The Battle for New Orleans Continues

Protestors clashed with the police yesterday in front of New Orlean's City Council over complaints about the demolition of public housing throughout the city. Why is anyone surprised by this? Mayor Ray Nagin, who proclaimed a while back that he wants to keep New Orleans a "Chocolate City," supports the redevelopment plan that will displace thousands of poor, black residents.

From the Associated Press

Housing Protesters Clash With N.O. Cops

Police used chemical spray and stun guns Thursday on protesters who tried to force their way into a City Council meeting, the latest strife over plans to demolish some 4,500 public housing units in a redevelopment project that council members ended up unanimously supporting.

The vote to permit the federal government to tear down four public housing developments was a critical moment in a protracted fight between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and residents, activists and preservationists.

Police said 15 people were arrested on charges ranging from battery to disorderly conduct. Four people were taken to hospitals — two of them women who had been stunned with Tasers — and five others were injured and treated on the scene, police said. All four in the hospital were stable, police said.

Protesters said they pushed against the iron gates that kept them out of the building because the Housing Authority of New Orleans had disproportionately allowed supporters of the demolition to pack the chambers. Dozens tried to force their way in.

At the peak of the confusion, some 70 protesters were facing about a dozen mounted police and 40 more law enforcement officers on foot.

One woman was sprayed by police and dragged from the gates; emergency workers took her away on a stretcher. Another woman said she was stunned by officers, and still had what appeared to be a Taser wire hanging from her shirt.

"I was just standing, trying to get into my City Council meeting," said the dazed woman, Kim Ellis, who was taken away in an ambulance.

"Is this what democracy looks like?" Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor who opposes demolition, said as he held a strand of Taser wire he said had been shot into another of the protesters.

Quigley said he believed the crackdown violated public meetings laws.

After roughly 30 minutes of on-again-off-again struggle to get into the meeting, protesters fell back, continuously chanting with bullhorns. An afternoon storm thinned the demonstrators, some of whom had been waiting since 7 a.m. to enter, and the crowd disappeared altogether shortly after the afternoon vote.

The meeting itself was mostly peaceful, although an early fight in the chambers between protesters and police caused a brief interruption.

Some public housing residents repeated during the daylong debate that they welcome the plan to replace the decades-old structures with mixed-income, mixed-use development. Other residents and their advocates said they fear the plan will result in the loss of badly needed housing for the city's low-income black residents.

The vote crossed racial lines, with the three black council members joining four whites.

Most of the units HUD plans to demolish are vacant, and many suffered heavy damage in Hurricane Katrina, but those who oppose their demolition say they should be improved instead.

Critics of the plan say it will drive poor people from neighborhoods where they have lived for generations, but HUD denies that and says the plan will create an equal amount of affordable housing as existed before Katrina hit.

The council promised to monitor the redevelopment and make sure the poor have places to come back to, but those assurances did little to assuage opponents.

"The vote was already a done deal," the Rev. Marshall Truehill said. "There were no concessions."

Truehill warned that the loss of public housing, coupled with efforts to move hurricane victims out of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, will lead to a dramatic rise in homelessness because of a housing shortage in New Orleans.

HUD had planned to began demolition last weekend, but late last week agreed to allow the City Council to weigh in first. HUD officials said they hoped to be able to start demolition within weeks.

Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday brokered compromises with HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson on how the redevelopment plan will be carried out, allowing more oversight, opening some new units and redeveloping two of the complexes in phases. He said it will ensure "that our fundamental principle that every resident has the right to return to better housing will not be empty promises but words in action."

Critics, however, said the agreement amounted to minor changes.

Endesha Juakali, a protest leader arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace, said Thursday's confrontation with the council was not the last breath from protesters.

"For everything they do, we have to make them pay a political consequence," Juakali said. He vowed that when the bulldozers try to demolish the St. Bernard complex, "it's going to be an all out effort."

For weeks, protesters have been gearing up to battle with bulldozers and have discussed a variety of tactics, including lying in front of the machinery.

Attorneys handling lawsuits to stop the demolitions said they have not exhausted their legal options. One suit is challenging the bidding process for selecting the developers while another one contending the demolitions are illegal is on appeal in the federal courts.

Associated Press writers John Moreno Gonzales and Mike Kunzelman contributed to this report.


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