[Zombies] off-topic: more politics

dolly lin dolly.lin at gmail.com
Thu Sep 8 12:17:53 EDT 2005

The Bigotry of Low Expectations
Submitted by editor5 on September 7, 2005 - 1:27pm.
By Matt Welch
Source: Reason via AlterNet

All along Hurricane Katrina's Evacuation Belt, in cities from Houston to 
Baton Rouge to Leesville, Louisiana, the exact same rumors are spreading 
faster than red ants at a picnic. The refugees from the United States' 
worst-ever natural disaster, it is repeatedly said, are bringing with them 
the worst of New Orleans' now-notorious lawlessness: looting, armed 
carjacking, and even the rape of children.

"By Thursday," the Chicago Tribune's Howard Witt reported, "local TV and 
radio stations in Baton Rouge...were breezily passing along reports of cars 
being hijacked at gunpoint by New Orleans refugees, riots breaking out in 
the shelters set up in Baton Rouge to house the displaced, and guns and 
knives being seized."

The only problem--none of the reports were true.

"The police, for example, confiscated a single knife from a refugee in one 
Baton Rouge shelter," Witt reported. "There were no riots in Baton Rouge. 
There were no armed hordes." Yet the panic was enough for Baton Rouge 
Mayor-President Kip Holden to impose a curfew on the city's largest shelter, 
and to warn darkly about "New Orleans thugs."

Even before evacuees could get comfy in Houston's Astrodome, rumors were 
flying that the refugees had already raped their first victim, just like 
that 7-year-old in the Superdome, or the babies in the Convention Center who 
got their throats slit. Not only was the Astrodome rape invented out of 
whole cloth, so, perhaps was the case reported 'round the globe of at least 
one prepubescent being raped and murdered in New Orleans' iconic sports 

"We don't have any substantiated rapes," New Orleans Police superintendent 
Edwin Compass said Monday, according to the Guardian. "We will investigate 
if the individuals come forward." The British paper further pointed out 
that, "While many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors' 
relatives have come forward. Nor has the source for the story of the 
murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of 
the convention center toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian 
found no corpses."

As Katrina wiped out New Orleans' communications infrastructure, and while 
key federal officials repeatedly expressed less knowledge than cable 
television reporters, panicky rumors quickly rushed in to fill the void. 
Many of them have shared the exact same theme--unspeakable urban 
ultra-violence, perpetuated by the overwhelmingly black population.

St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis issued a statement Monday that 
"Rumors are flying and being repeated occasionally in the media that 
describe supposed criminal actions in St. Tammany Parish. These rumors are 
NOT true." Police superintendent Compass had to fend off accusations that 
his beleagured force "stood by while women were raped and people were 

The truth, whatever it may be, is clearly horrific enough, with just about 
every eyewitness account from New Orleans mentioning the palpable menace 
from crazed gangs of looters and ne'er-do-wells, especially after nightfall. 
Compass himself told reporters on Thursday that 88 of his cops were beaten 
back into a retreat by angry Convention Center refugees, forcing Mayor Ray 
Nagin to suspend rescue operations in favor of restoring a semblance of 

But the lies matter too. If federal government officials can't even get 
their ass-covering justifications straight, let alone such non-trivial, 
easy-to-discern matters as whether there are indeed thousands of 
water-deprived refugees massed at a Convention Center, those stranded near 
the epicenter will likely be starved for information that could literally 
save their lives.

"Complaints are still rampant in New Orleans about a lack of information," 
NBC Anchor Brian Williams wrote on his weblog, echoing one of the most 
familiar complaints from the city.

"It's one of many running themes of the past week: There were no 
announcements in the Superdome during the storm, none to direct people after 
the storm, no official word (via bullhorn, leaflets or any other means) 
during the week-long, on-foot migration (and eventual stagnation) that 
defined life in the downtown section of the city for those first few days. 
One can't help but think that a single-engine plane towing a banner over the 
city would have been immeasurably helpful in both crowd and rumor control."

And it's entirely possible that, like the chimeric Baton Rouge hordes, 
exaggerations about New Orleans' criminality affected policy, mostly by 
delaying rescue operations and the provision of aid. Relief efforts ground 
to a halt last week after reports circulated of looters shooting at 
helicopters, yet none of the hundreds of articles I read on the subject 
contained a single first-hand confirmation from a pilot or eyewitness. The 
suspension-triggering attack--on a military Chinook attempting to evacuate 
refugees from the Superdome--was contested by Federal Aviation 
Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown, who told ABC News, "We're 
controlling every single aircraft in that airspace and none of them reported 
being fired on." What's more, when asked about the attacks, Department of 
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff replied: "I haven't actually 
received a confirmed report of someone firing on a helicopter."

I don't begrudge any helicopter pilot erring on the side of caution; the 
vehicle is dangerous enough without a razor-thin margin for error. But a 
razor-thin margin is precisely what the wretched residents of New Orleans 
have had for nearly 10 days now, and too many of them have already 
succumbed. Incoming National Guard troops, steeled for urban warfare, have 
been surprised to instead encounter mostly docile and relieved stragglers.

Try as we might, it's almost impossible to avoid seeing any major event 
through the lens of our own prejudices and worldview. France-bashers were 
ready to slam Paris for being stingy about hurricane aid even before, you 
know, actually checking to see whether it was true (it wasn't). My prior 
antipathy toward the Department of Homeland Security has now hardened into 
something approaching activism. As we cast about for blame to lay, and 
lessons to learn for the next catastrophe, it's worth asking whether our 
haste to confirm our suspicions by believing the worst prevented us from 
doing our best.

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