Protest to focus on BP
Event in Grand Isle will include burning of British flags.
HOUMA — Frustration with claims procedures and lingering damage from the BP oil spill on Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island nearly had some residents up in arms, literally.
But after discussions with Grand Isle and Jefferson Parish officials, organizers of a planned Saturday protest have agreed that unloaded guns will not be brought to the event as originally planned.
British flags as well as BP company flags will still be smeared with oil and burned to symbolize their outrage.
Calling themselves the “Boudin Taliban,” the group includes Grand Isle shrimp dealer Dean Blanchard and his assistant, Karen Hopkins. Both have been outspoken about their displeasure with BP.
“The purpose is for somebody to get on BP and make sure they do things right from now on,” Blanchard said. “It’s time someone gets on them to stop cutting corners. We’re not getting help from the American government maybe we can get help from the British government.”
A Facebook invitation to the protest says, “This is your chance to raise hell,” and promises oil-spill claims chief Ken Feinberg and local politicians accused of coziness with BP will be subject to scorn. “We will smear the BP logo, Feinberg’s face and oil all over the British flags so that the British who are our true friends will know why this is happening,” it reads.
Blanchard said he understands that British citizens might be upset by desecration and burning of the Union Jack. But he sees that as a way to gain their attention, now that the media frenzy that catapulted the suffering of Gulf people worldwide has substantially waned. While global interest in the spill has ebbed, Blanchard and many of his neighbors still suffer effects of the spill ranging from unrecoverable income losses to health complaints.
“We have to follow the rules in our own back yard here. If I spill fuel in the water from my fuel dock the Coast Guard is not going to ask me how I am going to clean it up, like they did BP,” Blanchard said. “With me the Coast Guard is going to do what they please and send me a bill.” BP, Blanchard said, has repeatedly done as it pleases with cleanup operations and not been held accountable enough. Originally scheduled for noon on Grand Isle beach, the gathering will be held instead at the same time on Blanchard’s property on Cypress Lane fronting Caminada Bay.
A Facebook posting by the group invites people to come share their anger over what they say is a trashing by BP of their culture and their future.
It was not the flag burning, however, but the initial call for people to bring unloaded guns to the event that caught the attention of Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who visited Grand Isle Wednesday and, with the island’s police chief, Euris DeBois, had words with Blanchard.
“I am not trying to have a chilling effect on their expression,” Normand said Thursday. “But I am concerned about the statement of unloaded guns. Some people are ignorant of the law. And there are BP subcontractors in the area. This could make people uneasy. There is potential civil liability. This is not good when you are inviting people with guns.”
If people were to come with guns, Normand said, he would have deputies at Grand Isle in force.
At issue, he said, are the finer points of gun laws in Louisiana. While in many places — including Grand Isle — guns may be carried exposed, they may not be concealed, Normand said. So someone with a pistol in his waistband, even with the grip exposed, could still be subject to arrest. The reason for the guns, organizers said, was inspired by recent events in the Middle East.
“We were gonna do like in Egypt, where they were shaking the guns up and down to show they were angry,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard said Normand’s advice, while appreciated, was not requested.
“I didn’t ask for their advice, I feel that BP complained and if it had been any other normal situation nobody would have said a thing,” Blanchard said.
But he agreed to the request that the mention of firearms be stricken from the Facebook post and from fliers about the rally, and to move it from the beach to his own property, where the public is invited.
Hetty Crist, deputy press secretary at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., was asked for a response to the protest and the planned burning of the flags and sent the following statement from an unnamed government official:
“The Gulf spill was a human and environmental tragedy,” the statement reads. “The British government has been working closely with U.S. and other international regulators to guard against a similar incident happening again. It is important to remember that BP is a multinational company and brings economic benefits, including employing many thousands of people in both America and Britain.”
Blanchard said there will be free boiled shrimp at the protest.
“We can’t get anybody to buy it so we might as well give it away,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer John DeSantis can be reached at 850-1150 or firstname.lastname@example.org