming in the gate, who 
was clearly identified as, you know, not 
supportive of demolition. And so, they took other 
measures of, you know, just searching people and 
putting you through metal detectors and just 
winding different people. And so, we just had 
problems just entering the building. You know, 
they closed the building­they locked the gates at 
10:30, so that the proceedings started at 10:00.

AMY GOODMAN: Sess4-5, were you tasered inside?

SESS4-5: Yes, I was tasered. But just get inside 
the building before the proceedings started, you 
know, we just noticed they had a lot of seats 
available, and the number of Africans in there 
just were very few. And they just closed it off 
right after we entered the building. So we was 
asking, before they started the proceedings, to 
let more people in, because they had a number of 
seats that was identified inside of the council 
chambers, and clearly there are more­if you can 
see from the video, you know, it was­they had run 
all inside, all on the walls.

And so, when Reverend Sanders, you know, made a 
plea, after Arnie Fielkow tried to start the 
proceedings, he made a plea to let the people in. 
And that’s when everything really started, by 
Arnie Fielkow trying to start the meeting without 
properly letting all the people supporting us, 
you know, opposing, inside of the chambers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Howard Robertson, you’re a retired 
major with the New Orleans Police Department. 
 From what you’ve heard and seen of what happened 
yesterday, is this unprecedented in a City Council meeting in New Orleans?

HOWARD ROBERTSON: No, it’s not. Of course, things 
certainly got out of hand yesterday, but this is 
not the first time they’ve had trouble over this 
issue in the City Council chambers. And usually 
when things get­starting to get riled and 
unorderly, and they can’t hold a meeting in the 
normal way­if you’re familiar with the City 
Council meeting, people take a number, they sign 
a page that they want to speak in protest, and 
they’re allowed to get up, and there’s a time 
limit for each person to speak. But if people are 
disruptive and don’t allow the normal process to 
go, they ask those people to leave. Everyone’s allowed to speak that wants to.

In this particular meeting, they set a cut-off, 
that they were going to cut off at so many people 
into the building­I can’t tell you what that 
number was­and when they did, no one else was 
allowed. Now, that had nothing to do with racial 
lines. If you look at the video, the girl you 
were talking about that passed out and needed 
medical attention was a Caucasian female. So, I 
mean, there were a lot of people there 
protesting, which they certainly have a right to do.

I mean, I can’t speak for the council, but I 
think the council did listen to what they had to 
say, they studied the process, and when it came 
time to make a vote, I don’t think anyone voted 
along racial lines, because I don’t think it’s a 
racial issue. They voted 7-0. I mean, it 
was­everybody thought it was the best thing to do 
for the city, for the people, and to get the city 
of New Orleans back on track.

AMY GOODMAN: Kali Akuno, it was seven-to-zero. It 
was a unanimous vote. Can you talk about why you 
were there, why you want to stop the demolition 
of these 4,500 housing units, the four housing projects of New Orleans?

KALI AKUNO: If I can, I’d like to correct one 
point that Mr. Howard just made. The woman who 
was tasered and who went into a seizure never 
made it inside. She was outside. And she was 
tasered in the back, unaware. She was one of the 
hundreds of people who were trying to get inside 
at that particular point and was omitted from 
coming. It had nothing to do with seats being 
available or anything of that nature. They made that decision to cut that off.

Now, in terms of myself being there, my interest 
is basically trying to­you know, for lack of a 
better term, Amy­stop this neoliberal destruction 
that we see taking place in New Orleans and the 
complete privatization of all of the different 
services within the city, housing being, I think, 
the most critical of them, public housing being 
kind of the cornerstone of that. But there’s an 
affordable housing crisis in New Orleans, of 
which the public housing is just one particular 
element of it. It’s the most critical element, 
because public housing will stabilize rents in 
New Orleans. And folks should know their rents 
have gone up three times since the storm, and 
it’s basically pricing, you know, working people 
and African people, on the whole, out of the 
city. But this is just one particular piece of this whole program.

Public hospitals are also being shut down and set 
to be demolished and destroyed in New Orleans. 
And they’ve systematically dismantled the public 
education system and beginning demolition on many 
of the schools in New Orleans­that’s on the 
agenda right now­and trying to totally­excuse me, 
totally turn that system over to a charter and a 
voucher system, to privatize and just kind of 
really go forward with a major experiment, which 
was initially laid out by the Heritage Foundation 
and other neoconservative think tanks shortly 
after the storm. So this is just really the fulfillment of this program.

And I think­you know, I always want to call 
people’s attention back to the statements that 
Baker made shortly after the storm, that we 
finally cleaned up public housing; you know, we 
couldn’t do it, but God did. This is just really 
the fulfillment of that program.

AMY GOODMAN: He was a state legislator, a 
Louisiana state legislator who said that.

KALI AKUNO: He was a state­yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Howard Robertson: why do 
you think this is a good thing, the destruction 
of the 4,500 units of public housing?

HOWARD ROBERTSON: Yeah, let me explain this, 
because I think this is really important. Prior 
to the storm, I think everyone in HUD was 
attempting to close down the public housing and 
build new housing prior to the storm. It had nothing to do with the storm.

And I think everyone will agree that­we had the 
St. Thomas housing project, that was­there was 
probably a murder there at least once a week. 
There was somebody shot there almost every day. 
Drug dealing was rampant. Half of the buildings 
were boarded up. And a lot of it has nothing to 
do with the residents that live there. You know, 
the drug dealers come in, use the projects for a 
breeding area. Now, when they tore down the St. 
Thomas housing project, they built­and I say 
“they,” I mean the government built­new 
townhouses that blend in very well with the 
neighborhood. The same residents moved back in. 
It was much, you know, nicer housing. It’s all 
clean, it’s all fresh, it’s all new, where the 
old public housing was boarded up, graffiti 
everywhere. It was­I just think it’s a higher 
quality of living for everyone. And they’ve done 
this with two of the projects already and have made tremendous success.

I know it’s going to take years to get this done, 
and everyone is worried about stabilizing rents, 
because rents have skyrocketed since the storm. 
It’s hard for anybody to find a place to rent 
now, without paying at least double what they did prior to the storm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But I’d like to ask Kali Akuno: 
but isn’t the number of low- income units that 
will result from this far lower than what existed 
under currently with these public housing units?

KALI AKUNO: Yes, it’s far lower. And to go back 
to the St. Thomas example, it was falsely stated 
that the same residents moved back in. Some of 
the residents moved back in, but the vast 
majority of them were displaced and put on 
Section 8 and scattered throughout the city. 
That’s the same process by which they’re 
proposing now with all the developments, but 
particularly with the Lafitte and the St. 
Bernard, this whole notion of a mixed-income, you 
know, neighborhood, which is basically just going 
to scatter working-class people all throughout 
the city on primarily probably Section 8 
vouchers, even if those are allowed to continue in a number of different ways.

And people are having a hard time in New Orleans 
right now, who are on those, finding places to 
rent, because they’re basically being 
discriminated. Folks don’t want people who have 
been stigmatized as being from public housing 
there. And the same thing which is going on with 
the vouchers right now. So people have vouchers, 
but because of that, they’re not being­you know, 
they’re not finding places to be able to use them 
or to exercise them, and not finding, you know, rental units.

So this whole mixed-income notion, you know, it’s 
really more of a notion which is protecting other 
interests, other than African and working-class 
interests in the city. So it may work fine for 
some folks to deal with certain aspects that they 
find undesirable in the community, but it’s not 
going to really work for the residents who are 
being displaced and then, you know, really have 
very few options as to where they can go, 
particularly right now with the housing shortage 
and the housing crisis in New Orleans.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that for the first 
time in the last election, the New Orleans City 
Council was voted­is now a majority-white City 
Council. But I wanted to end with Sess4-5. You 
grew up in public housing in New Orleans. What 
are your plans now? It was a unanimous vote. They 
say that the public housing units, as they stand 
now, will be destroyed in New Orleans. What are 
you planning to do as a community activist?

SESS4-5: Myself, I’m going to continue to fight. 
We don’t honor or validate the decision made by 
the City Council. We think it was illegal, and 
we’re going to go to, you know, court and file a 
lawsuit against those guys and just keep 
continuing to fight. And they had a number of 
people asking for, you know, a sixty-day 
moratorium. You know, Nancy Pelosi, a lot of 
people sent, you know, letters to the President. 
You know, Obama and Edwards even stood out, you 
know, on this issue. And just the whole 
proceedings was illegal by locking, you know, the 
people out of­locking people out from having 
access to even enter the building and speak their 
piece. So a lot of those things that transpired 
today­yesterday were illegal. And so, we don’t 
honor that vote or that decision. We don’t 
validate that in any shape or form. And so, we’re 
just going to continue on in using our resistance 
measures and galvanizing the people and 
mobilizing the people. And just like we got a lot 
of national attention on it, we’re going to keep 
pressing this issue. And it’s not over. That’s my 
biggest pledge, is to let the people know it’s not over.

AMY GOODMAN: Sess4-5, I want to thank you for 
being with us, a community activist; Kali Akuno, 
the head of the People’s Hurricane Fund; also, 
Howard Robertson, former SWAT commander in New 
Orleans. Also, special thank you to Jacquie 
Soohen, Mavis Yorks, Broderick Webb and Luisa 
Danta and Michael Boedigheimer of JoLu 
Productions for providing us with video footage 
from New Orleans, Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise 
Films, and to WLAE, the Public Broadcasting in 
New Orleans for hosting our guests today.

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