Katrina: Who’s In Charge?

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Everybody knew this would happen. Last week, Hurricane Katrina cleared Florida, cutting a nasty slice across the tropical peninsula, wreaking havoc on lives and property. Now somewhere along the line, federal officials, along with state and local leaders, dropped the ball because they did not have a Plan B. Even the most lowly of our citizens knows this point when you’re responsible for public safety, you must have a Plan B, a worst case scenario.

So when Hurricane Katrina did a bait-and-switch on the media weather prophets, the politicians and policy planners saw no need to sound the alarm, since the system was downgraded from a category five to five. No problem. It seemed to catch the Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin flatfooted, not knowing what to do. As the mighty storm smashed its way northward, flooding the Crescent City and then Biloxi and Bay St. Louis, and all territory in between, no one had an effective Plan B. A former New Orleans mayor begged and pleaded with federal officials, especially President Bush, to come to the devastated region’s aid with supplies, medical assistance, and troops.

Nothing was done. There was talk during the first day after the storm struck about the smashmouth tactics of the hurricane and the tremendous wreckage left in its wake. It was like a boxer getting in a few good punches and admiring his work. The public was admiring the sheer brutality of the storm, even the president vacationing on his Crawford ranch had words about its savagery, appreciative to get off the topic of Cindy Sheehan and the fledgling anti-war movement.

The second day chased all news of Paris Hilton, Brad and Ms. Jolie, the tense Gaza evacuations, and the shaky Iraqi constitution off the front pages of the papers with the tragic images coming out of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast terrain. Still, all of the leaderships, both local and federal, just yakked but nothing was being done. Compare the rapid response when the storms struck Florida with Governor Jeb Bush leading the way. But there was an important difference. As my father, who is a native of the region, said: “Ain’t nothing but poor Black folks and white trash in this area so nobody gone carefor them.  They don’t work, don’t lead productive lives and sure as hell don’t vote.â€?

He was right. The pundits are comparing it to a tsunami, a delta disaster. This didn’t happen to happen. Food and water is short supply and lawlessness is on the rise. The mayor has ordered the police to stop all rescue missions in order to curb the looting. That does not bode well for the remaining New Orleans residents, between 50,000 to 100,000, and most of them poor and Black.

Of the networks, CBS was the first to recognize that race and class was a problem in saving the city, while the other networks just showed pictures of Black folks looting and stealing tennis shoes, big screen TVs, and CD players. But the truth of the matter was there were adult Black men breaking into grocery stores, handing out bags of food and bottled water to wives, mothers and the elderly. No one reported this. It was a matter of survival because no government agency or relief agency were helping them. It was every man for himself or woman for herself.

The two focal points in the city were the Superdome and the Convention Center, where poor Black people were instructed to come when escape from the city became impossible. Again, the reporters are not giving the buildings lack power, water, or toilets important play on their programs or articles. Instead, they are playing up incidents of crime, shootings, robberies, rapes, and armed looters holing up doctors to give up narcotics.

“In the city, it’s like a jungle,â€? a reporter said from the safety of Baton Rouge. “It’s very dangerous. They’re like animals in there.â€?  We know what that means. We have heard this before when the urban riots occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.

Unfortunately, no Black leaders have stepped forward, to complain about the conditions within the city. These are poor Black people, helpless and without resources. No one speaks for them, except a few white people and they have agendas. One white guy said New Orleans was like a third world country. No, it’s not. It’s not the Sudan or Niger or Somalia. This is a part of America and Bush and Washington must treat it as such.  The hour is late.

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