Julie Dermansky

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

Disaster Recovery Expert Russel Honoré Decries the Lack of Coordinated Response to COVID-19

Read time: 12 mins
Courtney Baloney removing a flag from the casket of a veteran, who died from the coronavirus, to give to a family member after carefully folding it.

Having no nationwide testing and contact tracing protocol several months into the pandemic is taking its toll in Louisiana, and especially in its predominantly African-American communities in Cancer Alley.

It pains retired Lt. General Russel Honoré to watch the United States lose the war against COVID-19, but it does not surprise him. A federal disaster response expert, Honoré coordinated military relief efforts in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and is credited with restoring order to the city. He has advocated for the federal government to tap the military to set up COVID-19 testing and contact tracing nationwide since the pandemic began spreading rapidly across the United States. 

As Pandemic Toll Rises, Science Deniers in Louisiana Shun Masks, Comparing Health Measures to Nazi Germany

Read time: 10 mins
Woman holding an anti-mask sign at a July 4 “Save America” rally in Baton Rouge.

Science denial in America didn’t begin with the Trump administration, but under the leadership of President Trump, it has blossomed. From the climate crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, this rejection of scientific authority has become a hallmark of and cultural signal among many in conservative circles. This phenomenon has been on recent display in Louisiana, where a clear anti-mask sentiment has emerged in the streets and online even as COVID-19 cases rise.

After a Legal Battle, Juneteenth Ceremony Honors Enslaved Ancestors at Gravesite on Formosa Plastics Land

Read time: 7 mins
Sharon Lavigne speaking at the Juneteenth ceremony at the site of a former burial ground for enslaved African Americans on the site where Formosa plans to build a petrochemical complex.

“I feel like our ancestors are shouting and rejoicing in heaven about what we did for them today,” Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a community group fighting petrochemical plant construction in St. James Parish, Louisiana, said after a June 19 ceremony held in their honor. “We did not forget them on Juneteenth. We honored them by leaving roses at the site where their remains are buried.”

Late this morning, Lavigne and a couple dozen supporters held the memorial at what they say is a former burial ground for enslaved people that sits on the future site of a $9.4 billion plastics plant complex. But even as widespread protests against anti-Black racism have prompted a national reckoning, the ceremony at the former grave site was met with opposition. FG LA LLC, a local member of the Formosa Plastics Group, owns the property on a former sugar plantation and denied Lavigne’s request to have a Juneteenth ceremony there. It took a last-minute judge’s ruling to force the petrochemical corporation to make the ceremony legal; Lavigne had planned to hold the ceremony there, with or without permission.

New Orleans Activists Call out Environmental Racism Alongside Police Brutality in Week of Protests

Read time: 9 mins
Crowd gathered outside of Jackson Square on June 6, the last night of a seven-day protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 3, just hours before New Orleans police tear-gassed a group protesting racial violence, Jesse Perkins, a Black veteran, called out the many shades of racism and violence his community faces daily.

What they inflicted on us was a slow violence. What is happening every day to these Black men on the street every day is violence. But it is all relative,” said Perkins, who lives in a house built on a toxic Superfund site in the Upper 9th Ward’s Gordon Plaza, a Black neighborhood. “That is why I’m here connecting the dots. Violence is violence. Racism is racism, whether it is environmental racism, whether it is racial profiling, whether you walk on the streets and get your brains knocked out by some guy who has taken an oath to uphold the law.”

Perkins was among the New Orleans activists connecting environmental racism and police brutality during a week of local protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police and focused on the Black Lives Matters movement. These protests, and the many others like it around the country, are taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, whose death toll has disproportionately affected African Americans and illuminated racial disparity in the United States.

Louisiana Breaks Ground on Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Project Amid Pandemic

Read time: 8 mins
Chris Burnet outside of his home on the Isle de Jean Charles.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed life much for Chris Burnet, a lifelong resident of Isle de Jean Charles, a quickly eroding strip of land among south Louisiana’s wetlands. Though the island, about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans, can’t be saved from the sea-level rise and coastal erosion that’s been intensified by climate change, Burnet is happy he still lives there, even though his days there are numbered. Besides loving life on the island, he believes its remoteness has kept him and the remaining island residents safe from the coronavirus. 

10 Years After BP Oil Spill, Pandemic Compounds Hardships Faced by Louisiana’s Commercial Fishers

Read time: 9 mins
Kindra Arnesen

A decade after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and spewing 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, south Louisiana resident Kindra Arnesen told me that the community was never made whole again, despite BP’s ads promising it would.

Long Exposed to Polluted Air, Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Residents Are Now in a COVID-19 Hotspot

Read time: 10 mins
Protester against petrochemical activity continuing during the COVID-19 outbreak in Louisiana

Confirming fears, cases of COVID-19 have been spreading at an alarming rate in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, an 80 mile stretch along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that is lined with refineries and petrochemical plants. 

From a safe distance, I met with activists in St. James Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish, both located on the river’s banks and where predominantly black communities have been fighting for clean air for years. They shared concerns that African Americans are dying of COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate and that toxic air pollution they’re still exposed to is increasing their vulnerability to the virus.

COVID-19 Fears Intensified for New Mexico Family Living in Fracking Industry’s Shadow

Read time: 10 mins
Penny Aucoin, Carl George, and their daughter Skyler in front of their home in New Mexico’s Permian Basin.

Penny Aucoin and her husband Carl Dee George have worried about living near oil and gas producing sites in New Mexico's Permian Basin since the sites began springing up near their home six years ago. They have wondered what effect the industrial pollution might have on them and their son and daughter — even more so now with the COVID-19 pandemic — but with no money to pick up and relocate, they have remained in their home.  

Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Community At Increased Risk of COVID-19

Read time: 6 mins

Our people aren’t prepared for a pandemic,” Robert Taylor, executive director of the Concerned Citizens of St. John The Baptist Parish, told me a couple of days before the governor of Louisiana issued a stay-at-home order due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the state.

“Many of us have cancer and weakened immune systems from the chemical onslaught we endure everyday. This could be a death sentence for many of us,” Taylor said.

A Faltering Fracking Industry, on the Verge of a Bailout, Mixes Patriotism and Oil in the Permian

Read time: 6 mins
Oil industry worker hat with American flag in Permian Basin

Signs equating patriotism with the oil and gas industry are abundant in the Permian Basin, one of the United States’ most prolific oil and natural gas plays. 

There, the messages on billboards, trucks, and the sides of rest stops suggest that supporting the industry that’s one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis is a matter of American pride.