In the face of violent protests, New Orleans City Council yesterday moved to demolish thousands of low-income houses as the city continues the agonisingly slow process or rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina.
Demolition crews will now move in to dismantle the 4,500 brick buildings that generations of poor people lived in. The outburst of violence came amid concerns that the authorities intend to reduce the numbers of predominantly poor, black people living in New Orleans.
"It is beyond callous, and can only be seen as malicious discrimination," said Kali Akuno of the Coalition to Stop the Demolition. "It is an unabashed attempt to eliminate the black population of New Orleans."
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to replace the units badly, which were old and in reed of demolition even before they were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It intends to replace them with new mixed-income housing.
The decision to demolish was made after hours of debate between residents, activists and preservationists - and clashes in the street outside where police used chemical spray and stun guns on the dozens of protesters trying to force their way into the packed City Council chamber.
One woman was sprayed and dragged from the gates and carted off on a stretcher. Another woman was stunned by a taser gun. "I was just standing, trying to get into my City Council meeting," said the woman, Kim Ellis, who was taken away in an ambulance.
"Is this what democracy looks like?" Bill Quigley, a law professor who opposes demolition.
Many of the city's poorer residents repeated during the day-long debate that they welcome the plan to replace buildings with mixed-income housing.
Shortly after Katrina struck, the Republican Congressman Richard Baker told lobbyists in a Baton Rough Red Cross shelter: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
© 2007 The Independent