The thoughts of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Board and staff are with the people of Texas and Louisiana affected by the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the people of the region and wish everyone the best at this difficult time. We know very well how hard everyone in the region is working as the focus and efforts shift toward recovery.
As the people of the region look to rebuild, the Lawyers’ Committee wants to ensure that low-income and minority communities receive equal treatment and opportunity to reclaim and revitalize their communities. Natural disasters affect Americans from coast to coast, but have an especially harmful and disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, particularly in communities of color. This has been abundantly clear in the experience of communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Sandy in the last twelve years. For example, before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, emergency management plans assumed that evacuees would use personal vehicles to travel to safety, resulting in a devastating impact on African-American residents, as one-third of African Americans living in New Orleans did not own a car, and fifteen percent relied on public transportation that was not available. After Katrina, blatant discriminatory actions were common. White persons were favored over African American persons seeking housing. A federal court found intentional discrimination in actions by the heavily white St. Bernard Parish when it adopted an ordinance which restricted rental housing opportunities to persons “related by blood” to the homeowners. Overtly discriminatory advertisements for housing were widespread.
Because of discrimination encountered during recovery from these storms and the harmful impact that they have had on minority populations, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other civil rights organizations, which devoted extensive resources to providing disaster relief, have worked closely with the United States Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and Transportation to address these problems. The result was the development and release by these agencies of an important guidance document addressing civil rights issues that arise during hurricanes and how Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applied to these issues.
The text of this guidance may be found at https://www.justice.gov/crt/fcs/EmergenciesGuidance. It is designed to inform state and local officials and entities about civil rights requirements in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 during times of natural disasters, and provide guidance that will protect individuals displaced or otherwise affected by natural disasters against discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin.
The document sets forth the responsibilities of local officials, governments, and organizations. It provides sound guidance on practices that will help ensure that vulnerable populations do not experience discrimination and disproportionate harm during the response, mitigation, and recovery from disasters of this magnitude. These practices encompass the gathering of data on demographics and community needs and locations, outreach to and development of vulnerable populations and their communities, commitment from officials and other leaders to antidiscrimination principles, and awareness of these concerns during the planning and execution of emergency management and response plans, as well as during the subsequent recovery stages.
The Lawyers’ Committee is committed to providing disaster relief assistance to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and will work closely with all other organizations devoting their resources to this effort. We urge all governmental and other officials to ensure that their actions and strategies responding to Hurricane Harvey adhere to Title VI’s protections from discriminatory crisis management.