Monday, September 5, 2005

The "Looting" in New Orleans: Not Insane in the Least

Some comments on recent events in New Orleans from an anarchist perspective. Despite the comment from the Philadelphia tourist, I can't find this insane.

Let's review now:

* Major hurricane threatens New Orleans with damage much worse than it actually got.
* About 20% of the residents of that city are in households without automobiles.
* Most of them are low-income and live in the shoddiest buildings in the most flood-prone neighborhood, i.e. they are the people most at risk.
* Evacuation is called.
* Evacuation plan is to get in your car and drive out of New Orleans.
* Absolutely nothing is done to provide for the evacuation of those without cars to drive.
* Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of buses (owned by school districts, transit districts, and private companies) were available throughout the metro area and could have been commandeered as evacuation vehicles.
* End result: an evacuation that systematically fails to evacuate precisely those in most need of evacuating.

Put yourself in the position of one of those survivors. Nobody's cared about rescuing you; the only people that really counted were those with more money than you have. People like the owners of the shops in your city.

Shops closed and not about to reopen precisely because the owners fled town. Shops with blown-out windows that can be walked through. Shops whose merchandise is about to be ruined by the disease-ridden and polluted water streaming through levee breaks and flooding your city. Merchandise that, in many cases, you need because you're running low on necessities and relief can't easily get to you because of flooded highways.

How can it be anything but logical to help yourself to some of that merchandise in such a situation? The still photos I've seen seem very revealing; nobody looks particularly menacing or threatening. The "looters" seem to be of all ages and genders; it's not just young gang-bangers we're talking about. In fact, I've noticed numerous scenes showing mothers with their children.

I've dragged out the TV and turned it on tonight. NBC News had two segments on the "looting" and the most violent scene they showed was of a young man throwing a rock at a store window, trying to break it. One scene showed people walking calmly into and out of a Walgreen's, passing right by the camera, while across the street a trumpeter played "When the Saints Go Marching In." Put aside the fact that money hadn't been exchanged for the merchandise being taken out, and it could have been a normal street scene.

One phrase NBC trotted out was "every man for himself." That seems to be directly contradicted by their own footage, which showed many examples of people helping each other (and not just to carry stuff out of stores). Looks more like the key defining behavior in the aftermath of this disaster is cooperation, not individualistic competition. If you want a real example of "every man for himself," look at that evacuation plan the authorities came up with.

With all that so-called "breakdown" of "law and order," there's been only one person shot (not fatally, thankfully) so far. That one shooting is tragic, but let's have some perspective here. In 2004, there were 265 murders in New Orleans. That's just the dead; it doesn't cover the non-fatal assaults with deadly weapons. Add those in and we're probably well above 1 per day on average. If it really was an outbreak of barbarism, the violence would be much worse.

Instead, there's very little of it, Just lots of peaceful folks who have decided that those stores are, in the words of one man, "everybody's store[s]." A breakdown, in other words, of law but not order.

By David B posted 5 September 05


Bush Expected to Visit Storm-Ravaged Areas
US: WACO, Texas - President Bush is expected to visit storm-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast later this week, but first he is returning to Washington to oversee the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.