New Orleans IndyMedia, December 7, 2007
by Edwin Lopez
The Coalition to Stop Demolition attended a City Council meeting to address their concerns regarding the projected demolition of four public housing complexes. After speaking before the Council and asking them to state their position on the matter, Coalition members staged a protest to their lack of response. In the duration of the protest a prominent local attorney was manhandled by a City official and cited for disturbing the peace.
Thursday morning, The Coalition to Stop Demolition rallied in front of City Hall to call attention to the projected demolition of four public housing complexes. The broad-based Coalition was formed out of a concern that thousands of families will permanently lose their homes. Furthermore, the Coalition is critical of the idea of mixed income housing because they believe it will fall short of addressing the housing needs of a community that has yet to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Raising a banner that read “Stop the Demolitions” Rose Kennedy Guy stated that public housing offers opportunities for residents that are not available in the private sector. She said that if there is a plumbing problem, it gets fixed. But “outside the projects you got slumlords,” who fail to address their needs. Rose shared with a local reporter that she is here today to fight and to pray and closed by saying, “I deserve to sleep in a comfortable bed.”
Alongside Rose stood Chantel Young. Chantel is a 27 year resident of St. Bernard Public Housing. She stated that mixed income housing limited the number people who will get housing, “A lot of qualified people won’t be able to get in.” She also stated that the public housing complexes are safe to live in because they survived the hurricane and the flood. “It makes me sick to my stomach,” Chantel declared, when thinking about the proposed demolition.
Coalition members then walked around to the City Council Chambers and took their seats. After a long wait, the Coalition finally had the opportunity to approach the council and address their concerns. Malcolm Suber opened and assured the council that the Coalition was composed of concerned citizens who are here today to oppose demolition.
Somewhat of a debate ensued as Suber asked the Council if they believed they had the power to stop the demolition. Suber later told the Council that the Coalition would like to get a sense of where they stand on the issue of demolition. When Council members refused to offer a concrete response to their constituents, Coalition members called out for a “Yes” or “No” response. Suber again asked, “What’s your position?” After the Council failed to respond, Suber informed the Council that they were disrespectful to those who took the time to come here.
Although City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis offered to meet and listen to the group at a later date, an apparent conflict between the Coalition and the Council was a sense of urgency. With people’s homes on verge permanent destruction in a matter of days, Coalitions members wanted to know where their elected officials stood on the issue; whereas, Council members appeared to want to table the matter. Standing just a few feet away from the podium, a public housing resident said to the Council, “You don’t care because you have a home to go back to.”
Coalition members began clapping their hands as they broke out into chants “Stop the Demolition” and “No Demolition.” They then spontaneously began marching around the public seating area of the chamber. As a group of marchers passed her by a Coalition member exclaimed, “They’ll spend the whole day to decide if a coffee house is going to be built, but they won’t talk about public housing!”
After realizing that most of the City Council members were no longer present, City Council President Arnie Fielkow left the chamber. Coalition members continued with their protest until it appeared that a meeting in the Mayor’s office was going to be held. Upon receiving this information some Coalition members stepped out for the meeting. When blocked from entering the main building, some returned to the chamber.
Bill Quigley, a prominent civil rights attorney and law professor was taken in to a security shed located in the parking lot just outside the chamber. A number of Coalition members gathered around the parking lot, protesting the actions of the police. Later it was determined that Quigley was cited for disturbing the peace.
As Coalition members and the police began to disburse the parking lot, Kym Clark, an activist from New York, displayed video footage from her 3.5 inch video camera LCD screen to Coalition members and the local press. The footage showed a city official dressed in a dark tan suit shoving Quigley against the wall and forcing him into an arm lock. While photographers and videographers for the press filmed the footage displayed by Clark, she stated, “This is why community media is so important, we don’t hide this stuff.”