Black Thieves, White Victims

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African-Americans “loot� for weapons and frivolous items while Caucasians merely “find� staples needed to survive. This is the misleading message which much of the mainstream media would have the world believe about the behavior of Blacks and whites in the wake of the chaos created by Hurricane Katrina. One community is depicted as lawless, the other, as law-abiding.

In truth, the world could plainly see that any unfortunate souls unlucky enough to be trapped by the flood waters in New Orleans after the levees broke found themselves abandoned by inept authorities who took five days just to implement a rescue plan. The question quickly became, how should we expect desperate people without food or water to behave in such a situation?

Who in their right mind would be thinking about stereo or video equipment, while facing the prospects of death by hunger or thirst? And is it really stealing when those with nothing but the clothes on their backs have no recourse but to help themselves to food sitting in an unattended store unlikely to reopen for months, if ever?

Yet, countless television and newspapers outlets willingly disseminated images of African Americans pushing shopping carts under captions calling them thieves, and suggesting that they had just stolen discretionary items instead of ones urgently needed for subsistence.  By contrast, similar photos never attributed criminal intentions to whites carting off their own ill-gotten contraband. No, they were routinely described as having “foundâ€? food.

It was terribly irresponsible, damaging and divisive for the press to appeal to prejudices in this fashion, rushing to condemn Blacks for following the same survival instincts as whites till the cavalry belatedly arrived to end their frightening predicament. Why further demonize an already ostracized segment of the population?

One can easily ascertain that when the average income of African Americans living in New Orleans is a mere $11,000, or about a third of that for whites, their below poverty-level plight explains why the bulk of the blacks were still there when Katrina came a calling in the first place. So, shame on any reporter willing to grant whites in such dire straits a pass, while expecting Blacks not to turn to equally desperate measures for urgently needed water, baby food, or other groceries their families were also crying out for.

Remember, Katrina never considered a person’s color while cutting her devastating course across the Gulf States, so nothing but racism could possibly explain the motives of those who would create a color line suggesting that we see its Black victims in such a totally different light from its white ones.

Black Star News columnist and attorney Lloyd Williams is a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars. For more reports please click on “subscribe� or call (212) 481-7745 to order the newsstand edition of The Black Star News the world’s favorite Pan African news weekly.

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