Black poverty in Baton Rouge increases, following the closing of flood victim’s center, which housed about 400 people.
The severity of the problems faced by the victims of the Baton Rouge flood could be said to have doubled, as the River Center shelter, which catered for nearly 400 people, was closed on September 15. Poor people had to gather their belongings and leave the place to other shelters or relatives’ homes after the owners of the center decided to turn the center into an arts and music venue as they originally planned.
A good Samaritan, Crystal Williams, who wasn’t an evacuee was present during the adjustments of the victims in the shelter. She provided coloring books, toys, food and several necessities to the displaced people and also documented the conditions in which the flood victims lived.
Williams, a 28-year-old mother of two was born and raised in Baton Rouge (Louisiana). She delved into activism in 2014, as she protested against the mass incarceration of Black people in America. “My intention was to awaken the consciousness of the masses,” she said. Her fight against systemic racism took a harsh hit after the shooting of Alton Sterling, who was her friend. “When I was scrolling down my Facebook feed, I realized that this person they are saying was murdered, or killed, is Alton, so I immediately jumped out of bed,” Williams says.
The incident brought about the creation of a grassroots organization, North Baton Rouge Matters (NBRM). It has five core group leaders and about 200 contacts; its aim is educating and helping North Baton Rouge community on the issues concerning police violence, food, and justice and so on.
In response to the flood that hit the Baton Rouge community, Williams decided to volunteer at the River Center shelter, but was ultimately turned down on the basis that the shelter was “overstaffed.” The shelter was militarized and looked a bit like a prison, as so many armed military personnel and police officers were in and around the place. Describing the dreadful conditions in the shelter Williams said: “I walked into a situation where there were a group of Black individuals in a mass space that were being policed in a traumatic situation. It was shocking for me that there were so many police.”
She was only allowed to enter the shelter center when she claimed to be an evacuee. Williams spoke to the children, handed them gifts, games, and journals. They enjoyed her company, they begged her to stay, which meant she had to register and get a wristband to allow her move in and out of the place freely.
Williams did as much as she could to help the victims before the center was closed, as well as documented the life of the people there. She stated that the evacuees revealed their deepest worries and fears because they felt they were treated not as human beings, but as numbers. They were fed poor quality food and called “needy” whenever they asked for help.
The shelter center closed, but Williams continued to offer help to the inhabitants of other shelters. The flood caused a drastic rise of Black poverty in the area and NBRM made a petition demanding that the Red Cross provide better living conditions and food to the evacuees.
Some of the flood victims have voiced their concerns on the fact that government officials have ignored them since the flood. “When we need our own leaders, they shun us. So what do you expect the rest of the world to do to us?”, a worried flood evacuee noted. The flood has really affected the lives of mostly Black Baton Rouge residents. For some of them, life turned into a constant struggle, as many had their homes and properties destroyed.
We urge the government to pay attention to the community’s needs and help them.