It all seemed pretty simple. It was evident to all that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had practiced malfeasance in the stewardship of levees in Mississippi and Louisiana.
They had done it since its beginning in 1928, and up to the roar of Katrina, they had neglected their duties in establishing and updating a levy system that would withstand the harshest hurricanes and floods.
So there they were, this team of litigators representing over 489,000 Katrina victims in a class action lawsuit against the federal government and its Corps of Engineers division.
The judge was sympathetic. Clearly, he stated, the federal government neglected its duty and was at fault. Millions of people suffered because of the malfeasance.
However, he went on, the law as it was written in 1928 exempts them (federal government, Corps of Engineers, etc.) from damages and the plaintiffs cannot be awarded a penny. That's the way it goes. If you want to improve this condition you need to elect a president who will order his administration to conduct itself in a responsible manner and adequately protect its citizens.
This doesn't shock me. It is the same legal reasoning when it comes to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is the duty of the U.S. Attorney General to enforce this law. Any discrimination in the business practices of a federal agency or an entity receiving federal funding or benefiting from federal regulation must be dealt with by the U.S. Attorney General's office.
A citizen or a collective group cannot sue to enforce it. If you don't like what the attorney general is doing then you need to replace him. The logical way to do that is have our president fire him or we fire the president through the electoral process.
Thus, we have a harsh reality. We must get totally involved in the political process if we are to hold the federal government accountable. The only big chance we get comes every four years and we need to prepare for it in a very open and complete way. As we elect a president and he assembles his administration we must be certain that we have very competent people working in that administration and the president himself must have the strength and commitment to enforce all civil rights laws and to ensure that the people are protected.
So far in this upcoming presidential election, has anyone brought up the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act or the mandate that the US Army Corps of Engineers must become accountable and ensure excellence in their duty?
It reminds me of when the state of California was shutting down their minority business programs during the 90's even those that were receiving federal money. We asked the Clinton Administration to step in and force them to reopen the diversity programs for highway construction.
As a Los Angeles Times reporter informed me, it was very embarrassing to see a federal official get verbally whipped by a state official who conditionally receives federal money. In the end it was apparent. We did not have a president who had the resolve to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Californians of color have been suffering ever since. I guess Clinton said to himself so what, they still love me. Yes, the poor coloreds do.
Until we and all Americans get the resolve to hold a president accountable to all the people, we will have more Katrina disasters. There will be more wholesale and illegal discrimination by state and local governments.
Our population will not be proportional to our share of the economy. Mandated services afforded to the general public will continue to miss our neighborhoods. We won't get healthcare and decent educational opportunities for our children. Corrupt police and lazy stewards of our environment will be allowed to continue their existence.
If you have noticed, not one question has asked how any of the current candidates will prevent another Katrina disaster. They don't have a clue.
Why can't we begin to demand resolutions and accountability during this election cycle? Let's make a great president by writing the "script" right now. We should not stop until we find one who can do the job. Something tells me that we might just have such a person. But it won't happen unless we create the job description up front.
"This is what must be done!! Can you do it? How? We will be watching you every step of the way. If you fail, you must go on the next round. We won't stop until we get the right one." Until then, it's business as usual.
Harry Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.