Jim Macdonald started it. He said, in AIM:
Yahoo News photos:I was about to post my own piece. While the three of us were sorting all this out, a further story turned up:
Photo number one: “Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store”.
Photo number two: “A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store”.
Two guesses as to the relative melanin levels of “two residents” and “a young man”.
Remember, white people “find” things; black people “loot”.
“Looting” in New Orleans:While I was intercollating posts at near-lightspeed, Making Light regular Adamsj was posting a comment about that same police looting story, in the comment thread following Then again—, under the heading, “It must be legal,” she said. “The police are here taking stuff, too.”
I keep hearing on the news about looting in New Orleans. But what I’m seeing—everybody has digital cameras these days, especially reporters—are pictures of people slogging through filthy water with stashes of food, diapers, bottled beverages, etc.
The picture I’ve seen most often is a kid in his teens, up to his chest in black muddy water, trying to carry away a not-very-substantial load of black-bagged groceries plus (I believe) some cans of soda.
First, I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said that if a man’s family is going hungry, it’s no sin for him to steal a loaf of bread.
Second, anything salvageable the kid finds in a grocery store is something that won’t have to be cleaned up later. Besides, where’s the store where he can make legitimate purchases?
Third, yes, I absolutely agree that looting has to be suppressed. Some people will loot any time they think they can get away with it. Others will loot if they see those first people getting away with it. It’s a behavior that’s guaranteed to snowball (which is why I still say we were at fault for allowing the large-scale looting of Iraq to get started and perpetuate itself, right after the first wave of the invasion). Civil order is important.
Fourth, I have yet to hear one mention, one murmur of a hurricane evacuation plan, that didn’t consist of “everybody gets in their cars and drives somewhere else.” This, in a city which was guaranteed to sooner or later need evacuating, and which had something on the order of 100,000 citizens who didn’t drive cars.
New Orleans kept its light rail system during that period when other cities were going over to an all-highway system. It has streetcars. It’s a walkable city. That’s a mercy to the poor: you can live a poor but decent life, get to your job, do your shopping, without having to support a car. Until, of course, the day comes when any prudent person would get out of town.
I heard the city officials, before the storm hit, explaining that the Superdome would be a shelter for people with medical problems, people with special needs, who weren’t prepared to evacuate the city. Malarkey. It was, as they knew all along, the first last and only refuge for tens of thousands of New Orleans citizens who had no way to leave the city.
Not all of them are in the Superdome, or the other refugee centers; but no matter where they are, the majority of New Orleans’ beleaguered and flooded-out residents who’ve remained are the city’s poor.
That’s not looting. That’s plain old survival.
No Borg jokes, now. We’re just all being simultaneously perceptive.Addendum: Here’s a photo with another great caption from the Associated Press:
The store is dark and deserted. The “shopper” and his buddy have entered and left it via a huge hole smashed in the store’s front window. What’s happening in this photo is more obviously looting than any of the photos I’ve seen of New Orleans citizens toting their plastic bags of food through the flood waters. Yet AP is calling this activity “shopping”—perhaps, because the young man with the plastic bag is patently white.
As one person looks through their shopping bag, left, another jumps through a broken window, while leaving a convenience store on the I-10 service road south, in Metairie, La., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing quotes Ned Sublette:
The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number—10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn’t leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn’t be able to get out. The resources—meaning, the political will—weren’t there to get them out.Further along in her post, she quotes Ned Sublette quoting from an email attributed to a relief worker in New Orleans, describing conditions there. You might want to have a look at it.