Sometimes, a picture caption is worth a thousand words. On August 30, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the caption of a newswire photo of an African American said, "A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans." A similar image of two white people had this caption: "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store."
This was one of many examples of racial disparities highlighted by Professor William Quigley as part of a February 8 program supported by more than a dozen NYU School of Law student groups to coincide with NYU’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week. Quigley, director of the Loyola Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, gave a stirring account of social injustices in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
Quigley's lecture, “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: How to Destroy an African-American City in 33 Steps,” was prompted by a conversation at a New Orleans grocery store: “I overheard a number of white people saying, ‘What is it that they want? It’s always race race race. What’s the problem?’”
Quigley, who, at the time of the worst flooding, was with his wife, an oncology nurse, at a New Orleans hospital where more than 40 people died, became angry. He went home and in one sitting created a list of almost three dozen aspects of injustice related to Katrina. Quigley passionately articulated them for his NYU Law audience as he displayed a vivid slide presentation to illustrate his points.
“What happened in New Orleans is just a speeded-up version of what’s happening all over the place,” Quigley said. “Our U.S. laws...don’t work for justice.... There must be recognition of the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. What you see in Katrina, what you see in Haiti, what you see in this town and all the other places doesn’t begin to measure up to equal and inalienable rights. It might be legal, but it’s not just. Our challenge is to narrow the gap between law and justice.”
Jennifer Ching ’00, project director of Queens Legal Services, and Shannon Cumberbatch ’12 moderated a discussion following the lecture, providing further opportunity for analysis of structural racism and many other issues.
The event was supported by a host of NYU Law organizations, including the African Law Association; the All-ALSA Coalition (the Asian-Pacific American Law Students Association, the Black Allied Law Students Association, the Coalition for Legal Recruiting, the Jewish Law Students Association, the Latino Law Students Association, the Middle Eastern Law Students Association, OUTLaw, and the South Asian Law Students Association); the Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association; the Law and Social Entrepreneurship Association; Law Students for Economic Justice; the National Lawyers Guild; the New York University Review of Law & Social Change; and the Women of Color Collective.
Watch the full video of the event (2 hr):