Victims: Racism was factor in slow Katrina response
Angry Katrina residents confront Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina said Tuesday that racism contributed to the slow disaster response, at times likening themselves in emotional congressional testimony to victims of genocide and the Holocaust.
The comparison is inappropriate, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida.
"Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed," Miller told the survivors.
"They died from abject neglect," retorted community activist Leah Hodges. "We left body bags behind."
Angry evacuees described being trapped in temporary shelters where one New Orleans resident said she was "one sunrise from being consumed by maggots and flies." Another woman said military troops focused machine gun laser targets on her granddaughter's forehead. Others said their families were called racial epithets by police.
"No one is going to tell me it wasn't a race issue," said New Orleans evacuee Patricia Thompson, 53, who is now living in College Station, Texas. "Yes, it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was black."
Not all lawmakers seemed persuaded.
"I don't want to be offensive when you've gone though such incredible challenges," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut. But referring to some of the victims' charges, like the gun pointed at the girl, Shays said: "I just don't frankly believe it."
"You believe what you want," Thompson said.
The hearing was held by a special House committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Virginia, investigating the government's preparations and response to Katrina. It was requested by Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"Racism is something we don't like to talk about, but we have to acknowledge it," McKinney said. "And the world saw the effects of American-style racism in the drama as it was outplayed by the Katrina survivors."
The five white and two black lawmakers who attended the hearing mostly sat quietly during two and a half hours of testimony. But tempers flared when evacuees were asked by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, to not compare shelter conditions to a concentration camp.
"I'm going to call it what it is," said Hodges. "That is the only thing I could compare what we went through to."
Of five black evacuees who testified, only one said he believed the sluggish response was the product of bad government planning for poor residents -- not racism.
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