Obama to address inequality’s role in Katrina disaster
President Barack Obama on Thursday will highlight the “structural inequality” that hurt poor black people in New Orleans before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, during a visit to celebrate the city’s progress 10 years after the storm.
On what the White House said was his ninth trip to Louisiana, Obama will meet with people who lived through the storm and recovered, heralding a city reborn.
Obama, who as a presidential candidate in 2008 sharply criticized Republican President George W. Bush for his administration’s handling of the storm, will touch on that past again, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.
“What started out as a natural disaster became a manmade one, a failure of government to look out for its own citizens,” Obama will say.
“But what that storm revealed was another tragedy, one that had been brewing for decades. New Orleans had long been plagued by structural inequality that left too many people, especially poor people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing.”
Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist and New Orleans native whose father was stranded during flooding from the storm, said the city has begun to address inequality and make strides toward recovery.
Levees have been made stronger, homes have been built higher, and jobs are starting to come back, Brazile told reporters traveling on Air Force One with Obama to New Orleans.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said, estimating that it would take another five or 10 years of hard work.
In some rebuilt and gentrifying neighborhoods, an influx of hipsters has created some new challenges, said Walter Isaacson, who like Brazile was part of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, an agency that led the rebuilding process.
“There’s a lot of purple hair and earrings,” said Isaacson, chief executive of the Aspen Institute, noting it was important for neighborhoods to retain their diversity.
With 1-1/2 years left in his presidency and a slew of recent racially charged incidents of gun violence and police use of force against minorities, Obama has spent increasing amounts of time publicly addressing racial inequalities.
Obama will note that the city has progressed since then.
“We acknowledge this loss, this pain, not to harp on what happened, but to memorialize it,” he will say. “We do this not in order to dwell in the past, but in order to keep moving forward.”