AMY GOODMAN: Curtis Muhammad is also on the line with us. He is from New Orleans, right now in Jackson, Mississippi, former S.N.C.C organizer, Co-founder of Community Labor United in New Orleans. Curtis, this weekend there will be a meeting in Baton Rouge of black leaders talking about rebuilding New Orleans. As we observe that this question is being asked right now: Will New Orleans be rebuilt, as opposed to how will it be rebuilt, but can you talk about how this whole hurricane is being framed and who will be involved in the rebuilding?
CURTIS MUHAMMAD: Well, I think there are two things where we started this process of talking to our people about how to move. First of all, that's what we do. We have been doing community forums for about eight or nine years in New Orleans under something we call Community Labor United, a coalition of progressive organizations. So, when this happened and we found ourselves scattered everywhere, and we were all watching the news, and we realized that we had our people just all over the South, North, flying them all over the country, so we began to try to gather ourselves and talk about what we needed.
And one consensus emerged out of those phone calls and emails. And that is, we could not depend on our local, state, or national government for our future, that it was very clear that without the people standing and demanding something in a real serious way that we would not get our due. Now, this thing was so blatant, this thing was just so blatant, and there's been so much skating and sliding around the facts of this thing, and we are looking at it on TV. And that's what makes it so hard for me.
I mean, I saw T.D. Jakes on the – being interviewed, and I’ve forgotten who interviewed him. It was on CNN, I think, and the interviewer just tried to push him, said, “Reverend Jakes, just tell me how you feel in your gut. Just in your heart. Was this racism?” And he just kept running from that issue. It's very few people who have really walked into that piece. I mean, here we are watching this thing happen, hearing the reporters talk about ambulances picking up people from the mostly predominantly white and upper middle class hospital at Tulane University, picking people up to evacuate them, and going right past the Charity Hospital where most of the Blacks were. And we had these reports of nurses using pumps by hand to keep people alive and stashing the dead in the staircase, and yet they were going uptown to empty out the predominantly white and middle class hospitals. And we were still skating.
Now, that convinced us that we had no caretakers. You know, those -- the Mayor at one point goes into the Superdome and goes into the Convention Center, and says, “Just go walk. Don't wait for help. Just get on the highway and walk out of here.” That actually happened. And they stopped them. They set up checkpoints and would not let the people leave the city for fear they were going to loot the dry towns, white towns, Kenner, Metairie up the road. And they started locking these shelters at night so people could not sneak away. And no help was still coming. Now, somebody break into place and get water and food, and we call it looting. And people are dying.
And Bush, the President, finally shows up six days later, and he says, “Zero tolerance for people who break into places to get food and water,” that that's the same as looting. How can you call looting when the whole town almost is under water and people are starving and nobody has been to see about them for six days? And those people are being criminalized and thrown in jail as we speak. So, when we gathered our forces, we began to travel through the shelters so that we could locate. We couldn't get cooperation from the government of where they were taking our people. But we just started going city to city up the highway, and every city, as we went out on 10 West, we traveled all the way to Houston. We started at Baton Rouge. Everything was filled. Churches, gymnasiums, civic centers, dormitories of college campuses where the students had brought the families into their dormitories.
But when we would go to the public shelters, they were almost like prisons. You could hardly get in. There was all kind of criteria for how you could get in to see the people that was almost like visiting somebody in prison. The people didn't have access to the world around them for fear, again, because on TV they had been criminalized already. So, though the communities were willing to accept them, they were not willing for these people to walk the streets of their town. They were eating sweets and Cokes, still, to the day – I came to this studio this morning having driven from Houston. Every little town between Baton Rouge and Houston had shelters with our people. And they were all managed by FEMA and Homeland Security and soldiers and National Guards, and the ability to go visit these people was like tremendously hard work.
By the time we got to Houston, we had learned a little lesson. We learned if we took our already white volunteer as our leader to the shelters, we could enter without any problem, without any red tape. We were allowed to enter. So, we are convinced that the racism about the New Orleans black population, the black poor population, is so tremendous and so negligent and we don't know the reasons. And maybe so all black people. Maybe that's just – we just have this tremendous universal hatred for dark skin. I don't know what it is. But we watched blatant racism, blatant racism.
We watched our government, whether it's local, state or national, and I would rather say state or national because the local government has no National Guard. It has no helicopters. It has no big boats. It doesn't have the wherewithal to have moved 150,000 people trapped in New Orleans underwater. The state and the feds are the culprits, and though they have not joined the International Court, there must be a people's court somewhere that can charge wrongful death, that can charge murder. Because that's what we have witnessed.