Friday, September 02, 2005

Why is looting the main news? Where is the relief?

The Untold Story of Katrina's Aftermath

By Malkia A. Cyril

Katrina has been called a disaster of biblical proportions. And it is. But the disaster is not confined to weather. The loss of life is being compounded by the frightening political decision to withhold rescue services from survivors and instead focus on fighting crime. It seems that Katrina has not only uprooted homes and trees, but also uncovered the stark truth about race in Louisiana. Racial injustice in New Orleans is on fire. And the news coverage of Katrina is fanning the flames.

Over 1 million people with the means to leave fled before the storm, but nearly 150,000 were left behind, trapped by poverty and neglected by disaster plans. Those who got out were mostly affluent and white. Those left behind were not. They represented the poorest 15-20% of New Orleans population and were predominately black. This is not simply the result of a natural disaster. This is the consequence of human decisions about who deserves to live and who should be left to die. And the death toll is still rising. Survivors are floating in stagnant debris-filled water, huddled in attics or on rooftops. More than 60,000 people have gathered at the Superdome stadium for evacuation and remain there in increasingly horrific conditions. One man couldnt bear it and jumped to his death. In the aftermath of this natural disaster, relief efforts are being hindered by racial mistreatment and racist decisions that are as dangerous as any storm.

Emergency systems and disaster protocol must put life above law. And yet, when it comes to the lives of blacks and poor people in the aftermath of Katrina, looting is the leading headline. Interestingly, in the face of absolute tragedy, President Bushs message is about zero tolerance for crime and not about encouraging and applauding the humanity of those helping each other to live. There is no question that survival is the primary issue of the day. And yet Reuters reported that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered police to suspend rescue efforts and arrest people instead. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco told reporters that she will use the 12,500 National Guard troops in or en route to New Orleans to bring law and order to the area, and not to continue rescuing survivors. Officials have either ceased or redirected the relief and evacuation efforts of the Red Cross, FEMA, local police and the National Guard. Black and poor residents of New Orleans are paying for this decision with their lives.

While the decision to arrest people for trying to survive seems misplaced, it could have something to do with the news coverage of Katrina, which has been saturated with descriptions of blacks chest-deep in water looting food, while referring to whites in virtually the same circumstances as survivors finding food. Or perhaps it is because almost no news outlets have even mentioned the demographics of those left behind or raised life and death questions about how evacuation plans, search and rescue operations, relief distribution, and emergency care are being influenced by race.

Where were the resources and political will that would have prevented this tragedy from reaching such deadly proportions? In the aftermath of this devastating natural disaster, the media can expose the racism and help prevent the man-made disaster at hand? Even CBS reported that in one neighborhood the police helped homeless survivors carry stolen supplies from Walmart to another area that had been hit harder. Across the country concerned communities are demanding that the arrests for so-called looting should cease and search and rescue efforts should continue unhindered, that all resources should be used to evacuate survivors immediately, and people should be provided with clean water and food. Not everyone agrees that your race or income should determine whether you survive the storm.

posted on colours mailing list,, 9/2/05

more about Malkia at

peeps at get-your-act-on are trying to get stuff together to travel from houston to new orleans with relief supplies.

from their site:

There are supplies sitting in Baton Rouge for the folks in New Orleans, but the National Guard has the city surrounded and is not letting anyone in or out. They are turning away people with supplies, claiming it is too dangerous. If we have planes that can drop bombs on people in Iraq, certianly we can air drop supplies into the city. Our goverment is KILLING the people of New Orleans. This is the message I am now sending to all major media sources, national and worldwide, as well as posting to email lists, blogs, etc. The story is getting out that the people there are not getting supplies, but the truth of WHY is not. Please help spread the word, we must get this story out. Please so not let any more of my friends die.


from an email posted by Jordan Flaherty, an editor of Left Turn Magazine .

...While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As
someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a “looter,” but thats just what the media did over and over again. Sherrifs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties focus on “welfare queens” and “super-predators” obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this week’s events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city.

While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to
fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders.

The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a “New Deal” for the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be “rebuilt and revitalized” to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment, de-industrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world’s eyes are focused on Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.