Wednesday, September 14, 2005

UPDATED: New Orleans: A Cameraman's Diary

[See the UPDATE at the end.]

BoingBoing has a couple of extraordinary posts from a news cameraman (who chooses to remain anonymous) about the conditions on the ground in New Orleans. The first is from September 4th, the second just went up today (although it's dated September 9th).

From the earlier post:

There are almost no news crews in the field trying to cover the story. Hundreds, if not thousands of media people are in the region - but I have driven back and forth through some of the worst neighborhoods in the city and you don’t see them. You don’t see the National Guard… don’t see ANYONE, except for the poor unfortunate souls wandering the streets looking for food or water. Many of them are on their last legs; they are literally not long for this world. It is surreal; it’s like a zombie scene from Dawn of the Dead. It’s disgraceful that in our times, we are seeing the complete disintegration of our ability to care for our own.

This is a racist issue, there’s no other way to look at it. These are the poorest of the poor. The people left behind in New Orleans are there for one reason only; they had no means to remove themselves from the city. Everyone who could get out, got out.

In the September 9 post, the cameraman says:

The desperation and fear is so personal, I feel unworthy even witnessing such deep heartfelt pain. But it is everywhere and it is the same scene over and over - and there is nothing that anyone can say or do that will make it any better. Everyone here is suffering the loss of a relative or friend or home or a job. And it goes on for miles and miles and miles.

What is striking is the incredible toll Katrina has taken emotionally. We often tend to focus on the dollar amount, the material costs and time. It’s as though all of the emotion and suffering is compounded by the shear enormity of the disaster. It’s hard to put into words just how much pain is concentrated in this region. So many people have lost their homes, their possessions, and loved ones.

Then, in discussing the relief effort, the writer says:

The lack of a plan is still the big story. Who is in charge? What is going to be done first? What are the goals? Evacuation? No evacuation? The New Orleans Police Department is trying to rebuild itself, and the National Guard seems to be the most organized. But there are way too many cops from as far away as Reno driving around with shotguns and M-16’s.

This is like a giant summer camp for law enforcement. There are hundreds of black and whites, armored cars, assault vehicles, and lawmen carrying every type of firearm ever made. It’s as though every police chief in the country put 20 officers in 5 cars and sent them to New Orleans - on overtime.

Of course, many are helping, but some have no orders or task to complete. So they drive around all day taking pictures, and then they go and sleep in their cars with the engine running and the air conditioning on. They are sightseers with guns taking “happy snaps” to show to all the folks at home. Complete with long tales of how they saved New Orleans.


And now, as a reward for reading this through, here's a joke to pass on (also from BoingBoing):

Q: What's George Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?
A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.


UPDATE: The third -- and apparently, final -- dispatch from the anonymous cameraman, dated September 13th, is available here. Thanks again, BoingBoing!


Carruth00 said...

"This is a racist issue, there’s no other way to look at it. These are the poorest of the poor. The people left behind in New Orleans are there for one reason only; they had no means to remove themselves from the city. Everyone who could get out, got out."

How the hello did this guy determine that all those left behind had no means to remove themselves? Since he's obviously trying to create a racial issue out of a natural disaster, perhaps he can explain how all the poor whites got out of town..

Evacuation is strictly a matter for local governments, and NO ONE else. The federal government does not involve itself until the governor, who is responsible for dispatching the national guard, request federal assistance. Since the mayor is black and the Gov is Democrat, I'm glad to see someone other than Republicans decried racist, although I doubt seriously that is what this reporter is implying.

A couple brought to my hometown after being rescued from the murk, when asked why they didn't leave town earlier, stated that katrina was a category three - " the last we heard..". I suspect there was a lot of this 'lack of information, and I don't really care anyway' attitude in New Orleans.

PeaceLove said...

I'm assuming the guy called it like he saw it; practically everyone he saw trapped in the floodwaters was black. Why assume otherwise? And why, if he observed that almost everyone left behind is dirt poor and black, why wouldn't he conclude that, if not overt, there's at least systemic racism behind the result?

If it is the case that all the poor whites got out of town, it's worth asking 1. How many were there (New Orleans is 70% black, according to media reports)? and 2. How did they get out when their black counterparts did not?

You say that evacuation is strictly a matter for local governments and NO ONE else. Didn't the governor ask for help pretty early on? And isn't FEMA supposed to be standing by, ready to move in quickly in times of crisis?

The full facts of what went wrong will surely be debated ad nauseum for years, but I think it would be crazy not to acknowledge that the whole crisis would have been handled very differently if New Orleans were majority white and affluent. This isn't to implicate anyone in particular, but to suggest that within the entire disaster-relief structure (and the society as a whole), something stinks mightily.

carruth00 said...

"And why, if he observed that almost everyone left behind is dirt poor and black, why wouldn't he conclude that, if not overt, there's at least systemic racism behind the result?"

(1)If seventy percent are black, (which is accurate) then at least seven of every ten people found in the murky water would be black by the law of averages. I saw whites in the civic center and the superdome. I'm not sure that the percentage of blacks is not statistically correct.

(2) The Gov asked for assistance the day after Katrina. Two days before, the President all but begged both the governor and the mayor to evacuate everyone, and asked the governor for permission to assume control of the national guard.

She refused.

Two days later she was begging for help, knowing full well that the federal government needs 48 hours to implement a transfer of power from local to federal control.

FEMA does not evacuate. FEMA is a federal Management corp that comes in and assumes control of local rescue and relief efforts after the locals have established a working base. The governor did something though, that FEMA was totally unprepared, in theory and in practice, to deal with..

She did nothing..

There was Nothing for FEMA to assume control of. FEMA had to wait on Federal troops to arrive so they would have someone to work with..

That said, Brown had NO business what-so-ever being the head of FIMA. After he arrived, he didn't have a clue. Yet Shumer, Kennedy, and Clinton all had to sign off on Browns appointment for him to get the position. Senate confirmation is a stop-gate to prevent incompetent politicans, like Brown, from attaining positions of responsibility.

I blame everyone in Washington, particularly Bush for nominating the buffoon in the first place, for FEMA's necessity to have to change leadership in mid stream of a disaster. Totally unprofessional !!

Now, back to the race issue. The mayor, with a couple of thousand school and municipal buses at his disposal, and the governor, with the National Guard at her disposal, did not attempt to get the citizens out of New Orleans.

The only excuse I heard was from Jesse Jackson, "We didn't have any place to take 'em.."

Hey Jesse, any place but New Orleans. A field in Baton Rouge would have at least given the red cross access to the hungry.

Since the mayor is black, how does this become a racial issue? I would be more inclined to accuse both the mayor and governor of elitism, if anything. But I'm more inclined to accuse the whole bunch, FEMA included, of gross incompetence.

Heck, the governor was caught on tape a couple of days ago, after giving an interview and thinking the mic was off, admitting that " maybe I waited too long to send the guard in.. I screwed up". Did the major media run this? No. They were preoccupied with Bush's bathroom note!

I'm sure the reporter wrote about what he saw. But this is the same guy who is complaining about 'too many' police, and 'too many weapons'. Huh?

I didn't hear him complaining about the 'gangs' from Nashville, Memphis, Dallas, and Atlanta that converged on the area solely for the purpose of robbing the dead and dying. When you have thugs shooting at rescue workers, you can't have 'too many' police.

Bottom line.. I honestly believe this reporter has an agenda. As if there aren't enough stories to report on in New Orleans, lets play the race card and complain about the authorities who went to live in this mess for days at a time. If you've ever dealt with the dying, and smelled the stinch of death, you realize it's NOT a photo op..

If you research this reporters past, I guarantee you will find one or more arrest on charges he was "totally innocent" of... I don't need to be Banachek or Derren to see this one.

And as for "systemic racism behind the results", you may as well say that there was systemic racism behind the charges brought against O J Simpson. Did an entire dept. conspire to fabricate charges against OJ? NO. Was there widespread sloppiness in the handling of evidence? Absolutely.

Was there widespread inefficiency in New Orleans among all the various agencies, both local and federal.. Again - Absolutely!

New Orleans is a perfect example of what happens when you have a total failure, both physically and politically, of all means of communication..

Anonymous said...

I lived in NO for six years and through six hurricane seasons. People will board up windows but are very slow to leave. They are worried about leaving their house or business unprotected. New Orleans has a high crime rate even when you are there to look over your things. My car was broken into and my apt twice broken into - and I lived right next to the St. Charles streetcar line! Also a history of false alarms. Makes it easy to stay, really. You never think this one is the Big One, and the city would have been OK through Katrina if the levee hadn't burst.

And the bit about Katrina being a Cat 3 and then being raised to 4 or 5 at the last minute is also accurate. I would not have vacated for a Cat 3.

- Former New Orleans resident

divine e said...

it is surreal... all over our state
its draining the life out of everyone

Anonymous said...

And just now the mayor has ordered NO be evacuated because Rita might hit and NO is not prepared.

Guess what.

There are already people that have returned to NO and now say they will not leave!

I'm telling ya - this whole who left and who didn't thing is not so clear cut as the reporter would like us to believe.

PeaceLove said...

Thanks anonymous, and especially also to Rick Carruth (editor of the excellent Magic Roadshow ezine) for the thoughtful words. I reiterate my point that when I use a term like "racism" I'm not directing it at anyone in particular. Hardly anyone believes that a similar disaster would have unfolded the same way in a predominently white and affluent city. What America (and the rest of the world) has seen these last few weeks is a lot of very poor people, almost entirely black, suffering and dying. That this has been allowed to happen, that the response was so slow and ineffective, has shocked everyone.

The previous commentor makes a good case, but I would like to pose this question: If people are "very slow to leave," why did almost everyone white and affluent leave? (I don't think there's much debate on that point. Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

At any rate, much as I think it's easy for blacks to cry "racism" even when other circumstances are to blame, it's even easier for whites to dismiss the charge without understanding that, racism or not, blacks and other minorities seem to pretty consistently get the shitty end of the stick.

Rick Carruth said...

I'm sorry for the long post PeaceLove. Just got wound up, I suppose. I can't argue with your point - racism does exist throughout our society. I simply do not believe that our government ( local or federal )purposefully allowed people to die because of their social status or skin color.

As the former Deputy Sheriff and sometimes Director of Communications for a county of a quarter-million very diverse folks, I understand the mind set
involved in large scale rescue operations.

You go in after everyone.. You're not satisfied until every single individual is brought out, alive or otherwise.

I saw some major mistakes committed in NO. Mayor Nagin is STILL, even as of today, displaying gross incompetence. Couldn't get 'em out, now, can't wait to get 'em back in - with another hurricane on the horizon.... Unreal!

The Red Cross has deposited roughly seventy million dollars into the Louisiana government, both local and state wide, that will probably never be properly accounted for.. All the officials have to do is say " we gave it to the needy ".. What a joke!

No wonder the governor and mayor don't want to be outside the loop.
They want the Federal government to come to the rescue, but they want to retain every iota of power. 'Can't let those dollars get out of our sight..'

And I haven't forgotten the feds..

Let this be a lesson to everyone, everywhere. NEVER depend on the federal government to rescue your ass if you're neck deep in excrement.

One more.. "If people are 'very slow to leave,' why did almost everyone white and affluent leave?"

I hate to say this, but much of it is solely a matter of education. Unfortunately, there were many folks in NO who were not on top of what was going on. They have made some poor choices throughout their lives, and this is just another example of the divide between the poor, uneducated, and unaware - and the government.

I consider this a social issue more so than a racial issue, because 'ignorance' knows no color. It's not a black thing, white thing, rich or poor thing.

It's an education thing..

Racism in New Orleans... maybe. Utter and despicable greed on the part of officials, and ignorance on the part of many of the poor, both white and black, Absolutely!