St. Bernard Parish, LA – Housing fight prompts racists to speak

Here’s hoping we can all agree that “racist” is the only appropriate label for the person who spray painted “NO NIGGERS” at a Chalmette construction site for affordable apartments. Ditto for the man who called Provident Realty Advisors’ Dallas headquarters and left a voice mail begging the developer to reconsider its plan to “build a nigger project in St. Bernard Parish.”

The words “racist” and “racism” have themselves been so abused, so blithely tossed about and misapplied, that there’s rarely consensus as to which people and which actions qualify. But there should be no disagreement here. The person with the spray can and the man calling Dallas this spring are racists. And their racism compels them to oppose the construction of affordable housing units in the parish.

Are the above two typical of all St. Bernard Parish residents, or even all the residents opposed to Provident’s construction plans? That can’t be the case. Their actions are extreme, and extremists are rare by definition. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center — which brought up the virulent responses in a federal court hearing last week — gets “nasty phone calls all the time,” executive director James Perry said Friday. But, he said, none of the others has been spiked with epithets. Nor has anybody else decided to publicly express his or her hatred with a spray can.

That doesn’t mean, however, that everybody else’s opposition to the apartment buildings should be automatically classified as race neutral. U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who has refereed the fight between the parish government and the developer, has found that St. Bernard officials have acted with a discriminatory intent as they’ve put up obstacles to keep the apartments from being built. Berrigan’s finding applies to the officials in the parish, not the general population. That’s an important distinction. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine parish officials taking positions they thought would alienate a majority of voters.



About Bob Voelker

Vice President and General Counsel, StreetLights Residential - Building Places that Life the Human Spirit.
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