- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005


Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina said yesterday that racism contributed to the slow disaster response, at times likening themselves in congressional testimony to victims of genocide and the Holocaust.

The comparisons rankled Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, who said, “Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed.”

“They died from abject neglect,” responded community activist Leah Hodges. “We left body bags behind.”

Angry evacuees described being trapped in temporary shelters where one New Orleans resident said she was “one sunrise from being consumed by maggots and flies.”

Another woman said military troops focused machine gun laser sights on her granddaughter’s forehead. Others said their families were called racial epithets by police.

“No one is going to tell me it wasn’t a race issue,” said New Orleans evacuee Patricia Thompson, 53, who is now living in College Station, Texas. “Yes, it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was black.”

The hearing was held by a special House committee, chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, investigating the government’s preparations and response to Katrina. It was requested by Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Racism is something we don’t like to talk about, but we have to acknowledge it,” Mrs. McKinney said. “And the world saw the effects of American-style racism in the drama as it was outplayed by the Katrina survivors.”

The five white and two black lawmakers who attended the hearing mostly sat quietly during 2 hours of testimony. But tempers flared when evacuees were asked by Mr. Miller to not compare shelter conditions to a concentration camp.

“I’m going to call it what it is,” said Miss Hodges. “That is the only thing I could compare what we went through to.”

Of five black evacuees who testified, only one said he believed the sluggish response was the product of bad government planning for poor residents — not racism.

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