Conservative media outlets, a Louisiana candidate for Senate and others have slammed President Barack Obama after his administration instructed the state not to discriminate when assisting Louisianans impacted by the recent flooding.
Last week the Obama administration released a 16-page guidance warning Louisiana “to ensure that individuals and communities affected by disasters do not face unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency).”
“In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we have learned many critical lessons about how recipients of federal financial assistance engaged in emergency management activities can more effectively ensure that all members of the community receive services, regardless of race, color, or national origin,” the guidance states.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is 54.5 percent Black and 39.4 percent white. As of 2015, the state of Louisiana overall is 62.5 percent white and 32.5 percent Black, U.S. Census QuickFacts reported.
Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, not only criticized the memo but said the president should apologize and retract the guidance.
“We’re insulted by the President of the United States and his Department of Justice, and he ought to issue a retraction of that [guidance] to all the good people of Louisiana,” Maness said on Sunday during an interview with Breitbart.
“You know what We’re tired of being called racists,” he pressed on. “And I think that’s the number one issue in the United States of America. Those people [at the DOJ] can just go to hell. They’re not my Department of Justice.”
The Advocate, a local Louisiana newspaper, came down on the president in an editorial for not coming to the state as soon as the disaster happened.
“If the president can interrupt his vacation for a swanky fund-raiser for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, as he did on Monday, then surely he can make time to show up for a catastrophe that’s displaced thousands,” the paper wrote.
The American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher called the memo “long” and “bureaucratic” issued by the “Department of Justice and many other agencies of the executive branch overseen by He Who Cannot Be Troubled to Leave Martha’s Vineyard.”
Dreher also said the media was present during the aftermath of Alton Sterling’s death and questioned where the media is now. Sterling, a Black man, was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge police officer in July, sparking protests regarding racial issues concerning Black men and police. Alton’s death and the subsequent activism have heightened racial tensions in Louisiana.
Obama traveled to Baton Rouge on Tuesday. The White House defended the president’s decision not to cancel the remainder of his trip.
“There’s an all too common temptation to focus on the politics and to focus on the optics,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “But the survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well served by a political discussion, they’re well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response.”
Race and Recovery During Crises
Indeed, as demonstrated during other times of turmoil — including Hurricane Katrina and the Flint water crisis — race largely plays a factor during and after recovery.
Hurricane Katrina has largely been cited for putting racial inequality in New Orleans before, during and after Katrina in the public eye. In 2000, New Orleans’ population was 67.25 percent Black and 28.05 percent white. By 2010, the population was 60.17 percent Black and 32.99 percent white, according to the U.S. Census.
“When Katrina hit, we saw our poverty and systematic failures displayed nationally and internationally,” President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans Erika McConduit-Diggs told DiversityInc. “We should have a very substantive and intentional conversation about where we are, African Americans in particular, in the years post Katrina.”
In Orleans Parish (the geographic area that encompasses the city) the mortality rate for Blacks was 1.7 to 4 times higher than for whites for people 18 years old and older.
And recovery affected Black citizens differently as well. As of 2015, 78 percent of New Orleans’ population before Katrina had returned — but Black neighborhoods have been rebuilding at slower rates than white ones. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only 54 percent of Black citizens returned to their pre-Katrina communities, compared to 82 percent of whites.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, also raised questions regarding race. Last year, the state switched Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which was already regarded as a polluted water source, to save money. Residents immediately complained about the quality of the water but were ignored by the government, who meanwhile was drinking water from private water coolers in state buildings.
Flint, according to U.S. Census QuickFacts, is 56.6 percent Black, 35.7 percent white, 3.9 percent Hispanic, 3.9 percent two or more races and less than one percent American Indian as well as Asian. 41.6 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. Because of these demographics, the crisis has been described by some as “environmental racism.”
And the crisis would likely not have occurred at all “if the affected population group was well-off or overwhelmingly white,” stated Philip Alston, an expert who spoke on behalf of the United Nations: “[Had] elected officials been much more careful, there would have been a timely response to complaints rather than summary dismissals of concerns, and official accountability would have been insisted upon much sooner.”
Further, reports during the aftermath alleged that residents were required to show identification to receive safe water — leaving undocumented immigrants out of luck. State officials denied the requirement and insisted the identification was “just requested,” not mandatory.