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As summer faded to fall in 2005, a hurricane hit New Orleans, a city so unique in its history that it has more history than many American cities. It was nonetheless an American city in these telling parameters: a city of luxury alongside squalor, two-thirds Black, one-fourth poor, with the gap between its rich and poor growing at a gallop as the waters of lake and river lapped gently along aging, grass-covered levees.

Freeze the frame before the waters rise, and what do you see? A devastated public school system, where Black children are labeled “failing,” along with their schools. An outdated infrastructure of public works, decried by planners as a disaster waiting to happen. Profligate availability of guns, and a valiant but failed attempt by the mayor to hold gun manufacturers liable for the carnage in his city; the slogging poverty that now makes parts of America no different from what we call the underdeveloped world: where babies fail to make it to their first birthday, where drug addiction and HIV exposure go unmitigated, where the simplest forms of preventive health care—pre-natal nutrition, vaccinations, a filling for a child’s rotting tooth—are beyond our capacity to provide.

This was the flood before the flood. The flood that was swallowing up American cities across the nation. The flood that was too ordinary for the front-page of the paper. The flood of the free market carried to its unmediated, unrestrained ends: winner-take-all, loser left-behind. In our very own cities, we have the street corner beggars, the old women scrounging from garbage cans, the hungry children, the ill-housed, the untreated ill, and the illiterate that we used to associate with those poor countries that are not us.

Publication Citation

36 Hofstra L. Rev. 1-12 (2007)