Sunday, October 16, 2005

Farrakhan wants govt sued over hurricane response


Farrakhan wants govt sued over hurricane response

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan accused the federal government of "criminal neglect" for its slow response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, during a rally on Saturday marking the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.

Speaking to thousands of African-Americans gathered on the National Mall, he also urged minorities and the poor to work together to improve their lives.

In his speech, the highlight of the daylong event, Farrakhan asked why the government did a better job helping the citizens of Florida last year, and why so few lives were lost, when the state was hit by four major hurricanes.

"I believe that we can charge the government with criminal neglect," he said. "I firmly believe that if the people on those rooftops (in New Orleans) had blond hair and blue eyes and pale skin, something would have been done in a more timely manner. We charge America with criminal neglect," he said from the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

There has been renewed attention on race relations in recent weeks, after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and devastated the lower Ninth Ward, which was largely populated by black and poor residents.

Farrakhan also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security should be sued.

"I think we need to look at a class action (law)suit on behalf of the citizens of New Orleans who have lost everything, and the government is not acting responsibly to give them back what they have lost and return them to their homes," he said.


This year's event, known as the "Millions More Movement," was a stark contrast to 1995, when only black men were invited to participate to promote black self-reliance and responsibility. On Saturday, women and other minorities were invited, attended and spoke to the crowd.

"For a few years it was good for the men to come out for themselves -- to atone -- but now we need to come together," said Jamillia Lawrence, 35, of Atlantic City.

"This march, particularly, it was for families. It just came from a need. This is what the need is, to have more unity in our families," she said, citing gang violence and black children going astray, with no structure in their families.

Farrakhan, who organized the 1995 event and has made controversial statements in the past, told the crowd that African-Americans should work together to improve their lives.

"The more we are organized, the more we can generate power to change reality. The more we unify, the more power we can generate to change reality," he said.

Farrakhan also urged other minorities and the poor to unite.

"The time has never been more ripe for a strategic relationship between the black, the brown, the Native American and the poor of this nation and the world," he said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate who also addressed the crowd, called for a move away from violence and for millions to fight against poverty, illiteracy and the kind of suffering that befell the poor in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"Don't imitate the violence, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism, gay bashing," he told the crowd. "We need ... millions more to build a multiracial coalition, we need not battle alone to fight poverty and greed and war."

The event appeared smaller than the Million Man March, with crowds dispersed between the U.S. Capitol steps across to the grassy Mall. A decade ago, hundreds of thousands stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.