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Black Lives Matter rooted in Hurricane Katrina, Slate writer says


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Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans 10 years ago this week, leaving 1,800 low-income residents dead -- most of them African American -- and thousands more with nothing.'s chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie makes the case that Hurricane Katrina marked a turning point for black America, and set the stage for today's Black Lives Matter movement.

"Hurricane Katrina, both the actual event and the aftermath … I think that convinced a lot of black Americans that the country was basically indifferent to their suffering," Bouie said.

One of the few people to voice this opinion publically was Kanye West, who, during a live telethon, said the words, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Kanye on Bush

West later apologized for his remarks.

Bouie says he doesn't agree with West's statement, but he can understand why many New Orleans residents felt that way.

"When you look at the pre-Katrina structure of New Orleans, you have a very poor city that is largely African American that is sort of defined by decades of segregation and disenfranchisement and deprivation," he said.

He says, because most of the blacks lived below the levy, "it was sort of inescapable that the people who would be most visibly affected by the hurricane were going to be the low income black Americans living in New Orleans."

In the months and years to follow, there would be more disappointments for black residents of New Orleans. Federal reimbursements were often determined based on property value. Those below the levy received little assistance.

Bouie says the disaster gave rise to a kind of national black pessimism that would set the stage for the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Events like Ferguson, events like Trayvon Martin -- I think -- create this similar reaction and a similar sense that no one really cares. And that sense that no one cares -- I think -- is behind the Black Lives Matter movement. And I wouldn't be surprised, if Barack Obama had not never been elected, something like Black Lives Matter -- I think it would have happened a little earlier," Bouie said.

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.