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Katrina Remembered

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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August 29, 2008

Yesterday, we honored the 45th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech.

Today, we remember the anniversary of an event that showed this country how far we still have to go. It was three years ago today that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and delivered devastation on a scale many Americans never would have thought possible. Close to 2,000 people lost their lives in the storm and awful floods that followed.

In the days, weeks and months after Katrina, it became shockingly clear that the storm was a human rights as well as humanitarian disaster. It exposed the deeply painful reality about how those who were poor and black in the wealthiest country in the world were literally left to fend for themselves.

The ACLU, particularly our affiliates in Louisiana and Mississippi, worked mightily in the period after the storm to document the full scale of the human rights tragedy, as well as to prevent ongoing civil liberties and civil rights abuses against those who were impacted by it.

On the first anniversary of the storm, the ACLU's National Prison Project published Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina, which documented the horrors suffered by the thousands of men, women and children who were abandoned at the Orleans Parish Prison in the days after the storm struck.

Last year, the ACLU published Broken Promises: Two Years After Katrina, which exposed the civil rights abuses that had occurred in Louisiana and Mississippi since the storm, including reports of heightened racially motivated police activity, housing discrimination and ongoing prisoner abuses.

2008 has been marked by heartbreaking stories in the news about the plight of the homeless, many suffering from addiction and mental health problems, in New Orleans, as well as revelations about formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers that, as was reported in the Washington Post, "may have triggered a public health catastrophe among the more than 300,000 people, many of them children, who lived in the FEMA homes."

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the most shameful episodes from one of the worst administrations ever to lead our nation. Whoever wins the election in November will have plenty of work to do along our Gulf Coast, which will be particularly urgent now that they are facing a looming affordable housing crisis.

As we mark this third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a documentary has just opened that is getting amazing reviews and seems to present this event as I've never seen. It is called Trouble the Water. It definitely looks like something worth checking out when it comes to a theater or Netflix queue near you.

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