New Orleans: Tasers, Pepper Gas Greet Protesters At City Hall

by on December 20, 2007 · 10 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights

Police attacked housing rights activists locked out a City Council meeting to vote on the demolition of public housing. One woman, shot with a taser in her back, went into a seizure and had to be taken to the hospital. People inside were attacked too.

At about 1 p.m. outside City Hall today, a sign posted read: “City Council Meeting,” with an arrow pointing towards an entrance that was closed, chained and padlocked.

Someone had written on it, “Your democracy is chains, locks, tasers, pepper spray, clubs, guns, lies and jails.”

About two hours earlier, police had attacked people there locked out of City Council chambers with tasers and pepper spray. The City Council was voting on the demolition of four New Orleans public housing complexes.

Because the people were excluded from the proceedings, a few in front of the gate began pulling on it, and managed to break some handcuffs the police had lashed around it.

When the gate came open, however, nobody outside rushed in. Instead some police rushed out firing tasers and pepper gas, while others inside the gates spewed it out through them at the disenfranchised people.

Soon there were a half dozen bodies sprawled on the adjacent lawn. Viola Washington, a prominent city activist, was pepper sprayed. “I didn’t do anything except say, ‘Let us in!’ ” she said.

Edwin Lopez, a photojournalist from Santa Barbara working with Common Ground, said he was taking pictures “when the police opened the gate. The police came out spraying and one had what looked like two tasers.” Lopez was flushing pepper spray out of his eyes with water as he spoke. At a paramedic wagon on Perdiddo Street nearby, his co-worker videographer Mavis was being treated for pepperspray attack as well by EMTs.

Two women were punctured by taser wires as a result of the police attack. One was shot in the back and immediately went into a seizure. She had to be hospitalized, and reportedly one other person was too. Another woman was shot in the chest with a taser. A short while later attorney Bill Quigley of Loyola University, a legal advocate for public housing residents opposing demolition, showed reporters a wire that transmits electricity that had been removed from one of the women.

Police attacked opponents of the demolition who made it into the City Council chambers for speaking out and refusing to take their seats. Witnesses from inside said that anyone who vocally protested the proposed demolition, or the exclusion of people from the chambers, was descended upon by officers and summarily taken out. If a person resisted, the police attacked.

Maria Piamascaro, an NYC-based reporter for the Swiss weekly Hebdo, said she was inside the chambers, and was taking pictures of a woman being beaten by police, when “a police officer told me to stop, and threatened to arrest me. Then he pulled me out of the chambers. When I tried to get back in through another entrance, the police told me I’d be sent out of the country if I didn’t leave. I’ve been in riots in New York and other places in the US, and I’ve never been treated like this.”

There were a number or arrests, both outside and inside City Hall.

When I arrived for the City Council meeting a little before 10, when the meeting was supposed to start, I saw a crowd of people over at one side of the building, where the attacks later happened. Over there people said they had been told to wait there to get into the meeting. I went in the usual front entrance and the guard at the metal detector asked me if I was going to the City Council meeting.

I had heard him tell other people who answered yes that they had to go back out and go to the side entrance. So I said I was going to the Men’s Room, which is at the front of the hall that leads to City Hall chambers. From there I could see several police down the hall barring people from going any further, Further down the hall a metal barricade with a line of police behind it lay ahead.

Outside the crowd began chanting “Let us in!”, “Stop the demolitions,” and “Housing is a human right.” It began to rain.

The rain began getting heavier after the attacks. After treating the wounded, the locked out people reformed and began the chants again ceaselessly, “to let the people inside know we’re not going anywhere,” one person leading the chants said.

The rain began to come down harder, the chants became louder and more spirited. Finally an organizer called everyone together to say they were declaring victory, and that they’d shut them down. He announced a time and place to get together to make the next plan to stop the demolitions, since the City Council vote was a foregone forlorn conclusion. The council later voted 7-0 to approve the demolition of all four public housing complexes, knocking down 4600 public housing units and replacing them with “mixed income” housing that would include 82% low income housing units.

It began to thunder and lightning, became a total downpour. The crowd dispersed, chanting, “No justice, no peace, we’ll see you in the streets.” The rain turned even heavier, and the streets of New Orleans began to rise into rivers again.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Nadeau December 22, 2007 at 11:38 am

Thanx to Michael Steinberg for his excellent reporting from the living wound that is New Orleans, one of the many casualties of the war in Iraq. Now the victims of Katrina are being lambasted once again by reactionary social forces.

We used to be a lot better at cleaning up after hurricanes, but that was when we had some notion of “public service” in Amerrica.


John F December 22, 2007 at 1:45 pm

Can I change my answer on the Police State poll?


David G. Urban December 23, 2007 at 4:24 pm

This has to be one of the worst articles I’ve ever read. Talk about media bias.

As a former resident, I’ll tell you that 98% of the New Orleans people want those damn projects gone. Even people who lived in the projects will be glad to see them destroyed.

This is New Orleans’ chance to move ahead and break out of the slum mentality that has hamstrung it for so long. Some of the riff-raff are simply afraid their generational welfare lifestyle is being threatened.

By the way, the NO Police did not “attack” anyone. This type of sensationalizing is cheap and stupid.


Richard Nadeau December 24, 2007 at 10:36 am

Obviously, Urban supports the ethnic cleansing of the
“riff raff” of New Orleans. Clean em up and sweep them out!

And who are the riff raff that are referred to – poor black people?

Urban should go to Fox News were his viewpoints will be nurtured and coddled. Now there’s objective journalism!


David G Urban December 24, 2007 at 11:21 am


Stop patronizing black people. It’s the worst kind of racism.

The NO City Council members all voted to remove the projects, even James Carter, the black council member who represents the 9th ward. The riff-raff, by the way, are the animals who terrorize the city to a point where the National Guard have to be called in. The projects were historically a breeding-ground for the worst kind of filth.

The knee-jerk liberalism expressed in the article interferes with decent people trying to re-make their city.


Richard Nadeau December 24, 2007 at 3:19 pm


You need to get back to compounding, formulating, and selling industrial detergents and solvents, and things you know something about.


David G. Urban December 24, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Thank you for the best laugh I had all week. It is not often someone looks me up online; I didn’t think anybody cared. Seriously, though; I did live in New Orleans for some time, and those projects were horrible. The replacements will include low-cost housing, and anything, believe me, anything will be better than the projects.

Happy Holidays to you, Richard Nadeau; remember, it’s never personal, just politics.


Richard Nadeau December 24, 2007 at 9:12 pm

David: Merry Xmas to you as well.

Isn’t it better to buidd the low cost housing first before you throw people out when there is no place to go.

And how do you know that their only clearing out the “riff-raff.” Did you do a survey.

I do not doubt that the projects are, as you say, horrible. But I have read and seen stories that they are usuing the Katrina disaster to ethnically cleanse new Orleans of poor black people.

Is it your view that these reports are wrong. Or don’t you care?

Finally, my genetecist says I got Ethiopian blood, so I am not being paternalistic.


David G. Urban December 26, 2007 at 10:36 am

Who, exactly, is “ethnically cleanse[ing] New Orleans of poor black people?”

The black mayor? The black chief of police? The black city attorney? The black chief administrative officer?

Is it the city council (which has three black members), that voted unanimously to tear down the projects? Or maybe the general population of New Orleans, which is still 55% black.


I have a novel idea (at least it’s novel for white liberals): why don’t we leave the people of New Orleans alone and let them decide what is best for their community?

I’m sure they know much better than either you or I.

Or, is it true that deep down, in their hearts of hearts, white liberals feel that the “poor black people” just can’t fend for themselves and need help?


Frank Gormlie January 2, 2008 at 4:48 pm

We contacted Michael Steinberg, the author, who lives in New Orleans, to see if he wished to respond to any of the comments, particularly the detractors. Steinberg replied that he declined to respond except to say that he stands by his articles.


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