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TFT Analysis: Post Katrina

Material Realities II: Before the Storm

"New Orleans, like Mexico City, was already a dysfunctional city before the crisis, a capital of crime, illiteracy and poverty. While state and local government surely failed the city, the federal branch bears the heaviest responsibility. This administration has neglected the problem of global warming, which increases the intensity of hurricanes; has attacked social services on behalf of its ideological commitment to the private sector; has invested disproportionately in war; and has let New Orleans levees and its safety net fall into ruin. Its policies have only deepened the class and racial divides that Katrina laid bare in New Orleans. Healthy and able-bodied people with means could flee the storm, but no preparations were made to evacuate the city's poor, who are overwhelmingly black, and the sick and disabled.

"With Katrina, as with the Mexican earthquake, government at all levels was, for many crucial days, indecisive and lethargic in its response and hostile to citizens who came to the rescue. Buses were sent away empty while people drowned. City dwellers who sought to save themselves were often opposed by local authorities, sometimes at gunpoint" (Bell Gale Chevigny, http://www.alternet.org/katrina/25516/)(my own emphasis added).

In my previous post, I discussed the material realities faced by the victims of Hurricane Katrina after the impact of the storm. It is important to discuss the fact that, in addition to the society fallout after the disaster, the binary encoding of information about people also affected public policy before the impact of the storm, and was revealed during the throes of panic and pain in the days immediately following the hurricane's landfall.

Assumptions about the residents of New Orleans, based on their race, their socioeconomic status, and the "character" of their city influenced the discussion about and public policy regarding them, even before Katrina struck, though the effects of these policies remained invisible until the storm's fallout. Pre-Katrina, (by 2002 census tables) New Orleans, tied with Corpus Christi, TX, was ranked the 13th poorest city in the nation, with a poverty rate of 21.7 percent (http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Ranking/2002/R01T160.htm), with a median household income of $28,645 annually (http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Ranking/2003/R07T160.htm).

Now, as discussed in the previous post, the class of an "object", as most of the evacuees have become, affects how we view and speak about them. People who are members the poor and/or Black communities are viewed by the public eye to be lazy, defective in some way, or criminal - they are seen a liminal and, thus, dangerous threats to mainstream, middle class mores, as evidenced by the following passage:

"Poor blacks in New Orleans sued to stop the government from replacing public housing slums destroyed by Hurricane Katrina with mixed-income dwellings. The government plans to raze more than half of the damaged low-income housing units it oversees in the city and replace them with units the agency says will be better and safer.

"'They got to put it back the way it was,' said Chester Numrod, a drug dealer whose dilapidated public housing was destroyed by flood waters. 'How am I supposed to run my business in a 'better and safer' neighborhood? My rights are being violated.'

"'The government has an obligation to take care of these people and restore them to their prior state,' said Judith Browne, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization that filed the suit. 'Many feel uncomfortable with the idea of living mixed-in with law-abiding working people. It's a source of embarrassment for them.'

"The majority of New Orleans residents were either criminals or on welfare before the Aug. 29 storm, but a higher percentage of generally better-off families and individuals have returned. Mayor Nagin has expressed concern that this may change the character of the city." - John Semmens, columnist for The Arizona Conservative

(http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/1659741/posts).

"The majority of New Orleans residents were either criminals or on welfare before the Aug. 29 storm..." - wow. Some one has not done a bit of fact searching: the percentage of poor in New Orleans (21.7%) by no means constituted a majority; neither does a crime rate of 673.4 per 100,000 people support that the majority of New Orleans residents were/are criminals (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/offenses_reported/offense_tabulations/table_06.html). Despite the fact that this statement is easily refutable, it is an assumption that prevails in public and governmental discourse (kind of odd that government statistics can refute government "opinions", huh?). The policies following from these assumptions can be highlighted by the reaction to Hurricane Katrina, although, in this circumstance, the action stemming from public policy was highly intensified. In order to deal with the "welfare-receiving criminals" left in New Orleans after the storm's impact and the structural failure of the levees, it is reported that, along with the importing of police forces from around the nation, the state and/or federal government (and possibly private businesses) brought in the services of the Blackwater mercenary group (http://www.alternet.org/katrina/25320/ and http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/091005A.shtml). "Mercs" (as if the National Guard rolling through in tanks was not enough to scare the left-behind residents), patroling New Orleans with M-16s, a group authorized in Iraq and Afghanistan to use lethal force with no criminal reprecussions - why would such "reinforcement" be called in, by the government or by the private sector, if the prevailing assumptions about the poor and/or Black communities were not implying that they are criminals? This reaction is indicative of the fact that these were the attitudes regarding these communities long before Katrina ever made landfall; public policy does not shift so radically in a matter of days (as anyone who has had the pleasure of waiting on government services will tell you).

 

Photo: http://www.judicial-inc.biz/kautrina_blackwater_2.htm

 

 

Published Dec 04 2006, 12:40 AM by archive
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