I’ve already posted a link to this article, but it’s fucking astounding.
It’s the story of a couple of tourists caught in New Orleans during the hurricane and their attempts to survive and get home. When they ask the cops what they should do, the cops tell them that they can’t go to the Superdome or the convention center shelters.
“If we can’t go to the only two shelters in the city, what was our alternative?” The guards told us that this was our problem–and no, they didn’t have extra water to give to us.
Oh, but it gets worse.
To get rid of these hundreds of stranded folks, a police commander tells them to go to the New Orleans Bridge, where there will be buses waiting for them.
As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.
As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.
We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans.
That last sentence is a bit of a stretch, but I feel that it’s probably an accurate one. I mean, can you think of a good reason that a line of cops would send refugees back into the floodwaters at gunpoint? Sounds like racist hostility to me.
So this wandering band decides to build a make-shift camp on the bridge. They find food and water and try to take care of each other, and from the sound of it, do a pretty good job… until the police showed up again.
Just as dusk set in, a sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces and screamed, “Get off the fucking freeway.” A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.
Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of “victims,” they saw “mob” or “riot.” We felt safety in numbers. Our “we must stay together” attitude was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.
In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of eight people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements, but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.
At this point, this Group of Eight (irony intended) manage to get airlifted to a local airport and catch a flight to San Antonio. Once there, and in the grip of the “official relief effort”, things continue to blow:
We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses didn’t have air conditioners. In the dark, hundreds of us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.
Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport–because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly and disabled, as we sat for hours waiting to be “medically screened” to make sure we weren’t carrying any communicable diseases.
This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.
Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.
Granted, the authors of this piece are “contributors to the Socialist Worker”, which means that they might have slanted their piece somewhat in the “The People United vs. The Man” direction. But even taking that into account, it seems that these folks did okay on their own, but every time they came in contact with authorities, it fucked them up.
Or, as a friend of mine put it, “welcome to black life.”
Is it possible I’m not cynical enough?
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