We published Lance Hill’s book The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement several years ago, but we’ve stayed in touch with him, eager to hear his reports from New Orleans through Katrina and after. As an activist and civil rights historian, he brings a valuable perspective to local politics and educational issues of a city still in recovery and a community still in pain. Some of the long-term effects of the trauma of 2005 are apparent today. In the following commentary, Hill makes hauntingly vivid the urgent need for a kind of healing yet to come to New Orleans.–ellen
The shooting of eight people this weekend in one incident has once again set off a debate about youth violence in New Orleans. What I find troubling is that in today’s newspaper, which reports this incident and several other killings, the paper also reports another police officer under investigation into the alleged police killing of a black man in the aftermath of Katrina; and it reports the awarding of a Pulitzer prize for a story on the alleged killing of nine patients, most of whom were African American, at Memorial Hospital four days after Katrina. For the past two weeks, the local news has been full of allegations of police and racist vigilantes killing innocent citizens in the wake of Katrina.
The young teenagers engaged in violence today were mere children when Katrina struck. This “Katrina Generation” lived through some of the most degrading and inhuman treatment ever inflicted on a community in the last century. Children returned to a city with no public medical care, no systematic trauma stress care; a city where authorities closed hospitals and mental health care units; where children lived in gutted houses and attended schools where they were forced to sit on floors because they had no chairs or desks. Yet we wonder what is wrong with our children?
Isn’t the question: “What is wrong with us?”
If we dehumanize children, can we not expect that they lose a part of their humanity? When children numb themselves to their own pain, can we not expect them to numb themselves to other people’s pain? The most dangerous form of violence is the silent violence of indifference to the suffering of others.
How can we ask children to heal themselves when we cannot heal ourselves of our own inhumanity? Nearly five years after Katrina, there is still no trauma-screening program in New Orleans schools.
Why are children killing children in New Orleans? Because we make killing less painful than living.
Southern Institute for Education and Research, Tulane University
author of Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement
Ed. Update: 4/13, 11 pm: Sad news: Hill reports that one of the heroes from his book, Robert Hicks, who was a founder of the Bogalusa, Louisiana, chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, passed away today. I’ll link to an obituary when one becomes available.
Ed. Update 4/16: Hicks’s obituary in the Times-Picayune
Ed. Update 4/26: Hicks’s obituary in the New York Times