By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
New Orleans, September 8 Who Will Bury This Man? His feet are sticking out from under a bent sheet of corrugated metal. Should I tell you more? He died where he lies, facedown on the asphalt about 50 feet from the door of the Arthur Monday Jr. health clinic. The clinic was closed when the storm began and it’s still closed today, although this neighborhood — Algiers, across the Mississippi from the French Quarter — has phone service, running water, gas, everything but electricity. The corpse has been here for 10 days. “We called them Tuesday, when we found his body,” says Malik Rahim, who lives down the block. “Police came, looked at him, left. Ever day they come look at him, like they trying to see how long it’ll take him to decompose.”
While we’re talking, six soldiers pull up in a Humvee. They’re all hard stares, who are yous and why are you heres, but they ease up slightly when they see a press pass. I ask them what they can do about the corpse. “It’s been reported up,” one tells me. “They’re supposed to come get it.” But he doesn’t know who “they” are, only that “we’re not allowed to touch it.” With that, the soldiers drive off.
But this is a happy story, or as hopeful as they get in New Orleans this week. We stop outside the clinic on the way out of town, and from there on things get brighter. Rahim, a community organizer and former Black Panther, needs to make an ice run. He’s 58, with gray dreadlocks and powerful construction worker’s shoulders. His kitchen is stocked with food and water, but he needs ice to keep the food from rotting. Most of the people left in the neighborhood (about 3,000 out of an original 74,000, he says) are in the same situation. The military is giving out ice, food and water, three towns away in Bayou Segnette, so we talk on the drive over.
“We got a Navy base in Algiers,” Rahim says. “We got about 15 schools and 40 faith-based institutions, and they ain’tusing none of them.” When the neighborhood was being evacuated down at the ferry dock, he says, “We tried to put together a cooking cooperative to feed the evacuees. They told us we couldn’t do it because it would start a riot. They let those people stand there hungry.”
As we drive, he yells out a greeting here and there to families sitting on their porches: “How you all set for ice?”
“We could use some,” most respond.
The problem, Rahim goes on, began with bad leadership, first of all Mayor Ray Nagin’s. “We had over 1,000 brothers here that was ready to volunteer. When the levee first broke, he would’ve had tens of thousands. But he never asked for volunteers.”
We drive past a school bus, parked at a crooked angle in a glass-strewn lot. People eventually siphoned off its gas, Rahim says, but the bus was never used. “We had two days prior notice that [the storm] was going to hit this city and they ain’tevacuated anybody. They never used the school buses or the city buses to get everybody out. He just opened the Superdome. That’s why all those people died. He’s got to live with this. He could’ve commandeered every boat in this city. He ain’t did shit.”
Once we get out of Algiers, we drive for about 10 minutes and take our place in a long line at the side of the highway. It’s not far if you have a car and enough gas to make the drive, but few people in Algiers these days have either. Door to door, the trip takes about two hours, most of it spent idling and inching forward. “This is how we spend most of our gas,” Rahim says, “right here. I do this three times a day. This constitutes my whole damn day, just going to get ice.” Buying gas means driving even farther, and even longer waits.
Finally, we reach the head of the line, and volunteers (not locals but Choctaw Indians who came in from Oklahoma) fill the trunk with bags of ice. We drive back to Algiers, and cruise slowly through the neighborhood. Rahim calls out to everyone he sees. “You need ice?”
Almost everyone needs ice. “Some days when I get home my old lady is set to kill me, because I didn’t save a bag for us.
Usually he does this part on bicycle to save gas. He recruits three or four others. They divide up the neighborhood and pedal off, bags of ice balanced on the handlebars.
If the government doesn’t find a way to bury the man lying outside the clinic by tomorrow, Rahim says he’ll do it himself. “I got people coming in with lime.” And he’s not going to wait for the city to open up the clinic. “We’re looking to make the mosque a health clinic and establish some king of school. From there we gonnatry to start doing some church services so people can start feeling some sense of community,” Rahimsays.