August 29th marks the 12th anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and the devastation it caused throughout the southeastern region of the United States. Communities of color and low income communities were disproportionately impacted in the flooding, with most of the media coverage focused on the 9th ward of New Orleans and the Superdome, which was used to house thousands of stranded survivors. As we reflect on the impact of Hurricane Katrina, we cannot help but remember the way black communities and those living in poverty were treated.
We do not forget.
We do not forget President George W. Bush, who waited upwards of 5 days to react, which delayed emergency aid to tens of thousands of people in need of rescue and resources.
We do not forget the racist media coverage of the black community, who in search of resources, were portrayed as “looters” and “criminals”.
As the Huffington Post reported:
“Repeatedly, reporters refer to white victims clinging to life as ‘survivors’ and ‘residents,’ while African-American victims doing the same things are called ‘looters’ and ‘criminals.’ Disproportionately, the humanizing, ‘heart-breaker’ stories feature white victims and families. Meanwhile, images of African-American crowds are almost invariably in the background during discussions of ‘criminal activity.’”
We do not forget the Superdome and how the black community and others were sent to live in abhorrent conditions, subjected to filth and disease.
As the New York Times reported:
“They had flocked to the arena seeking sanctuary from the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina. But understaffed, undersupplied and without air-conditioning or even much lighting, the domed stadium quickly became a sweltering and surreal vault, a place of overflowing toilets and no showers. Food and water, blankets and sheets, were in short supply. And the dome’s reluctant residents exchanged horror stories, including reports, which could not be confirmed by the authorities, of a suicide and of rapes.”
We remember the survivors who are still surviving and working through the historical trauma that accompanies oppression as well as trauma from Katrina, loss of loved ones and homes.
Kathy Egland, NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Board Sub-Committee Chair:
“Hurricane Katrina is the catalyst behind my environmental and climate activism as it altered the trajectory of my civil and human rights advocacy. I lost two dear friends to drowning when Katrina’s winds hurled intense flood waters into their home and even climbing into their attic could not shield them. The indelible firsthand experiences of Katrina’s horrific devastation are amplified as we approach its 12th anniversary. However, these memories serve as a foundation to build awareness and strategies, mitigate climate deterioration and highlight the need for equity in preparedness and restoration.”
Undoubtedly the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina are still being learned and we see some of the same problems that occurred in 2005 repeating themselves today. We will continue working with FEMA, American Red Cross, and countless others to ensure that the people who are impacted most, aka frontline communities – black people, people who are living in poverty, women, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, etc. – are involved in a just recovery. A recovery that involves the community from the bottom up, not a top down approach. A recovery that ensures community interests are put first and corporate interests are put last . A recovery that is swift, equitable, and immediate.
If you are interested in learning more about NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, follow us on Twitter @ECJP_NAACP or visit us at naacp.org.