As with nearly all New Orleans natives, Wendell Pierce and his family were devastated by the damage and aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. In this video, Pierce explains how it wasn't long after the water had receded that the proverbial leeches emerged for the feast.
Insurance companies refused to honor insurance policies. Reconstruction of public housing was delayed in order to force the people who depended on it to find some other city to live in. Myriad institutional procedures and machinations were organized so that local, predominantly African-American residents were excluded from the recovery. There are some who argue that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to ever happen to the New Orleans because it allowed for rebirth. But which New Orleans are those people talking about?
And through all this ugliness and exclusionary tactics, the national media stayed silent and continues to stay silent.
Wendell Pierce: September 8 front cover of The Wall Street Journal a couple of days after the flood in New Orleans from Katrina there — James Reeson, Andrew O’Dwyer said this is the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans. We’re going to be able to change it demographically, geographically, and politically. And if it doesn’t change, we’re out of here. Two huge businessmen who felt as though they were going to wield their power that way. That’s the coverage that we don’t hear about, how people actively use the disaster and the misfortune of others to benefit. That’s been an ongoing story when it comes to New Orleans that we have a great underclass that people benefit from. And to keep that underclass is important because that’s how people make money at the expense of others. And so the other story, the greatest crime, was the insurance companies not honoring any of the insurance policies. My parents paid Allstate for 50 years and they received $400. They said no, "We’re not going to — it was a disaster, flood, and so flood insurance is the only thing that’s going to be honored." And that was a policy that’s — a government policy that’s capped at $150,000. So most people were not able to come back. A lot of people couldn’t come back because the insurance policies that they had most of their lives weren’t honored and they weren’t able to be made whole.
And then active displacement of people. I call it displacement by delay. They tore down all public housing in New Orleans so they could rebuild them, you know, because that’s the best interest of the people. But they didn’t replace them one for one. Only one-third was public housing. And I was just in New Orleans two weeks ago, three weeks ago and they were just framing up large portions of those public housing developments 10 years after the fact. Now they know most of the people that were there 10 years ago are probably rooted someplace else. And that’s how you displace by delay. You take 10 years to rebuild a structure. The people that were in that structure will probably live someplace else. So that’s the sort of journalism and media attention that I wish was still happening in New Orleans because so much time and energy and money was spent around a 10-year commemoration to say everything is wonderful and great and there’s entrepreneurial spirit and we have new people coming into the city and all. And that’s all true but we don’t want to look at it through rose-colored glasses. It’s a tale of two cities and we don’t want to tell just the story about one.