Friday, April 14, 2006

"Baby Steps"

As our trip to New Orleans comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the people I've encountered and the sights I've seen. Every day of this trip seemed to be another step towards coming to an understanding about the far-reaching devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches. Who would've thought that the airplane ride sitting next to the overly chatty woman that never seemed to stop chatting would've been a moment that, at day 6, I would appreciate immensely. Her story was one of the many survivor stories of New Orleans. Her name was Bonnie and her husband is a bartender at Pat O'Briens, one of the famous bars of Bourbon Street. She had been back and forth from New York to Lousiana numerous times, relocated even more, trying to establish herself somewhere. She was on her way back after months of not seeing her husband hoping to convince him to leave New Orleans and start from scratch somewhere else. Her husband, however, was a native of New Orleans and refused to leave. In fact, although the bar he worked for went from being open 7 days a week to only 2, he still had hope that someday, New Orleans would be back in full force. As their income dwindled and the stress of being apart started taking its toll on their marriage, Bonnie was on her way back to give him an ultimatum.... "How can I live like this?" she asked...I wish I knew the answer; wished I knew what to say....I could barely come to terms with having to pick up and start from scratch somewhere miles away from your home with nothing more than the clothes on your back and a small insurance check.

As we drove through the blocks of the 9th Ward, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Are we still in the United States?" Entire blocks of what once was a thriving neighborhood just deserted. The silence was eerie and at times, simply terrifying. Clothes were strewn amidst the rubbish - people LIVED here once. 9 months later and it looked as though all time had stopped once the hurricane hit. Even in the French Quarter, streets are lined with stores that are boarded up. Who would think that I'd ever drive through a city of America to find a deserted Burger King at 1:00 in the afternoon?

"Baby steps," I remember Judge Derbigny telling us... one tiny step at a time towards rebuilding a city that was destroyed from just about every facet of its existence. From the economy, to the people, to the entire criminal justice system - Hurricane Katrina didn't just blow out windows and knock down trees - it stopped the heart of this great city. Although our work at the Justice Center was one small piece of the rebuilding process, I leave New Orleans knowing that it was one "baby step" in the right direction.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the Hofstra Five, My paternal roots are in Louisiana. Thank you for spending your spring break in New Orleans and sharing your experiences with the Hofstra Law School community. - Prof. Alafair Burke

7:20 PM  

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