[StBernard] Housing fight prompts racists to speak: Jarvis DeBerry

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jun 13 07:52:26 EDT 2011

This is nothing about being "racist". St. Bernard suffered enough. Just
let St. Bernard be St. Bernard as it was pre KATRINA I am tired of seeing
this stupid shit


-----Original Message-----
Housing fight prompts racists to speak: Jarvis DeBerry

Published: Sunday, June 12, 2011, 8:00 AM

By Jarvis DeBerry

Here's hoping we can all agree that "racist" is the only appropriate label
for the person who spray painted "NO NIGGERS" at a Chalmette construction
site for affordable apartments. Ditto for the man who called Provident
Realty Advisors' Dallas headquarters and left a voice mail begging the
developer to reconsider its plan to "build a nigger project in St. Bernard

The words "racist" and "racism" have themselves been so abused, so blithely
tossed about and misapplied, that there's rarely consensus as to which
people and which actions qualify. But there should be no disagreement here.
The person with the spray can and the man calling Dallas this spring are
racists. And their racism compels them to oppose the construction of
affordable housing units in the parish.

Are the above two typical of all St. Bernard Parish residents, or even all
the residents opposed to Provident's construction plans? That can't be the
case. Their actions are extreme, and extremists are rare by definition. The
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center -- which brought up the
virulent responses in a federal court hearing last week -- gets "nasty phone
calls all the time," executive director James Perry said Friday. But, he
said, none of the others has been spiked with epithets. Nor has anybody else
decided to publicly express his or her hatred with a spray can.

That doesn't mean, however, that everybody else's opposition to the
apartment buildings should be automatically classified as race neutral. U.S.
District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who has refereed the fight between the
parish government and the developer, has found that St. Bernard officials
have acted with a discriminatory intent as they've put up obstacles to keep
the apartments from being built. Berrigan's finding applies to the officials
in the parish, not the general population. That's an important distinction.
At the same time, it's hard to imagine parish officials taking positions
they thought would alienate a majority of voters.

Indeed, I've heard from folks in St. Bernard Parish who, in expressing their
opposition to Provident's construction plans, acknowledge that some of their
neighbors are opposed because they're racists. Of course, it's never the
case that the person calling is like-minded. Their opposition is about
something else.

Whenever I've engaged with such people, I've found myself wondering if
they've invested as much time and energy opposing the racists they say live
among them as they have opposing the construction of these apartments. Or is
it that they are more comfortable living among racists than they would be
living near apartments for the working poor?

Perry said he "absolutely" agrees with the notion that there can be
opposition to the apartments that doesn't derive from racial animus.
However, parish officials betrayed their true feelings, he said, when they
passed a 2006 ordinance that attempted to prevent homeowners from renting to
anybody other than their "blood relatives."

Statements from officials five years ago that they wanted to keep the
parish's demographics the same, Perry said, are evidence that they knew such
an ordinance would serve to keep an overwhelmingly white parish from
darkening. Given that context and the subsequent "racially charged" public
comments made during the government's fight against Provident, Perry said,
there's no other conclusion to reach: Blocking these apartments would not
only have a discriminatory effect; discrimination is the intent.

In one of her 2009 rulings, Berrigan suggested that St. Bernard officials
display mature leadership and dispense with the demagoguery they'd been
using to keep their constituents frenzied. Listen to the voice mail left at
Provident's office earlier this year, and Berrigan's words appear to be even
wiser in retrospect.

"We have enough rental garbage down here as it is," the caller says. "For
400 years, St. Bernard Parish has been white, French, Spanish. No niggers.
We like no niggers. Please keep it that way. Please?"

The caller presents us with what might be the strongest argument yet for
building the apartments. Doing so will give Neanderthals such as himself the

Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at jdeberry at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3355.
Follow him at http://connect.nola.com/user/jdeberry/index.html and at

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