New Orleans public housing defenders charged under terror law

On Good Friday, March 21, three New Orleans residents who entered the vacant Lafitte Housing Development in a bid to save it from being razed were arrested and charged under an anti-terrorist "critical structure" law enacted by the Louisiana legislature in the wake of 9-11. The three activists—Jamie Laughner, Thomas McManus, and Ezekiel Compton—slipped below a barbed wire fence, scaled a metal grating and situated themselves on the balcony of an empty apartment. When the three were arrested an hour later, they were charged with trespassing, resisting an officer, and "unlawful entry into a critical structure." Apart from the insidious treatment of an act of civil disobedience as an act of terrorism, the charges are doubly Orwellian given that the activists—from the groups May Day Nola, C3/Hands Off Iberville, and Common Ground—were trying to save the "critical structure." City authorities subsequently ordered its demolition. (The Bridge, Boston, March 25)

Mayor Ray Nagin signed the demolition permit March 24, allowing the destruction of all but 196 units at the Lafitte projects, which are being preserved temporarily for returning residents. The City Council voted in December to demolish New Orleans' "Big Four" public housing developments; Nagin soon thereafter signed three of the four permits. Demolition is underway at the BW Cooper, CJ Peete and St. Bernard complexes. Nagin held off from approving Lafitte's demolition permit, pending authorization of redevelopment plans from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Housing activists and historic preservations alike called for Lafitte's survival, calling it an integral part of the culturally rich 6th Ward—and noting that the new housing will provide fewer homes for low-income residents. Their hopes were dashed on the 24th, when Nagin announced that he and council members were "comfortable" that HUD was honoring its commitments. "We're really disappointed," said Walter Gallas head of the New Orleans field office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "We believe that the city, HUD, and HANO [Housing Authority of New Orleans] are making a big mistake." (Times-Picayune, March 25)

See our last posts on the domestic police state and the struggle in New Orelans.