[Zombies] off-topic: more politics
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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