Sep 30, 2005

Why Was the Post-Katrina Media Focus on Looting Rather than Dying?

Much of the immediate media coverage of the hurricane Katrina disaster focused repetitively on the looting and the random outbreaks of violence. We saw image after image of black faces, removing items from stores, toting rifles—and worse. In the midst of an epic disaster where thousands of people were dying, why was most of what we saw about these few crazed people? How about the rest of the tens of thousands of people who were desperately being civil while struggling for their lives? Who had dying hope of being rescued as their relatives and friends died around them? The implication—though never directly spelled out—was that those people somehow did not “deserve” to be rescued. Let me be the first to call it—Economic Prejudice, at its worst. I have worked as the manager of a homeless shelter for years and seen plenty of economic prejudice in action, and that, sadly, is what it looks like.

Those thousands of AMERICANS in New Orleans died needlessly because the BUSH administration refused repeatedly to fund the completion of the levee project there—which the Army Corps of Engineers repeatedly—and I do mean REPEATEDLY—warned them about. Instead, 4 to 5 BILLION dollars U.S. PER MONTH goes to fund the Iraq war—the OIL WAR. And almost all military resources have been squandered to support the war in Iraq. Bush’s FEMA—which was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security—has had extensive budget cuts so that most of their budget funds the, you guessed it, war in Iraq. The Bush administration knew there was little to no manpower or funds available to help the disaster—because manpower and funds were already maxed out to support the war in Iraq.

Those thousands of Americans in New Orleans did not need to die. The levee project should have been finished. And even as the levee did break, another White House would have busted their butts to get down there and save as many people as possible—regardless of skin color or economic circumstances. Not played golf all day the first day of the disaster—as thousands perished. Not hemmed and hawed and played a who-should-do-what game as thousands more perished, not arrived a lame five days after the disaster as thousands more perished. And most of all, when realizing that they didn’t galvanize help quickly enough, not flown down there for photo opportunities and flown back to more of the same—Iraq management as priority one.

The television news dwelled—not on the thousands of people who needed rescue and were dying because of neglect—many of whom were elderly, sick, or children—and almost all of whom are poor—instead, they kept reporting the few isolated incidences of some extremely frightened and desperate people—to keep attention away from the abominable and lax way the Bush administration responded to the disaster.

FEMA has since forbidden photographs of the corpses as they are recovered. That’s right. Without this visual reminder, American citizens can then disconnect from the physicality of the disaster. And it has been rare to find a published body count. Doesn’t anyone want to know how many of our people died?

No, those poor people did not deserve to die. Their poverty and inability to get into a car and drive out of town when the Mayor ordered the evacuation of the city did not mean they should die. The fact that a few crazies went berserk does not mean that those many thousands of innocent people deserved to die. Their deaths are by complete and horrendous negligence, and their blood is directly on the hands of the Bush administration.

I have cried and I have cried. We have donated to the Red Cross (www.redcross.org) and we have offered our guest bedroom to house a displaced family (www.hurricanehousing.org), if one can make it this far.

If anything good comes out of this whole disaster it will be the other half of America turning against Bush and to his ultimate downfall. At the very least, we need an independent commission to investigate the response to hurricane Katrina so we can learn the truth and avoid repeating the same mistakes again. Otherwise, we are left with simply the bad taste of economic prejudice and the unforgivable cultural genocide that went on as we all watched.

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