A survivor's tale of racism and neglect

Four days after Hurricane Katrina roared on shore on Monday, Aug. 29, a gripping letter was e-mailed to us. In our last installment of Concrete Jungle we promised to tell the account of inmates locked up and left for dead as the guards and staff escaped the storm. Unfortunately, we were unable to re-contact the man who was allegedly left to die by New Orleans prison officials.

However, we have been in contact with Lisa C. Moore. She told us the story of her cousin, Denise Moore, and Denise's 63-year-old mother, 21-year-old niece, and 2-year-old grandniece. It's one of many coming from the Gulf Coast region. Like the prisoner's unconfirmed tale of abandonment, the following survival story (edited for length) of Denise and her family is a disturbing example of government neglect and racism toward the people of New Orleans:

"Denise made it out of New Orleans. She's at her brother's in Baton Rouge. Her mother, a licensed nurse, was called in to work on Sunday at Memorial Hospital (a.k.a. Baptist Hospital). Denise decided to stay with her mother, her niece, and her grandniece. She figured they'd be safe at the hospital.

"They had to wait hours to be assigned a room, but two white nurses suddenly arrived after the cut-off time. Their room was given to the new nurses. Denise was furious, and rather than stay at Baptist, she decided to walk home (several blocks away) to ride out the storm at her mother's apartment. Her mother stayed at the hospital.

"She described it as the scariest time in her life. She huddled under a mattress in the hall. Three of the rooms in the apartment (there are only four) caved in. After the storm passed, she went back to Baptist on Monday to seek shelter. They were running on generators without air conditioning.

"Tuesday, the levees broke, and water began rising. They moved patients upstairs. They were told buses were coming, but they would have to walk to the nearest intersection. They waded out in hip-deep water, and stood at the intersection for [more than three hours].

"The buses took them to the Ernest Memorial Convention Center. Denise said she thought she was in hell. They [Denise, her mother, her niece, and her grandniece] were there for two days, with no water, no food, and no shelter.

"Police drove by with their windows rolled up showing thumbs-up signs. National Guard trucks rolled by, empty, with soldiers holding guns aimed at them. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter dropped water, but all the bottles exploded on impact.

"On Wednesday four people died next to her. Thursday six people died next to her. Denise told me the people around her thought they had been sent there to die. The buses that came were full. They dropped off more people, but nobody was being taken away.

"[She learned the new arrivals] had been rescued from rooftops and attics. These people got off the buses delirious from lack of water and food. Denise said [these people] had mostly lost their minds.

"Inside, the convention center was one huge bathroom. In order to [defecate] you had to stand in other people's [excrement]. The floors were black and slick with [waste].

"Most people stayed outside because the smell was so bad. But outside wasn't much better with the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, and the old and very young dying from dehydration. There was no place to lay down, not even on the sidewalk.

"[Denise and family] slept under an overpass [Wednesday night]. She said there were young men with guns, but they organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street, 'looted,' and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies: nobody had eaten in days.

"When the police rolled down windows and yelled out 'the buses are coming,' the [armed] young men organized the crowd: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. There were priorities for who got out first.

"Denise said the fights she saw between the [armed] young men were fist fights. She saw them put their guns down and fight rather than shoot up the crowd, but she said there were a handful of people shot in the convention center.

"A few men shot at the police because, at a certain point, all the people thought the cops were coming to hurt them, to kill them all. She saw a young man who had stolen a car speed past, cops in pursuit. He crashed the car, got out and ran, and the cops shot him in the back in front of the whole crowd.

"She saw many groups of people decide that they were going to walk across the bridge to the west bank, and those same groups would return, saying that they were met at the top of the bridge by armed police ordering them to turn around. They weren't allowed to leave.

"Denise's niece found a pay phone to call her mother's boyfriend in Baton Rouge. [She] finally got through and told him where they were. The boyfriend, and Denise's brother, drove down bribed a few cops, and talked a few into letting them into the city: 'come on, man, my 2-year-old niece is at the convention center!'

"After arriving in Baton Rouge they saw the images on TV, and couldn't believe how the media was portraying the people of New Orleans.

"She kept repeating to me on the phone, 'make sure you tell everybody that they left us there to die. Nobody came. Those young men with guns were protecting us. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have had the little water and food they had found.'"

GCL1 and Moorpheus would like to hear from you. Please send letters to editor@sdistrictjournal.com.

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