NEW YORK - Thousands of protesters are expected to converge on New Orleans Wednesday to raise awareness about what they believe to be the Bush administration's failure to help Americans who lost everything in the wake of a ferocious storm that hit the United States' Gulf Coast some two years ago.
Organized by a number of civil rights and advocacy groups, the demonstration is part of a series of events taking place in New Orleans this week to mark the second anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the beautiful city and swaths of other settlements along the Gulf Coast on the night of August 29, 2005 and the days that followed.
Organizers said they expected people would join the rally in large numbers to demand swift action from the Bush administration to create a kind of "Marshall Plan" to restore New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.
"We are soliciting all people of conscience to join us for 'A Day of Presence' to show the people of the Gulf that we do care," said Melanie L. Campbell, executive director the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Statements from Campbell's group and its allied organizations suggest that, though there has been some progress in recovery efforts, a large part of New Orleans' population remains displaced and those that have returned to their homes are still desperately seeking help.
"Too many people who want to return have not been able to do so. Emergency rooms are overcrowded and uninsured poor people find it almost impossible to obtain specialty care," according to the Louisiana Justice Institute, one of the groups planning Wednesday's protest.
In addition to killing 1,800 people, the hurricane left more than 800,000 homeless -- most of them African Americans and poor people of European descent.
Independent researchers hold that biased and discriminatory practices on the part of some authorities have prolonged much of the deprivation and suffering of Katrina's victims.
A recent study by the nation's largest civil rights watchdog, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), points out that incidents of racial injustice and human rights abuses on the Gulf Coast have increased since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.
In the report, entitled "Broken Promises: Two Years After Katrina," the ACLU has documented numerous civil rights violations in Louisiana and Mississippi over the past two years, including a number of incidents involving racially motivated police actions, housing discrimination, and prisoner abuse.
In light of its findings, the ACLU demanded the U.S. Congress adopt legislation to address post-Katrina injustices, including racial profiling, voter disenfranchisement, and the dearth of health care facilities and low-income housing.
"Two years ago, Americans were glued to their television sets, outraged at the images of poor people of color cast aside in the aftermath of Katrina," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, in a statement. "Politicians made promises, but they failed to fix the problems."
"The government must be held accountable for its mistakes," he added, "rather than allowed to perpetuate the systemic racism and discrimination that only added strength to the storm."
The ACLU report also highlights the plight of prisoners in New Orleans jails who were abandoned during the storm. The jail system is now plagued by inhumane and dangerous conditions, inadequate health care, and a lack of preparedness for possible future storms, the group said.
Protest organizers said they will demand at the rally that President Bush redirect the money being spent in the war on Iraq to rehabilitate Katrina victims.
Bush is due to arrive in New Orleans Tuesday after giving a speech about the Iraq. He is expected to examine recovery efforts in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In addition to Bush, many other politicians, including leading presidential hopefuls, are also expected to visit New Orleans in connection with the second anniversary of the deadly storm. It's not clear if they will also join the rally.
Organizers said they have asked all the presidential candidates to join in.
Among others invited to speak include Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network; ESSENCE magazine editorial director and entrepreneur Susan L. Taylor; the National Urban League's Marc Morial; Thomas W. Dortch, Jr., representing 100 Black Men of America; and author and professor Michael Eric Dyson.
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