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February, 2006

What color determines whose life is valued?

By Kimberly King

What color determines whose life is valued? Apparently, it is green -- the color of money. The deaths of over 1300 Hurricane Katrina victims, and of 12 miners in the Sago Mine attest to the fact that the lives of poor Blacks in New Orleans and poor Whites in West Virginia are of little value to those who control this country.

The bumbling evacuation and rescue "plans" for Hurricane Katrina revealed this government's indifference and animosity toward the majority African American victims. For many, this incident confirmed that the lives of African Americans are less important than the lives of Whites in the United States. Celebrated hip hop artist and producer Kanye West's statement, "George Bush doesn't care about Black people"became the anthem among many. According to recent statistics, 52% of the dead in Louisiana identified by race were African American. (1)

But the victims of Katrina, those who died and those who were stranded in the flood waters and survived, were also primarily the poorest residents. Middle and upper class Blacks, Whites and people of all hues who had the means to get out of New Orleans before the Hurricane, did so. For example, my cousin, who was a college student in New Orleans, safely evacuated to her parent's home in Baton Rouge, well before the storm hit.

Similarly, the West Virginia mine explosion killed 12 working class White men from Appalachia, an area known for its poverty. Mining is a dangerous job, but the money is good for those with minimal formal education.

Another similarity in the two tragedies is that they were both preventable. The levee breaks could have been prevented. For years, the Federal government had been warned that "doom lurked just beyond the levees" but no action was taken. Similar paper trails can be followed to the Sago Mine accident. Last year, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration filed 200 alleged violations against the Sago Mine -- 46 citations were issued in the past three months -- 18 of which were considered "serious and substantial." (2)

So, it seems that this government, responsible for handling national emergencies and workplace safety, did not fulfill its responsibilities. It neglected needed municipal repairs and workplace safety enforcement.

Perhaps the most hopeful similarity is that the clarity of many of the people has resulted in the building of organized movements. Survivors of these disasters are demanding accountability. In the mining case, many of the families insist that they were lied to by the mine company. Similarly, many hurricane survivors assert that the government left them to die.

If this government, largely controlled by corporate financial interests, doesn't care about the majority of people in America, then the people need to create a government of, for, and by the people. If our current economic system, capitalism, prizes profit, private property, and the ability to amass as much personal wealth as possible, then it cannot meet the needs of our people.

We need to organize a system that values people and families and protects our rights and personal safety. Let's follow the lead of the United Mine Workers who helped create the Labor Party as an alternative to the two corporate political parties. Let's follow the lead of the grassroots activists from Louisiana and Mississippi who formed the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund to demand the right to return to New Orleans and the resources needed to do so. Let's actively work for a country and a world where the color of money or the color of skin has nothing to do with the value of human lives.

(1) (Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals news release 12-21-2005).
(2) (Reported on Democracy Now 1-5-2006).


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