Spike Lee: Hurricane Katrina Aftermath a Criminal Act

August 20, 2006 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Spike Lee, When the Levees Broke

Spike Lee’s new documentary about Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, will air on HBO in two parts on Monday, 21 August and Tuesday, 22 August at 9:00 p.m. EST. (The movie will be repeated in its four-hour entirety at 7:00 p.m. on 29 August, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.) Against this backdrop, director Lee spoke in New Orleans this week at the movie’s local premiere, saying that the government’s response, or lack of response, to the plight of New Orleanians was “a criminal act.”

Lee particularly targets the Army Corps of Engineers, which built the failed levees, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as culprits, as well as local, regional and national politicos who stood by and failed to save the lives of people trapped in the Crescent City. Lee made eight trips to New Orleans to film the documentary, beginning three months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Ethel Freeman Dies at New Orleans Convention Center

In related news, Herbert Freeman, Jr. on Thursday filed a civil lawsuit in New Orleans against both the city and the State of Louisiana, alleging that the “gross negligence and willful misconduct” of the city and state following the hurricane resulted in the death of his 91-year-old mother, Ethel Freeman. The iconographic photograph of Mrs. Freeman’s corpse, covered in a poncho and abandoned, was one of the images seared into our collective consciousness as we watched, transfixed, during Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. Ethel Freeman became a symbol of government ineffectiveness and callousness, “a symbol of neglect,” as Mr. Freeman’s lawyer, John Paul Massicot, put it. “Let’s not forget,” Massicot said. “She survived the storm. The storm didn’t get her. She didn’t survive the rescue.”

Having survived the hurricane, Mrs. Freeman and her son evacuated from their home in the 2100 block of Third St. in a neighbor’s boat on 31 August, after the levees broke and water began rising. New Orleans Police ordered them to go to the Convention Center, where they were told that buses would come to get them. Instead, as we all know, there was no evacuation for days and no food, water or medical care. Mrs. Freeman, who kept asking for a doctor or nurse, and who had a feeding tube in her stomach and a pacemaker for a heart ailment, died on 1 September, about 24 hours after arriving at the convention center. She died still seated in her wheelchair. Her son watched over her remains for days, until being ordered to leave at gunpoint once buses arrived. He left a note with his contact information in one of his mother’s pockets, but it still took seven weeks to locate her body at the St. Gabriel, LA morgue. She was finally buried over two months later, on November 16, 2005.

The lawsuit states, in part, that “At the Convention Center, Mr. Freeman explained to police officers that his mother was chronically ill and disabled and in need of medical attention…He was told a bus was coming to take her where her needs would be met. No bus ever came for Mrs. Freeman…There were no medical personnel, no triage, no food or water…Nothing was done to transport people with medical needs to appropriate emergency medical care outside the city. The Convention Center was not manned or equipped to handle any evacuees, let alone the chronically ill, like Mrs. Freeman. [The city and state] owed Ethel Freeman a duty of care with regard to providing transportation for evacuation and medical care after the storm when the city flooded.”…Mr. Freeman’s repeated requests for medical help for his mother fell on deaf ears…Mrs. Freeman died as a result of the extreme heat and lack of food, water and medical care at the Convention Center.”

Freeman filed in state Civil District Court in New Orleans, and plans a second lawsuit against FEMA in Federal court. Named defendants in the lawsuit include two City of New Orleans employees, city health director Dr. Kevin Stephens and Terry Ebbert, homeland security director. Also named were the state Department of Transportation, Governor Kathleen Blanco’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and the state Department of Social Services.

Here’s where matters stand two years later.

Photo Credits: AP Photo/Eric Gay and HBO

Copyright © 2006 pajamadeen.com


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