Protesters clash with police over New Orleans demolitions
Violence broke out in New Orleans on Thursday after police shut the gates of City Hall against protesters who were attempting to enter a City Council meeting that was expected to approve the demolition of 4500 units of public housing. When about 100 protesters broke through, police began using pepper spray and tasers and even engaging in fistfights with the demonstrators.
MSNBC spoke to Judith Brown-Dianis of the Advancement Project, an organizer of the demonstration, who explained that the City Council normally allows people to stand in the aisles and at the back but had arbitrarily set a strict limit on the seating capacity in order to exclude the protesters. She said the violence could have been avoided if the police had just let people in.
"What's behind this is a new vision for the city," Brown-Dianis told MSNBC. "That means fewer poor people in the city. There's a lot of money going into this."
The Department of Housing and Urban Development says it wants to demolish the housing projects so that developers can create mixed-income neighborhoods. However, opponents of the plan charge that it represents a deliberate attempt to rid the city of its poorest and blackest residents, whose housing options were already greatly reduced by Hurricane Katrina.
"Instead of building more housing, the government is going to limit the number of poor folks who can return to the city," Brown-Dianis stated. "These [existing] buildings are not dangerous ... They are structurally fine. ... HUD has a different plan, they're going to build wood-frame homes that will not sustain a Category 3 hurricane."
The dispute over the demolitions has intensified racial and political divisions in the city, with white members of the City Council and Republicans generally supporting it and blacks and Democrats opposing it. Even national figures, like presidential candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards, have added their voices to those who would like to see the demotions stopped.
This video is from MSNBC's News Live, broadcast on December 20, 2007.