WASHINGTON – Black members of Congress expressed anger Friday at what they said was a slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina (search).
"It looks dysfunctional to me right now," said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif.
Watson and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus (search), along with members of the Black Leadership Forum, National Urban League and the NAACP (search), held a news conference and charged that the response was slow because those most affected are poor.
Many also are black, but the lawmakers held off on charging racism.
"The issue is not about race right now," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio. "There will be another time to have issues about color."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search), at a State Department news conference, dismissed the criticism.
"I think everybody is very emotional," Rice said. "It's so hard to watch pictures of any Americans going through this."
Rice agreed that the black community has been heavily affected. But, she said, "nobody wants to see Americans suffer, and I think everybody understand that."
Rice, who is black, plans to go to Alabama, her native state, on Sunday to inspect some of the damage. She said she had spoken to some members of the black caucus and to officials of the NAACP and the Urban League.
"That Americans would somehow, in a color-affected way, decide who to help and who not to help, I just don't believe it," she said. "Americans are generous to each other."
President Bush, who visited storm-damaged areas Friday, acknowledged that the initial federal response was unacceptable and pledged to do more.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., (search) D-Ill., said too much focus has been placed on the looting, taking away from what should be the priority: getting food, water and stability to the tens of thousands of displaced victims.
Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., noted that the city of Detroit has offered housing, food and clothing for 500 families displaced by Katrina. She urged other cities to do the same.
Watson and others also took issue with the word "refugee" being used to describe hurricane victims.
"'Refugee' calls up to mind people that come from different lands and have to be taken care of. These are American citizens," Watson said.
Added Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.: "They are not refugees. I hate that word."
Cummings called for citizens and governments to come together "with a force equal to that of Hurricane Katrina" to meet the needs of the hurricane victims.