Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told a black Baptist group meeting in Miami that race was a factor in the death toll from Hurricane Katrina.
Speaking Wednesday to the National Baptist Convention of America, Dean, who ran for president in 2004, said images of Americans coming together to help hurricane victims were illustrations of America at its best.
“But that’s not all we saw,” Dean said. “We saw people desperately trying to survive in conditions we could not imagine in an American city.”
“As survivors are evacuated, order is restored, the water slowly begins to recede, and we sort through the rubble, we must also begin to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not,” he continued.
In prepared remarks, Dean contended that poor hurricane victims “are not refugees” but rather “our fellow Americans.”
“The truth is that we have ignored the poor for far too long,” he said. “And until it washed right up on our front doorsteps, we might have continued to ignore the reality that poverty has too many of our fellow Americans in its grip, and we have a shared moral responsibility not to ignore it anymore.”
According to the Census Bureau, the number of people living in poverty grew by 1.1 million in 2004, despite an increase in the number of jobs. The poverty rate rose from 12.5 percent to 12.7 percent last year, the fourth straight year it has increased.
Nearly one in five American children lived in poverty during 2004, with a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos comprising the poor.
Stephen Thurston, president of the Dallas-based denomination, said the group’s 3.5 million members were worried about a perceived lack of response and “insensitivity” toward those dislocated by the hurricane.
”We need people in office who have enough sensitivity to do what we think is right by people,” Thurston said,” according to the Miami Herald. “We want to believe we have a right to that which is given to other people in this country.”
Thurston, pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, said the convention plans to boost efforts for voter registration.
”There were enough African Americans who were registered to vote and who did not vote, to make a difference in the last election,” he said.
Ken Mehlman, Dean’s counterpart at the Republican National Committee, said he hoped Dean “will match his rhetoric with his support for reforms that replace bureaucracy and entitlement with hope and opportunity,” according to the Washington Post.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused Democrats of playing a “blame game.” President Bush on Wednesday requested $51.8 billion in funding for immediate needs of people affected by Katrina, in addition to an original $10.5 billion approved by Congress at the president’s request.
The NAACP teamed with the nation’s four largest black Baptist religious organizations–the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; the Progressive National Baptist Convention; the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America; and the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.–to provide relief to the beleaguered victims of America’s worst natural disaster in more than 100 years and to find temporary housing.
The association also established a fund in partnership with MoveOn.org Civil Action to assist in relocation of 17,000 homeless persons within 250 miles of the flood zone.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.