NEW ORLEANS—Mayor Ray Nagin apologized Tuesday for remarks he made the previous day suggesting that recent destruction from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and other natural disasters is a sign that "God is mad at America," and also mad at Black communities for tearing themselves apart with violence and divisive politics.
"I said some things that were totally inappropriate. ... It shouldn't have happened," Nagin said, explaining he was caught up in the moment as he spoke to mostly Black spectators, many of whom are fearful of being shut out of the city's rebuilding after Katrina.
"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin said on Monday as he and other city leaders commemorated Martin Luther King Day. "Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at Black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."
Nagin also stated Monday that a rebuilt New Orleans would be a true reflection of its majority-African American history.
"We ask Black people ... It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans — the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," Nagin said Monday. "This city will be a majority-African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."
Joking that he may appear to have "post-Katrina stress disorder," Nagin, who is Black, talked of an imaginary conversation with the late civil rights leader. They "talked," he said, while he was thinking Monday about what to say at the ceremony outside City Hall to kick off a walking parade in King's honor.
"I said, 'What is it going to take for us to move on and live your dream and make it a reality?' He said, 'I don't think that we need to pay attention any more as much about other folks and racists on the other side.' He said, 'The thing we need to focus on as a community — Black folks I'm talking about — is ourselves.' "
Nagin told the crowd that he also asked, "Why is Black-on-Black crime such an issue? Why do our young men hate each other so much that they look their brother in the face and they will take a gun and kill him in cold blood?"
The reply, he said, was, "We as a people need to fix ourselves first."
A day earlier, gunfire had erupted at a traditional second-line walking parade to commemorate King's birthday. Three people were wounded in the shooting in broad daylight amid a throng of mostly Black spectators, but police at the scene said there were no immediate suspects or even witnesses.
Nagin said King would not have worried less about those committing crimes than about the good people who knew what was right but lacked the courage to do it.
"It's time for all of us good folk to stand up and say we're tired of the violence. We're tired of Black folks killing each other," Nagin said.
Nagin also recounted his disappointment with state and federal officials in the days after Katrina, wondering what King would have thought at the sight of so many people stranded at the Louisiana Superdome and the city's convention center for days after the storm, stuck in sweltering heat and lacking adequate food, water and bathrooms.
And, he said, King would have been disappointed at police in suburban and predominantly White Gretna, who turned back people who tried to walk across the Mississippi River bridge in the days after Katrina. Nagin once again accused Gretna officers of using attack dogs and machine gun fire in the air to turn people back, although Gretna officials have disputed that.
But Nagin also said King would have been dismayed with Black leaders who are "most of the time tearing each other down publicly for the delight of many."
"Dr. King, if he was here today, he would be talking to us about this problem. The problem we have among ourselves," Nagin said.
— The Associated Press