Dear President Obama: New Orleans Needs a Surge

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama and the
US Congress:

As of tonight, a surge in troops and funding is
being proposed to secure Afghanistan. A surge in New Orleans funding and
security troops is equally needed. We do not expect your commitment to be open-ended,
but please make it long term this time. The city is ready for fewer acts of
brazen terror, and increasing safety in daily life will give us the breathing
room we need to make progress in other areas such as health care, education,
clean soil and life-saving infrastructure. You are invited to impose security. Strategy,
slogans, a new direction, we'll take it all. You are now marching toward
escalation; please escalate at home to reassure a crime-weary New Orleans.

will forgive you for the violence overrunning our city for the past four years
if the problem is addressed now. We're a very forgiving people. We re-elected
William Jefferson. With the new Surge, ordinary New Orleans citizens can see
visible improvements in their neighborhoods. Benchmarks could include security,
a robust economy and shared oil revenues for residents. Empower more local activist leaders to enter
political life. There's a crucial Mayoral election approaching in a matter of
months. Expand infrastructure reconstruction teams to speed the transition to self-reliance,
and let our citizens move back from Houston, Portland, points across the globe
to help rebuild the city they love.

A judgment is now in place giving those who
lost personal property and even loved ones to the gulf oil tanker canal justice
at last. The oil canal-based salt water intrusion attack on our wetlands must
be disrupted. Interrupt the flow of water into our city and seek out and
destroy the networks allowing pollution to eat our coast with the momentum of two
football field sized chunks of land an hour. Picture the Superdome football
field disappearing in half an hour. That's happening right now in the wetlands.

Send a Surge in for our yellowcake. Red velvet
cake, king cake; any cake. Many of us now live where you can't even get a king
cake. Dye our fingers purple and we'll keep them that way all the way through
Mardi Gras. There's your benchmark and your photo op. Work with the government of Gretna to help resolve problems along the border. In any future disasters
inter-city borders must be open for evacuees fleeing a flooded city instead of
being turned back again at gunpoint. Work with states like California and New
York for a national compact of educational assistance. The loss of New Orleans
cultural and culinary contributions would greatly affect all of these areas.

This is the decisive American struggle of our time.
In fact instead of Colin Powell's Gulf War 'You Broke it You Bought It,'
rationale, given the Louisiana Purchase you both bought it and broke it. The
most realistic way to protect us is to provide a hopeful alternative. Millions
of ordinary people citizens want peace and opportunity for their children. A
rebuilt Central City will fight criminals instead of harboring them. Embed a
Surge brigade with every New Orleans police patrol. Build a larger and better
equipped police force.

Many American citizens think New Orleans is too
dependent on United States funding, but to step back now would result in
destruction on an unimaginable scale. Increase your support at this crucial
moment and help us break the cycle of gang civil war. Then stay and help make
Central City less like Lord of the Flies and more like a disaster zone under
reconstruction. Our juvenile prison was shut down after a history of extreme
brutality. Our only juvenile hospital is in danger of being closed by the
state. We are in danger of losing an entire generation. This from a city where
a child imprisoned for shooting a gun into the air on New Year's Eve was given
a horn, and with that horn Louis Armstrong changed the world. A few thousand
more soldiers in an Afghanistan quagmire may not make a difference. Ask Russia.
A few thousand security forces in Central City could make all the difference in the world.

The United States has already mobilized talented
civilians; selfless men and women are deploying to gut homes at Common Ground,
MercyCorps, Habitat for Humanity, The St. Bernard Project and Americorps. It is
noble and necessary. We mourn the loss of every fallen New Orleans hero like
Helen Hill and Dinerral Shavers, and owe it to them to build a future worthy of
their sacrifice. So please invest your political and literal capital to make
this the point at which you support the full reconstruction of New Orleans.
Because there are only so many celebrities around to help, God love them. A
broad coalition of nations has sent funding, tourist dollars and heartfelt
support to the best of their ability. Match their efforts. These are times that
reveal the character of a nation. The ground truth of what is happening in New
Orleans is not a clean victory, and it is a long process. Our Recovery Czar Ed
Blakely just quit. It's a long story.

From the Map Room I ask that you tell the nation
why a strategy change in New Orleans is needed. The results did not come
through in the last administration, and it is time to readdress the situation
with benchmarks like schools, hospitals, quality of life, a comprehensive
shared list of where more than 100,000 evacuees now live and what is needed to
bring them home at long last. Failure to support New Orleans would be a
disaster. Gangs could gain new recruits and create chaos in the region, which
would spread throughout the United States. We did not ask for our city to be
pulled into the scourge of narcotics pouring into the port, complete with
assault weapons in the hands of children. We did not ask for the Federal levee
collapse. And we did not ask for oil canals cutting through our natural
barricades, their saltwater intrusion turning inland areas into oceanfront property.

Give New Orleans a surge so that long after the
guns have fallen silent, the great potential of our people can be unleashed.