Post-Disaster “Cleansing” in Alabama

New Orleans Once you start looking, it’s hard to avoid the patterns, even in the worst of tragic disasters caused by hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.  The American version of “ethnic cleansing” where such devastations are used to rationalize the elimination or, as they would call it, the “rebalancing” of racial and class constituencies, is perhaps the most despicable of post-disaster patterns, competing for honors with straight out carrion picking contractor rip-offs.

We saw it in New Orleans in 2005 where the developer-oriented Urban Land Institute recommended whole areas for depopulation and return to cypress swamps, especially in places like the lower 9th ward.  We also read about it as some city “fathers” ran their mouths in the Wall Street Journal about Katrina being an opportunity to change the racial balance of the city.

The floods in Iowa in 2008 where lower income and working class areas in the bottoms in communities around Cedar Rapids were targeted for wholesale removal according to stories in the New York Times.

This weekend another example in this same pattern emerged when Mayor Jack Scott of Cordova, Alabama, about 35 miles northwest of Birmingham, decreed without any apparent sense of irony from the temporary trailer housing City Hall and the Police Stations after their tornado, that no single-wide FEMA trailers would be allowed in Cordova.  According to the Associated Press, Scott “doesn’t want rundown mobile homes parked all over town years from now.”   As for the City Hall trailer, he says, “It’s temporary and we know it’s temporary.”

Another tornado hit areas in Alabama are suspending their anti-trailer covenants, and for all of us who have traveled in that area of the state, god knows there are already trailers aplenty!  Citizens are circulating petitions to remove the fool from office.  One – Harvey Hastings — states the issue clearly:  “There are trailers all over here but (Scott) wants to clean all the trash out.  He doesn’t like lower-class people.”

We need clear and certain rules that prevent tragic disasters from being do-overs from the power and business elites trying to work their will by denying the right of return – and relief – to the victims.   The FEMA delays and governmental foot dragging from city, state, federal, and school leadership have still left 100,000 people almost exiled from New Orleans as a direct and indirect result of such “cleansing.”  This should never be allowed.

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