On the 5 year anniversary of Katrina, I decided to let the rain do me in and stayed home to watch the second half of Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.” Once again, it opened with a montage of faces, many of which are now familiar to me as a result of Lee’s documentaries on Katrina, a few that are now familiar to me as people who share my community.
This 2 hour section was less emotionally packed than the previous 6 hours, except for the emotion of frustration. First, I went through the frustration of hearing that, when a community got together to salvage and reopen their local school, they were not only left to their own devices by our government, they were actually thwarted in their efforts. It brought back my fury over people trying to cross the bridge to the West Bank to save themselves and being turned away by armed men. It renewed my anger over BP and the government not only failing to keep the oil from our shores, but actively standing in the way of local clean-up efforts. How can any of these actions be seen as anything other than kicking people when they’re down? It’s worse, it’s like watching someone beautiful being ravaged and left for dead, watching this beautiful someone summon the courage to attempt to rise again, then watching their protectors kick them while they’re down.
This is true also of the many stories of people murdered by the police after the levees broke, including the now infamous Danziger Bridge shootings. 2 men were killed, including a mentally challenged man who was shot in the back and stomped to death. 4 others were shot and injured. Police continue to be arrested for everything from murder to civil rights violations. Like the school board, the NOPD turns out to be woefully corrupt. That’s frustrating and heartbreaking, too. We should be able to trust our educators to choose our children over their own agendas and we should be able to trust our law enforcement officers to protect and serve us, not murder citizens then conspire to cover it up.
When our new mayor, Mitch Landrieu said we need to help make our citizens feel safe, that “It’s critical,” I wondered if he meant ALL of the citizens. Did he mean he wanted to make people feel safe from criminals (more law enforcement), or did he also mean that our citizens who “match the description” should feel safe from police misconduct? Here’s what I know, we pay the salaries of our educators and police officers so they answer to us and the citizens of this area deserve better. Maybe, just maybe, Katrina exposing the breadth and depth of the corruption will lead to less of it.
The movie also spent some time on former mayor, Ray Nagin. Known locally as the worst mayor ever, my experience of Nagin is limited to his response to the storm and the government’s sluggishness in aiding the people trapped here. I was up late when he went on WWL and cracked, cursing a blue streak and begging for help. Newscasters were cracking everyday during coverage. I’ve never seen so many grown men cry, especially while they’re working and especially while working in front of millions of viewers. Nagin’s raw appeal, “The government needs to get off their Godda** asses and come help these people,” moved me. He was one of many people who couldn’t stand one more minute of watching the human suffering unfold on national TV, of watching American citizens stranded on theirs roofs begging for water… for days on end. More frustration.
Then came the hour on BP. Spike Lee was still in town wrapping his documentary when the explosion happened. I’m sure he thought his footage was a mix of corruptions exposed, victories over strife, frustrations expressed and a valuable phoenix rising from ashes and kicking ass at the Super Bowl. Then came yet another manmade catastrophe. Followed by more corruptions exposed and more frustrations expressed. More people are dead, more people’s livelihoods are gone, more lives are forever altered. Our phoenix is covered in thick crude and deadly chemicals. Damn.
My one bright spot in this last hour was the line, “Don’t ‘sperse me, man.” And it was only a bright spot because I love this city’s ability to turn a phrase out of any situation. But BP did continue to dump dispersant, even after they were told to stop by the EPA, up until the moment the well was temporarily capped. Now, no one, not one scientist or expert of any kind, has any idea what will happen as a result of all the dispersant entering our food chain.
Pretty bleak stuff. And the lesson even Michael Brown was able to glean from Katrina, that we need a leader on the ground, someone representing the government on the ground observing everything and responding in real time in a leadership capacity, was once again forgotten in a political shuffle.
I’ll be honest, I have an immense amount of compassion for human frailty. There’s very little a person can do to make me truly angry and almost nothing and no one has the power to inspire hate in me, but Tony Hayward and the BP clan… Brad Pitt is rethinking his position on the death penalty. Rep. Joseph Cao suggested Hara-Kiri, committing suicide, to atone for the foreseeable and preventable catastrophe. Seeing Hayward’s face creates a Pavlovian disgust in me. He literally makes me sick. In another turn of phrase, Billy Nungesser, President of Plaquemines Parish called the events that led to the explosion, “Good ole not givin’ a shit.” Well said.
Turns out, we tax paying citizens subsidize oil to the tune of between $15 billion and $35 billion a year (exact numbers are difficult to attain). It seems to me that oil is the one industry that least needs even one thin dime of my tax dollars. I’d far rather my dollars go to subsidize products that replace the need for oil like corn, hemp and other plastic replacers, as well as wind, solar , natural gas and other petrol replacers. Someone in the film said we won’t change until buying gas makes us disgusted. Done.
As we watched the montage of the daily flow of oil, I couldn’t believe the nerve of BP and the Coast Guard to lie to the American public day after day about the rate of flow. And I really couldn’t believe our government looked the other way as it all unfolded in slow motion on national television again, just like Katrina. We could use a little hope and change down here but we require support and a leader. It’s still not too late. Despite what you may hear on the TV, this is still the largest oil spill ever and we could use a presidential appointee to take charge and force BP to comply with the laws of our land. We still need someone to oversee clean-up efforts and force BP to make us “whole.”
Then the movie did what the news avoided, it showed dead bodies, dozens of them, bloated and abandoned. It was too much to look at, but the dead deserve to be counted, acknowledged. It’s not easy seeing death, but it’s clarifying.
On a positive note, there seems to be pretty universal gratitude for the many people who volunteered (and continue to) in the wake of the storm. In particular, people around town mention the youth groups and church groups who helped clean up and rebuild.
Also positive – the end credits rolled over images of Zulu and their coveted coconuts on Mardi Gras day with a final flare of Mardi Gras Indians.
8 hours into Spike Lee’s exploration of this city and the catastrophes that have come to define it, I can say that both sets of documentaries struck me as fair and accurate, illuminating and upsetting. I’m happy that he started us off with the Super Bowl and ended with Zulu. I’m glad he turned his eye and his camera on this town and this topic. I’m glad the audience is seeing that the people of the region are devoted to this wonderful way of life, to their communities and to the rebirth of this amazing place. They are indomitable and funny and clever and resilient. They can take what’s been dished but deserve so very much more.