#BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza told a packed audience at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center that despite the city's largely positive message of recovery during the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, there exists a "tale of two cities."
Garza helped coin the hashtag and phrase, which has gained attention worldwide, in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. She delivered the keynote speech for "Katrina 10 Year Memorial: Equity, Justice and Black Leadership for New Orleans" on Aug. 27.
Garza, special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said Katrina and the levee failures were another chapter in the country's "storm of structural racism and violence." The government's failure to protect black≈lives as infrastructure crumbled and levees collapsed, as well as its failure "to bring people home," are among the "most defining moments of my generation," she said.
The federal government's slow response and then-President George W. Bush's flyover of the destruction were "callous, cold-hearted and racist," showing how black lives were discarded "by the same country that enslaved us, lynched us, raped us," she said.
"I watched and the entire world watched," said Garza, who was working on anti-gentrification efforts in San Francisco in 2005. "We're still watching."
Garza ran down a list of threats to black lives — blasting neo-liberals, the "racist blowback" of President Barack Obama's election and re-election and subsequent "bursting of the Obama bubble," the national affordable housing crisis, climate change, gentrification and the literal threats of violence (and many deaths) of blacks at the hands of white police officers. "The crisis in the Gulf Coast didn't start when the levees broke," she said. "Levees have been breaking for black people for a long time now."
Garza also praised the work of event co-organizer Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, which aims to end the school-to-prison pipeline and support at-risk communities. "It's our duty to love and protect [children ] whether you gave birth to them or not," she said, adding that the organization "understands that the criminalization of black children begins in the womb."
The forum was among several weeklong events with Gulf South Rising and Katrina Truth examining inequities faced by black New Orleanians post-Katrina. Find more information at www.katrinatruth.org.