A conversation between Dennis Parker, ACLU Racial Justice Program Director, and Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director, about Hurricane Katrina and the racial injustices that it exposed to the rest of the country.
Dennis Parker: Let me begin the conversation by asking you, Marjorie, as a New Orleans resident and rights and liberties advocate, what you think was the most important lesson learned from the disaster?
Marjorie Esman: Katrina showed the world what we here always knew: New Orleans is a city divided by race and class. Those divisions played a major role in everything that followed in aftermath of the flood. Still, we and the rest of the country were shocked by the images of thousands of poor black people trapped in terrible conditions and the never-ending stories of abuse. The ACLU did a report bringing to light the police abuse, racial profiling, housing discrimination and the dangerous lack of planning at the Orleans Parish Prison that disproportionately impacted the black population.
DP: Sadly, we didn't learn the lesson that systematic discrimination and inequality exist not only in New Orleans but in the United States as a whole. Katrina wasn't the first time that inequality was revealed, and sadly, it won't be the last. Remember how surprised everyone was 20 years ago when statistical evidence confirmed what communities of color had long known, that black and brown people are subjected unfairly to racial profiling? But I'm not sure we learned any lasting lessons. Look at the extreme "show me your papers" law in Arizona that basically requires police to racially profile Latinos. Where are we five years later in New Orleans?