Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Demolition crews arrive at B.W. Cooper

Demolition crews this afternoon began tearing down 14 brick buildings at the B.W. Cooper public housing development -- work that had been scheduled long before Hurricane Katrina struck two years ago.

That meant nothing to protesters who tried to block a second crane that arrived to the 3400 block of Erato Street after 3 p.m., chanting "Housing is a human right."

"This is immoral and must be stopped," said Don Everard, an activist who stood right in front of the wrecking crew's path. "It's a hate crime. It's a hate crime against poor people."

Attorney Bill Quigley, a Loyola Law School professor who is leading a civil rights lawsuit against the demolition of public housing, said that more protests will follow the wrecking crews, which are set to descend on Cooper and two other complexes Saturday.

"At least," said Quigley, eyeing the scores of protesters, which included members of Safe Streets New Orleans.

Known as the "new side" to Cooper residents, the flat-topped dormitory-style buildings were opened around 1950 and were designed much differently than the handsome pitched-roof style buildings that flank Earhart Bouelvard.

With open, common-use hallways, the buildings became crime havens, said B.W. Cooper Resident Management Corporation president Darrell Williams.

"They were never upgraded," said Williams. "The criminal element was always present. We welcomed those being torn down."

Sharon Sears Jasper, who lived at the St. Bernard complex before the storm forced her out, held a bullhorn and led protesters to condemn the demolition. By 6 p.m., a crowd of about 500 protesters had winnowed down to around 200, and backhoes had been silent since about 3 p.m. The crowd was a mix of residents with small children, and seasoned protestors who alternated chanting into a bullhorn.

In June, the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced they would demolish the city's four largest developments -- B.W. Cooper, St. Bernard, C.J. Peete and Lafitte, to make way for "mixed income" modern-day housing.

Demolition on all sites except Lafitte is scheduled for Saturday.