Thank You, Kanye! by Fanon Che Wilkins, Ph.D. (, 09-05-2005)

THE WHITE HOUSE ( – It was a picture perfect morning in the Rose Garden. Blue skies. Bright sun. The temperature was 74 degrees Fahrenheit, with low humidity. The hum of the cicadas in the trees rose and fell the way it does in late summer mornings in this Potomac basin, even as President George Bush, flanked by his national security inner circle, walked to the podium Sept. 3.

But Mr. Bush may not have noticed the pleasant weather because he was surrounded by dark political storm clouds that threaten to inundate his presidency the way Hurricane Katrina decimated Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

(L-r) General Richard Meyers, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; President George Bush; and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security in the Rose Garden Sept. 3. �Photo: Askia Muhammad

Mr. Bush was there to deliver his Saturday radio address live, for network and cable television transmission as well.

As the images of tens of thousands of suffering, starving, mostly Black faces poured out of New Orleans in the days leading up to this second appearance in the Rose Garden in two days, once again Mr. Bush wanted to show his grave concern for the victims of the worst natural disaster in American history by staging the five-minute radio speech live.

“The human costs are incalculable,” he began. “The magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities,” he continued. “The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable.”

And that is an understatement, to say the least.

But Mr. Bush’s speech fell short of addressing the deep sense of betrayal felt, especially by Blacks and the poor. “Why did it take so long,” a Los Angeles Times reporter shouted as Mr. Bush walked back to the Oval Office without further comment.

There was a monumental failure of the government–White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)–which contributed directly to the loss of life and prolonged the suffering of the survivors.

The ordeal was ghastly to watch. Ironically, television networks were able to get in the city and broadcast pictures, but the neither the National Guard (one third of Louisiana’s Guard units were deployed in Iraq) nor active-duty service members of the “world’s mightiest military” were able to get in the city to deliver any relief to the suffering masses, 99 percent of whom appeared to be Black.

It was “shocking and awful,” Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) told reporters Sept. 2 at the National Press Club, comparing the effect of the hurricane on the U.S. Crescent City with the U.S. military description of its invasion and occupation of Iraq.

What happened after Hurricane Katrina was a total non-response on the part of the federal government for at least two days.

The world was left to see pictures of tormented Black faces, death and destruction all around them. Relief was nowhere to be seen for those U.S. citizens, some of whom are family members of troops in U.S. military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Black people watching the suffering, the descent into chaos, anarchy and looting, could not believe their eyes. Local officials were enraged.

“We have been abandoned by our own country,” Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, La., said on “Meet The Press” Sept. 4. “Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history.

“It ´s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now,” Mr. Broussard continued, before telling a tearful story of a woman–whose own son is a top FEMA manager–who drowned after days of pleading with her own son for help, which never arrived. He sobbed uncontrollably.

The response to the catastrophe, which had been predicted for years, amounts to a “test of the moral compass” of the nation, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told reporters Sept. 2 at the National Press Club. “We cannot allow it to be said by history, that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color.”

Federal officials at first confessed their initial unreadiness.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) admitted on CNN that, until the afternoon of Sept. 1, he didn’t even know that 15,000 evacuees had obeyed FEMA instructions and were sweltering in 90-degree heat with no water or toilets, and with dead decomposing bodies all around them at the New Orleans Convention Center.

Later that same day, FEMA’s deputy director told NBC “Nightly News” that officials at the agency were distracted for a time with concerns about looting and the protection of property, before they comprehended the humanitarian disaster.

Later, federal officials and Republicans began shifting the blame to local and state officials. They insisted that local and Louisiana state officials are the designated “first responders,” and they accused the Democratic governor and mayor of New Orleans of not sounding the alarm soon enough.

However, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had, in fact, made an urgent official request three days before the storm, according to Rep. Cummings, “for some kind of a special designation from FEMA, which would have had the buses taking people out, three days before the storm,” Mr. Cummings told The Final Call in an exclusive interview. “It sat on a desk and didn’t even get looked at until after the storm had hit.

“This has got to be a wake-up call for us, as African American people, from another perspective,” he continued. “That is, if we believe that the government is going to always be there for our rescue, we need to re-think that. Because I don’t want us to be in a position where we’re not doing for self, when we can. And this is the perfect situation for that lesson to be learned.”