[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Shock and Tasers in New Orleans (by Naomi Klein)
jancius at ohio.edu
Mon Dec 31 19:21:18 EST 2007
Shock and Tasers in New Orleans
By Naomi Klein, HuffingtonPost.com
Posted on Alternet.org, December 22, 2007
Readers of my book The Shock Doctrine know that one of the most shameless
examples of disaster capitalism has been the attempt to exploit the
disastrous flooding of New Orleans to close down that city's public housing
projects, some of the only affordable units in the city. Most of the
buildings sustained minimal flood damage, but they happen to occupy valuable
land that make for perfect condo developments and hotels.
The final showdown over New Orleans public housing is playing out in
dramatic fashion right now. The conflict is a classic example of the "triple
shock" formula at the core of the doctrine.
- First came the shock of the original disaster: the flood and the traumatic
- Next came the "economic shock therapy": using the window of opportunity
opened up by the first shock to push through a rapid-fire attack on the
city's public services and spaces, most notably it's homes, schools and
-Now we see that as residents of New Orleans try to resist these attacks,
they are being met with a third shock: the shock of the police baton and the
Taser gun, used on the bodies of protestors outside New Orleans City Hall
Democracy Now! has been covering this fight all week, with amazing reports
from filmmakers Jacquie Soohen and Rick Rowley (Rick was arrested in the
crackdown). Watch residents react to the bulldozing of their homes here.
And footage from yesterday's police crackdown and Tasering of protestors
inside and outside city hall here.
That last segment contains a terrific interview with Kali Akuno, executive
director of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund. Akuno puts the demolitions
in the big picture, telling Amy Goodman:
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 Orleans--that's on
the agenda right now--and trying to totally turn that system over to a
charter and a voucher system, to privatize and just 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.
Akuno is referring to the Heritage Foundation's infamous post-Katrina
meeting with the Republican Study Group in which participants laid out their
plans to turn New Orleans into a Petri dish for every policy they can't ram
through without a disaster. Read the minutes on my website:.
For more context, here are couple of related excerpts from The Shock
Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism:
The news racing around the shelter [in Baton Rouge] that day was that
Richard Baker, a prominent Republican Congressman from this city, had told a
group of lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We
couldn't do it, but God did." Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans'
wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: "I think we
have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some
very big opportunities." All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in
Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in
those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and
a "smaller, safer city"--which in practice meant plans to level the public
housing projects and replace them with condos. Hearing all the talk of
"fresh starts" and "clean sheets," you could almost forget the toxic stew of
rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the
Over at the shelter, Jamar Perry, a young resident of New Orleans, could
think of nothing else. "I really don't see it as cleaning up the city. What
I see is that a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn't have
He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us in the food
line overheard and whipped around. "What is wrong with these people in Baton
Rouge? This isn't an opportunity. It's a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?"
A mother with two kids chimed in. "No, they're not blind, they're evil. They
see just fine."
At first I thought the Green Zone phenomenon was unique to the war in Iraq.
Now, after years spent in other disaster zones, I realize that the Green
Zone emerges everywhere that the disaster capitalism complex descends, with
the same stark partitions between the included and the excluded, the
protected and the damned.
It happened in New Orleans. After the flood, an already divided city turned
into a battleground between gated green zones and raging red zones--the
result not of water damage but of the "free-market solutions" embraced by
the president. The Bush administration refused to allow emergency funds to
pay public sector salaries, and the City of New Orleans, which lost its tax
base, had to fire three thousand workers in the months after Katrina. Among
them were sixteen of the city's planning staff--with shades of "de
Baathification," laid off at the precise moment when New Orleans was in
desperate need of planners. Instead, millions of public dollars went to
outside consultants, many of whom were powerful real estate developers. And
of course thousands of teachers were also fired, paving the way for the
conversion of dozens of public schools into charter schools, just as
Friedman had called for.
Almost two years after the storm, Charity Hospital was still closed. The
court system was barely functioning, and the privatized electricity company,
Entergy, had failed to get the whole city back online. After threatening to
raise rates dramatically, the company managed to extract a controversial
$200 million bailout from the federal government. The public transit system
was gutted and lost almost half its workers. The vast majority of publicly
owned housing projects stood boarded up and empty, with five thousand units
slotted for demolition by the federal housing authority. Much as the tourism
lobby in Asia had longed to be rid of the beachfront fishing villages, New
Orleans' powerful tourism lobby had been eyeing the housing projects,
several of them on prime land close to the French Quarter, the city's
Endesha Juakali helped set up a protest camp outside one of the boarded-up
projects, St. Bernard Public Housing, explaining that "they've had an agenda
for St. Bernard a long time, but as long as people lived here, they couldn't
do it. So they used the disaster as a way of cleansing the neighbourhood
when the neighbourhood is weakest. ... This is a great location for bigger
houses and condos. The only problem is you got all these poor black people
sitting on it!"
Amid the schools, the homes, the hospitals, the transit system and the lack
of clean water in many parts of town, New Orleans' public sphere was not
being rebuilt, it was being erased, with the storm used as the excuse. At an
earlier stage of capitalist "creative destruction," large swaths of the
United States lost their manufacturing bases and degenerated into rust belts
of shuttered factories and neglected neighborhoods. Post-Katrina New Orleans
may be providing the first Western-world image of a new kind of wasted urban
landscape: the mould belt, destroyed by the deadly combination of weathered
public infrastructure and extreme weather.
Since the publication of The Shock Doctrine, my research team has been
putting dozens of original source documents online for readers to explore
subjects in greater depth. The resource page on New Orleans has some real
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