New Orleans Evacuees: "Sort of Scary"
How to explain the behavior of the authorities?
Why did FEMA turn away the Red Cross
and many others who offered to help? Why were the Superdome and Convention Center locked down, and the evacuees forbidden to leave? "Worse than a prison
," said one Superdome occupant. "We've virtually made them prisoners
," said the Sheriff of neighboring Jefferson Parish, who had ordered his forces to surround a group of evacuees in an open field.
Why were people packed onto busses and planes without being told whether destination was Baton Rouge, Houston, or Utah
Why were friends and relatives forbidden to enter
the city and transport their loved ones to safety? Why were bridges out of town blockaded
by armed police? I've seen relatively little about these hard-hearted practices in the mainstream press: the last two links are to horrifying first-hand accounts.
Presumably the authorities placed their first priority on preventing looting in the French Quarter or the wealthy neighborhoods of Jefferson Parish, both a short walk away from the Convention Center and Superdome. One National Guard General described his units' role as conducting "combat operations
" against an "insurgency."
Preventing looting is a worthy goal, to be sure. But not a goal that justifies treating tens of thousands of people like animals. And not a goal worth people's lives.
How could the authorities decide to treat everyone in New Orleans as a potential looter, rioter, insurgent? The simplest explanation seems to be that they view poor black people with tremendous contempt and fear. An attitude nicely summed up by Barbara Bush's comment on the evacuees in Houston, "what I'm hearing, which is sort of scary
, is they all want to stay in Texas."