Friday, September 01, 2006

Houston residents protest, want Katrina evacuees gone.

Nation: In West Houston the final straw was the killing of man at a car wash. Residents have had enough and want them gone.

One year after the city of Houston welcomed at least 250,000 evacuees, more than 100,000 New Orleans natives still remain. West Houston residents who gathered Wednesday at Grace Presbyterian Church to address increases in violent crime over the past year in their community said evacuees are to blame. White and Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt had come to the church to discuss details of a new police division on the west side that will add 140 officers to the streets, increase investigative strength, bring gang activity under control and enforce traffic laws. While residents welcomed the news, many who filled the sanctuary to overflowing Wednesday night wanted to know when the city planned to cut assistance to evacuees through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There are about 3,000 Katrina evacuees who reside in the apartment complexes near Westheimer and the Beltway 8. John Kirkendahl, who identified himself as a 61-year old attorney, asked White bluntly: "Where do you stand on stopping the FEMA and the welfare money, in stopping the giveaways?" — to sustained applause and cheers. Throughout the meeting, White stressed that all Hurricane Katrina evacuees who are "able-bodied" should be working, or actively seeking employment."
Katrina evacuees are saying all the blame on them is wrong.
"...Walker, 33, and other New Orleans natives on Thursday expressed their concerns — and in some cases anger — about comments made against Katrina evacuees at a meeting attended by west Houston residents. With Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt in attendance Wednesday night, residents asked the city's top executive when the city planned to cut assistance to evacuees through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Blaming the rise in crime in the area on New Orleans residents, the more than 1,700 people in attendance urged White to send the evacuees back to New Orleans. "If you went to New Orleans and somebody said that about you, you would be upset, too," said evacuee Stacie Mitchell. "Then the people started clapping. Oh Lord, that made it worse. That was sad." Parnell "Herb" Herbert, a New Orleans-based activist living in Houston, worries that Katrina evacuees have become scapegoats for a crime problem that was increasing in Houston before Katrina. "The term 'Katrina evacuee' is like a bad word now," he said."
You can't stop the handouts or crime will go even higher.
Debra Campbell, 77, said Houston had crime problems before Katrina evacuees arrived. "I'm sure we did add to some of their problems," she said. "I don't think that it's an abundant amount. I just think we get the blame because we are the new kids on the block." Also, she said, crime will increase even higher if funds are taken away from evacuees. "That just makes matters worse," Campbell said. "They will start acting up, even some that haven't acted up all their lives. They will feel trapped — no way out — and they will take the bad route. You know it's just human nature. Nobody is going to stand by and watch their children in need."
Meanwhile in New Orleans.
"....Much of New Orleans's violent crime is centred among gangs and their lock on the crack-cocaine trade. The drug trade is now thriving because criminals who evacuated to Houston -- a regional drug distribution centre -- used the time to forge closer ties with suppliers, Mr. Bernazzani said. And since much of the city is still uninhabited, many gang members have moved to other parts of the metropolitan area, which is causing turf wars with rival gangs. The storm's aftermath has also brought new gang activity to New Orleans. Tens of thousands of labourers have come to the city to help with reconstruction, an influx that has included members of violent street gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. Despite the activity, assistant Superintendent Steven Nicholas of the New Orleans Police Department said overall crime rates are down about 50 per cent from before the storm. "I think we've got a handle on crime based on the resources we have," he said in an interview yesterday. Indeed, the police department continues to struggle. The force, which achieved infamy when it lost control of the city in the chaotic days after Katrina, now has 1,430 officers, down from the pre-storm level of 1,650. In addition, observers believe some criminals may be more brazen because New Orleans's legal system is also suffering. The public defender's office has lost staff, the city is short of courtrooms, trials are being delayed and evidence was destroyed in the flooding."

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