New orleans - Direct action on housing - report by Elizabeth Cook
- Report on Times Picayune Protest
As a result of the protest, we were able to meet with
three of the editors at the newspaper. There was also
some sort of fire alarm that emptied out the entire
building as we were finishing our meeting. It was
evident from City Editor David Meeks's behavior that
he appears to be one of the primary architects of the
TP coverage of public housing. It was also very
evident that more pressure is needed before Meeks, or
anyone else working for the paper, will admit to
mistakes and bias. Below is the story.
About 10 activists, including two public housing
residents and a former member of the homeless
encampment at Canal and Claiborne, met in front of the
Times Picayune Building Thursday, Feb. 27th, for a
picket. Our goal was to protest the TP's lack of
coverage of the HUD corruption, and the fact that the
TP has served as a mouthpiece for HUD talking points,
particularly in articles leading up to the December
20th unanimous vote by the City Council to demolish
In my view, challenging the corporate media in this
city is long overdue, and we have a future date with
Channel 4 News in particular. The Times Picayune
however, sets the tone for all of the other corporate
news media in the city, in our view.
The tone set for public housing has been, as Darwin
BondGraham's article points out so well, an acceptance
of a particular ideology that puts forth the notion
that blending the classes in so-called "mixed income
developments", will somehow, adequately address the
issue of poverty.
This ideology is convenient, of course, for those who
dabble in high stakes real estate, those private
developers who have their hands in the public till,
and base whole careers on using government monies to
redevelop public housing and pay their over-priced
Bork attended our protest, and as everyone knows, she
is all about direct action.
I was first to arrive with Otis who was a resident of
the homeless encampment at Canal and Claiborne. He was
moving into an apartment provided by Unity for the
Homeless that day.
I parked my truck alongside other cars on a grassy
area in front of the building. Immediately, I noticed
two security guards making their way over to me. They
were polite, even overly polite, members of the
private security for the Picayune. I had to move my
truck to park alongside a fence across from the
building. We also were informed that we could not be
on the premises to hand out our literature.
We were restricted, or at least they attempted to
restrict us to a narrow patch of dirt and grass
alongside that fence across the street. For the time
being, We hung out on the street and waited for others
When Bork arrived, things began to heat up rapidly.
She made a decision to go into the building. If you
know Bork, you know that she walks with a cane, so it
was quite a sight to see this woman simply brush past
3 or 4 security men and head straight into the
"I'm going to make an appointment for myself with the
editors, and you can send your delegates in if you
want to, " she called back to us.
I wasn't quite sure what she was up to, but gamely, I
followed her in, brushing past
the security guards myself as I called out to them,
"Is it okay, can I go in?" And not waiting for an
answer. It's interesting how we all respond to stress,
and here I was posing a question that I really had no
intention of waiting for an answer for.
Once inside, we were surrounded by at least four
security guards, and one gentleman I thought to be
part of security, but was actually the business
manager for the Times Picayune. I never did learn his
name. Apparently, this potential disruption of
business warranted his personal attention.
Bork was already negotiating with the woman at the
front reception desk, who was very helpful and polite
throughout the "event". Bork said she wanted to to
make a personal appointment with the editors. "I'm not
sure what you want to do," she said to me. "I'm here
on personal business". Several times she attempted to
distance herself from me. It took me a while to catch
on, as I realized she was trying to get me to
negotiate to get a third person into the building.
During these negotiations at the front desk, I handed
out a few of our flyers to employees as they walked
by, a few of whom were trying to get a view of the
protesters outside of the front door. As soon as I
began handing out flyers, I was approached by the
business manager and told I could not give out my
literature on the premises.
Then we were ordered by this same man to sit in seats
against the wall while the editors decided what to do
with us. A security guard stood in front of us as we
sat. I told him, and anyone listening, that I found it
rather ironic that in the institution that was suppose
to preserve freedom of the press in our city, I was
prevented from exercising freedom of my own press. I
said to anyone listening that I Intended to write
about this fact.
Finally we were told that we were to be accompanied
upstairs to a meeting with the editors. I said that I
wanted to include a public housing resident also, Sam
Jackson, who was outside the building. I was told by
security that no one else would be allowed into the
In a room we were introduced to Jim Amoss, the editor
of the TP, David Meeks, the City Editor, and another
fellow, unfortunately, whose name I don't recall. I
immediately requested that Sam Jackson be allowed to
attend the meeting, and Amoss was very accomodating,
and informed security himself to allow Sam into the
I handed all three gentlemen my flyer, which was an
article by Darwin BondGraham, titled "How New Orleans'
Largest Paper Played a Key Role in the Demolition of
David Meeks took one look at the flyer and said, "I've
already read this. This is bullshit."
"You think its bullshit?" I said to Meeks. "How so?" I
"All those numbers from Quigley? It's all bullshit.
Our reporters drive around and fact check HANO
statistics. They don't just repeat their statistics as
talking points," he stated. Meeks went on to say that
if we can provide "proof" that the numbers they have
used are incorrect, he would issue a refutation. I
said I would work on that.
I wanted to say, but didn't, that I didn't believe for
a second that their reporters "fact checked" HANO
statistics on available public housing units. It's
already been well documented, and this is from
documents from the "other side", meaning documents
from the attorneys representing HUD in the lawsuit to
reopen public housing, that HUD lies about, and fudges
the numbers. We're referring here to the numbers of
available public housing units, and, the numbers of
units that will actually be replaced by redevelopment.
I remember attending a HANO board meeting last spring,
when HANO was attempting to float the story that at
least three hundred units of public housing were
available, but there were no takers for the units. A
HANO official sitting next to Donald Babers himself,
contradicted their own propaganda, and refuted the
notion that there were over three hundred units
available. This occurred when I had gotten up to speak
during the comment period, and called on any residents
there that needed housing, to make themselves known,
as there were apparently three hundred units
Back to our TP meeting.
Of the three men present in the meeting, David Meeks
proved to be the most defensive, and at times, angry
and somewhat rude, as he would often interrupt Sam,
Bork and I as we attempted to speak.
Bork began speaking about her personal situation. To
sum it up, she lobbied hard for the TP to cover her
angle of the story, as far as those who were not
public housing residents prior to Katrina, yet qualify
for housing assistance, but are being turned away,
told by HANO that "no one new" will be helped. She
pointed out that there are many disabled folks living
at Canal and Claiborne, under the overpass.
Bork also brought up the issue of public housing
residents being told to return to New Orleans to
reclaim their units, only told, once they arrive, that
their units are not ready.
The three editors claimed complete ignorance of the
this issue, but expressed interest in covering it, if
we could supply them with names.
Sam soon joined us, and spoke about apartments that
have been renovated at B.W. Cooper, but remain boarded
up, and have been boarded up well over a year. Sam
moved back into B.W. Cooper over a year ago.
Sam said she met the woman who returned, only to be
turned away by HANO, and said he would get her name
for the editors.
I remember this issue coming up quite often as the
Iberville Development was re-populating. Residents
would return after receiving letters stating their
units were ready, only to be told here that the units,
in fact, were not ready. Some people gave up
apartments in Houston and elsewhere, and rented
u-hauls to return, and so found themselves homeless
In my view, HANO drags its feet when it comes to
honoring its contract with public housing residents.
It's a way to discourage people from returning,
and/or, dropping out of the system.
I brought up the biased coverage that the TP has
provided for the public housing issue. I said the TP
appears to have an agenda, and that agenda is the
demolition of public housing. I said the repetition of
HUD talking points by the TP was proof that they had
no intention of covering the story with any degree of
All three immediately chimed in and stated that they
did not have an agenda concerning public housing. "Our
reporters checked all the facts," Meeks said. "Most
people in the city were for the demolition of public
housing," he stated, as though this somehow justified
I brought up the issue of a lack of coverage of the
criminal investigation of Alphonso Jackson as proof of
their bias. I pointed out that there had been just one
article by a reporter on the HUD corruption, back in
October of 2007. The fellow whose name I didn't catch
made the excuse that nothing much has happened,
therefore, the issue didn't warrant coverage.
Amoss pointed out that Lolis Elie had written several
columns on the subject. I countered that Elie is not
an investigative reporter. "You mean to me", I said,
"that Alphonso Jackson's business relationship with
Columbia, the developer for St. Bernard, does not
warrant any more coverage by your reporters?"
They all simply looked at me, and seemed not to know
what to say at that point. They were trying to end the
meeting as quickly as possible, saying they "had a
deadline to meet".
I suggested we continue these "talks" at a later date.
Meeks was resistant to this. He stated that he didn't
have anything to discuss as far as bias, but if we
have names of people who returned to units and were
turned away, he said he would look at that.
They were rushing out of the room to get to a meeting,
they said. Sam clapped Meeks' back loudly, and said,
"You and I should talk again." Sam and I then loitered
by the free coffee and sodas for a moment, holding
them up a bit from their "deadline" meeting. That is
about the time the alarm went off, and a monotone,
automatic voice began repetitiously calling for
everyone to leave the building, and an alarm began to
sound as well.