Workers Vanguard No. 868

14 April 2006


Black Longshoreman on Katrina Disaster:

"We All Gave, but We Received Nothing"

Our New Orleans reporter spoke with a black member of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 3000, who along with a friend made his way back into the flooded city and rescued some 150 people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Below are excerpts from his story.

We had to fight our way through checkpoints, stopped over at the Wal-Mart, bought a big generator, fought our way through the police barricades, military barricades. Working for the Port of New Orleans, I had my port pass, I had my work vest. I put a work vest on my friend to make it look official, with a generator on the back of the truck, to get in through the military, to sneak back into the city.

Me and about 35 other guys began to commandeer some boats. We started a convoy, rescuing people. I brought a bullhorn with me to call out names. There were men in the outer borders of New Orleans, but no one is inside of the city trying to help the people. Yes, you heard reports of people shooting at helicopters. The reason why was because they were passing over the poor, black people that they left stranded on rooftops, in attics, on streets. There was no police department with boats. There was no sheriff’s department. There was no Wildlife and Fishery. They had nobody out there. There were no military out there in boats. It was common citizens who did the right thing. They commandeered some boats, went out there and started gallantly and frantically rescuing people.

We’re going out there getting everybody we can. There was an elderly lady we went to rescue, 80-years plus, on a rooftop with five Wal-Mart bags in her hands. I said, Miss, we came to get you. I said, Come on, but you can’t bring your bags. She said this is all I own. I turned away, looked away. She says if this means it’s going to make room for someone else to sit, I don’t need nothing. She threw them out into the water and they floated off. What do you do, man?

There was an old lady we went to rescue at Lafayette School. She was in a wheelchair, with no legs. The helicopter can’t pick her up, she’s dead weight. We had to put her on the boat, bring the boat to a Shell gas station where the Coast Guard could pick her up. While we try to load someone else up, the boat tips over with the lady. She’s under the water. We had to go under to retrieve her, to keep her from drowning. At least she survived. I mean, what do you do?

At that point racism is alive and well. There’s three white guys walking along on the neutral ground in water. I cried out to them: Man, give us a hand, help us out. Guys looked over at us and kept walking. At the time of a tragedy, there was segregation. Can you believe that? But yet this is America. Where is that “We’re one”? “All for one and one for all”? That didn’t exist here. It was an experience you could never possibly imagine.

There was a group of guys that we got together—winos that had manned boats to save people. The people that you pass by, sitting on a street corner drinking wine, were the heroes. Those were the people that came out, that stood up. Common everyday citizens. It wasn’t a policeman, it wasn’t a fireman, it was the people, your neighbor. People in the neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods that they’re not letting repopulate.

But yet it’s “Tourism, that’s what supports the city.” That’s a lie. The Port of New Orleans is what carries the city. Yet we have to deal with “right to work”—non-union companies. Ask me, what did the PNO [Port of New Orleans] do for the men? Nothing. We didn’t receive any financial aid. Ask me: What did the city do for the workers, the port workers? Nothing. We didn’t receive anything to come back. We left our families. Some families are still out there. Some of these guys don’t have places to live. But yet you tell me we are all for one.

The looting? The looting, it was going on. But it was the instinct of survival. If the helicopters are passing people over, not dropping common provisions, the instinct of survival is going to kick in on you. You’re going to let a loaf of bread sit on the shelf, and you go hungry? Would you do it? We have to have a better plan. If not we shall perish as a people. The media portrayed poor, black, destitute people—we’re “refugees.” How in the hell can we be refugees in the country that we fought and died for? I earned my money and my keep by the sweat of my brow.

The port is as good as the people that work there. The port is nothing without the workers. The port cannot function without the workers, but the workers’ families are elsewhere, they’re homeless. What is the port doing for the family members? The guys work six days, seven days a week, five days a week, around the clock, some guys. But some guys only work four days a week because they have to go up there three days a week to try to secure their family. Some guys don’t have a place to live. Some guys lost everything. We all gave, but we received nothing.