This is a catastrophe of the worst sort. We must not let the right lay the responsibilty for the chaos at the feet of those who were abandoned and are now fighting to survive. As I sat here doing a slow burn about the racist coverage of the 'looting' in New Orleans, the folks at Making Light were doing this:
Jim Macdonald started it. He said, in AIM:
This was literally just as Patrick was about to post:
Yahoo News photos:
Photo number one: “Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store”.
Photo number two: “A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store”.
Two guesses as to the relative melanin levels of “two residents” and “a young man”.
Remember, white people “find” things; black people “loot”.
I was about to post my own piece. While the three of us were sorting all this out, a further story turned up:
I hadn’t yet seen the photo of the lighter-skinned couple making their way through the water. My own piece went like this:
“Looting” in New Orleans:
I keep hearing on the news about looting in New Orleans. But what I’m seeing—everybody has digital cameras these days, especially reporters—are pictures of people slogging through filthy water with stashes of food, diapers, bottled beverages, etc.
The picture I’ve seen most often is a kid in his teens, up to his chest in black muddy water, trying to carry away a not-very-substantial load of black-bagged groceries plus (I believe) some cans of soda.
First, I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said that if a man’s family is going hungry, it’s no sin for him to steal a loaf of bread.
Second, anything salvageable the kid finds in a grocery store is something that won’t have to be cleaned up later. Besides, where’s the store where he can make legitimate purchases?
Third, yes, I absolutely agree that looting has to be suppressed. Some people will loot any time they think they can get away with it. Others will loot if they see those first people getting away with it. It’s a behavior that’s guaranteed to snowball (which is why I still say we were at fault for allowing the large-scale looting of Iraq to get started and perpetuate itself, right after the first wave of the invasion). Civil order is important.
Fourth, I have yet to hear one mention, one murmur of a hurricane evacuation plan, that didn’t consist of “everybody gets in their cars and drives somewhere else.” This, in a city which was guaranteed to sooner or later need evacuating, and which had something on the order of 100,000 citizens who didn’t drive cars.
New Orleans kept its light rail system during that period when other cities were going over to an all-highway system. It has streetcars. It’s a walkable city. That’s a mercy to the poor: you can live a poor but decent life, get to your job, do your shopping, without having to support a car. Until, of course, the day comes when any prudent person would get out of town.
I heard the city officials, before the storm hit, explaining that the Superdome would be a shelter for people with medical problems, people with special needs, who weren’t prepared to evacuate the city. Malarkey. It was, as they knew all along, the first last and only refuge for tens of thousands of New Orleans citizens who had no way to leave the city.
Not all of them are in the Superdome, or the other refugee centers; but no matter where they are, the majority of New Orleans’ beleaguered and flooded-out residents who’ve remained are the city’s poor.
That’s not looting. That’s plain old survival.