The Desire Projects were a notorious housing development in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, was considered the worst in the state. The projects were the site of a large shootout between Black Panthers and the police that took place on this day in 1970, leading to tensions that remained long after the standoff.
Longtime Louisiana activist Malik Rahim was one of the early leaders who formed the New Orleans Black Panther chapter. The group maintained a home near Desire for several months, helping residents in the blighted neighborhood regain a sense of pride. The Panthers’ presence was also a nuisance to local police who felt that the demands of justice made on behalf of Desire’s residents was a growing cacophony.
Details surrounding the start of the raid have conflicted over the years but a consistent theme in the recalling of the event is that the Panthers were served an eviction notice. The group maintained they were allowed to stay at the home based on the date of the notice, but police still raided it. Over 100 officers stormed the house and the Panthers squared off with police with their own weapons as well.
Amazingly, nobody was killed and injuries were kept to a minimum after two white officers and a Panther member were hit with gunfire. Around 14 or 15 Panthers surrendered to the police, but the arrest served as a rallying cry for Desire’s residents who saw officers as the enemy. Like other Panther chapters, the New Orleans members were infiltrated by COINTELPRO informants who attempted to upend their mission.
On November 19, thousands of Desire residents blocked police from evicting the Panthers from the location. They believed in what the activist group was doing for the community and successfully staved off the eviction.
According to some accounts, the Panthers who initially surrendered faced trial the following year but were acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury.