Stop Racially Motivated Public Housing Demolitions
National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Urges New Orleans and HUD To Stop Racially Motivated Demolitions Of Public Housing
NLG Deplores Arrest of Attorney William Quigley for Efforts to Stop Demolitions
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns the arrest of Guild member and attorney Bill Quigley of New Orleans. He was shoved against a wall, handcuffed, and arrested for "disturbing the peace" during a spirited but non-violent protest in the New Orleans City Council by displaced residents of public housing in New Orleans.
Residents were chanting "no demolition" and challenging plans of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to start demolishing over 4,000 much-needed apartments. After reviewing video of the arrest it is clear that the actions of law enforcement were wrong.
President Marjorie Cohn said, "The right to protest against governmental actions must bezealously protected. The people of the Gulf Coast have suffered through a terrible series of natural and governmental disasters. The NLG calls on HUD and the City of New Orleans to protect the constitutional rights of displaced public housing residents to dissent and to counsel, and the international human rights of the displaced to decent housing and the right to return."
On December 15, 2007, the Department of Urban Development intends to start the demolition of almost 5,000 units of public housing in New Orleans-spending over half a billion dollars and resulting in a dramatic decrease in subsidized apartments. This action will only exacerbate the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans which has existed since Katrina.Affordable housing is at a critical point along the Gulf Coast. Over 50,000 families still living in tiny FEMA trailers are being systematically forced out. Over 90,000 homeowners in Louisiana are still waiting to receive federal recovery funds from the Road Home. In New Orleans, hundreds of the estimated 12,000 homeless have taken up residence in small tents across the street from City Hall and under the I-10.
Despite efforts and legal challenges by the Coalition to Stop Demolition, the demolition is to begin very shortly. A federal court has refused to stop the scheduled demolitions.According Quigley, who represents the Coalition, "residents offered evidence to show the three story garden-style buildings were structurally sound and pointed out that the local housing authority itself documented that it would cost much less to repair and retain the apartments than demolish and reconstruct a small fraction of them. The New York Times architecture critic described them as "low scale, narrowfootprint and high quality construction." HUD promised to subject plans for demolition to 100 days of scrutiny - yet approved demolition with no public input in less than two days.
The NLG notes that every one of the displaced families who were living in public housing is African-American. Most all are headed by mothers and grandmothers working low-wage jobs or disabled or retired.Thousands of children lived in the neighborhoods. While no one will openly admit it, anyone with a good grasp of the obvious knows that the race of the residents of public housing has everything to do with the decision to demolish these homes.
Marjorie Cohn, the President of the National Lawyers Guild, stated, "The NLG also deplores the assault on and arrest of attorney Bill Quigley who was with the Coalition when they attempted to bring the matter of the demolitions before the City Council. Cohn emphasized, "The fundamental rights of the people, especially those who are poor and of color, cannot be protected without the strong advocacy of their lawyers. The National Lawyers Guild will devote our efforts to supporting the people of New Orleans to stop the demolitions, and we call on other bar associations to do the same."
Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.