EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) – Prominent black scholars at a screening of Spike Lee’s new documentary on Hurricane Katrina called Wednesday for a national discussion of the inequality and poverty exposed by the storm that devastated New Orleans and nearby areas one year ago.

“What Hurricane Katrina did was sweep into our consciousness those people we have tried to force into oblivion,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson, one of five panel members at a forum on the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Harvard law professor Lani Guinier said society needs to connect rather than move away from its poor and underprivileged.

“When are we going to link our fate to the fate of the people who were dispossesed in New Orleans?”

They viewed the third episode of Lee’s four-hour Katrina documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” which first aired this week on HBO after a premiere in New Orleans last week. The film will be shown in its entirety on HBO on Aug. 29.

Part Three focuses on the dispersal of homeless Gulf Coast residents around the country after the storm, and the dilemma of how to bring blacks back into New Orleans.

In one scene a mother holds up a small picture of a young daughter who drowned in the flooding. In another a woman says her problems have led her to contemplate suicide.

“Would that George Bush and Dick Cheney be forced to watch this extraordinarily moving film,” said Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. But he added, that won’t happen.

Before the event, Gates called the government’s response to Katrina a “tragedy of race and class.”

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if this happened in Martha’s Vineyard, their response would have been completely different,” Gates said.

Before the screening, Lee, who has a home in nearby Oak Bluffs and brought his family to the event, urged the hundreds of audience members to think of New Orleans residents even as they are living “high on the hog.”

Stanford professor Lawrence Bobo said the anniversary of the storm marks “a national disgrace.”

Many in the poor, black communities in New Orleans did not receive federal attention until days after the storm hit, and criticism of the government response to the hurricane continues.

About half-a-dozen reports on the Katrina recovery are being released to coincide with the storm anniversary, and nearly all criticize the sluggish pace of the response.

The reports document a host of problems, from the still-unfinished levees to the plight of small businesses and the continuing racial divide.

The panel at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown was moderated by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree.


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