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While we all watched aghast at the devastation and chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina, we were told stories so horrific that it seemed impossible that they were true: riots, gang wars, murders, rapes, you name it. I actually even heard at one point that people were eating each other in the Superdome. Yes, I honestly I heard from semi-reliable sources that things were so bad for the Katrina refugees in Houston that they had begun eating human flesh.
I took in all these stories with horror, skepticism, and confusion. First, all the stories seemed too terrible to be true. Second, the media almost always gets things wrong in the heat of the moment. Third, many of them rang false. The entire city is flooded and empty, yet gangsters were stealing relief supplies to sell for profit? Someone barely escapes the city with their life, loses all their worldly possessions, doesn’t know if their loved ones are alive or dead, is trying to survive in an overcrowded stadium– and starts stabbing babies? It just didn’t make sense.
But fourth, I second-guessed myself. Maybe things really were that bad. Maybe there were a few utter psychos mixed in with the survivors. Maybe I was just being naive.
Except for one. There was one story that I didn’t see refuted, one of the most baffling bits of gossip-masquerading-as-truth from the whole disaster.
People shooting at the relief helicopters.
That one made just about no sense. Why would you shoot at someone trying to help you? Even if you didn’t want help, would you wave the helicopter away so it could help someone who wanted their aid? Were there mentally ill people with rifles out in New Orleans (well, probably).
So now, I finally see what looks like the final word on that: no one shot at the helicopters.
From the look of it, one unidentified person told one National Guardsman at the Superdome that he’d heard gunfire. Not directed at anyone or anything in particular, they just said they’d heard shots. At that point, depending on who you talk to, relief flights to the area were suspended for several hours, or relief flights continued despite the potential danger.
Apart from that, there appear to be absolutely zero incidents of people shooting at the aid helicopters.
But of course by this point, the damage is done. Folks think that they’ve had their worst prejudices confirmed, about blacks and the poor. These stories tell them that their fears are true, that you just can’t trust “those people”, and that if you try to help them, you’ll be attacked. Therefore your bigotry and fear are “justified.” And those attitudes and emotions translate into actions, which have real impact on other people.
Makes me wonder if I’d rather live in a country with the fictional cannibals or the real racists.
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