September 07, 2005,
“It is reported that black hurricane victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive.”
This blood-curdling news came from self-described social-justice advocate Randall Robinson, former chief of TransAfrica, an architect of the anti-apartheid sanctions movement, and author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, an impassioned plea for slavery reparations. Robinson continued:
Four days after the storm, thousands of blacks in New Orleans are dying like dogs. No-one has come to help them.
Desperate blacks reduced to cannibalism, thanks to America’s negligence no doubt with President Bush leading this deadly pageant of bias. What a horror. What an outrage. What a lie.
Here is what Randall Robinson posted after his original comments:
RETRACTION: The claim in the first sentence in my post was incorrect. I had been told this was happening, but these claims have turned out to be unsubstantiated. I therefore retract them but stand behind everything else I wrote without reservation. [Emphasis in the original.]
Even with his main premise in ashes, Robinson adheres to the white-racism narrative that he erected upon it. Typical.
While Robinson may be the most irresponsible person to scream “Racism!” after the flat-footed government reaction to Hurricane Katrina, he is not alone.
“To the President of the United States, I simply say that God cannot be pleased with our response,” U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) said at a September 2 Congressional Black Caucus news conference. “We cannot allow it to be said that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color.”
As comedian Mike Meyers nervously stood beside him, Grammy-winning rapper Kanye West took advantage of NBC’s “A Concert for Hurricane Relief,” also September 2. He rambled way off-script during the live broadcast:
I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food. And you know that it’s been five days, because most of the people are black…
Like New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and FEMA director Michael Brown, President Bush must explain why, for three to four days, no one could manage at least to air drop bottled water and granola bars on thousands of Katrina survivors who baked under temperatures exceeding 90 degrees at the Crescent City’s Superdome, its convention center, and freeway overpasses in the central business district.
While he must answer for that and other badly dropped balls, Bush need not apologize for being fueled by bigotry during last week’s “unacceptable” federal response, as he described it.
This charge crumbles on first inspection.
George W. Bush is a politician with a very ambitious agenda. Does Randall Robinson really believe that Bush thinks it would be easier to persuade Congress to reform Social Security if he merely arranged to deny poor, beleaguered blacks food and water for over half a week?
Does Elijah Cummings truly believe that Bush thinks it would encourage the Senate to confirm his judicial appointees if he ordered FEMA to conduct slow-motion rescues of elderly black ladies from their attics?
Does Kanye West actually believe that Bush eagerly anticipated televised images of parched, screaming black babies as a public-diplomacy tool to boost European and Middle Eastern support for U.S. policy in Iraq and the Arab world?
These men probably think Bush is not so bright, but do they honestly believe he is that stupid? Or do they sincerely believe that Bush who has appointed not one but two black secretaries of state is so consumed by racism that he would jeopardize his domestic and foreign agendas for the brief pleasure of watching black Americans broil, as if in a skillet?
Given the stunning cloudburst of philanthropy now raining on Katrina’s survivors (a reported $504 million in donations as of Tuesday, private-sector job offers for many evacuees, free housing granted to others, etc.), do these racial demagogues, in fact, believe that Bush expected most Americans to share his alleged glee at black suffering? And if not, why would Bush isolate himself politically and personally in such a counterproductive, not to mention hideous, manner?
In fact, Robinson, Cummings, and West might be surprised to learn that Bush acted on Katrina long before it struck the Gulf Coast. As the Associated Press reported Saturday evening, August 27: “President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on Saturday because of the approach of Hurricane Katrina, and his spokesman urged residents along the coast to heed authorities’ advice to evacuate.”
“We urge residents in the areas that could be impacted to follow the recommendations of local authorities,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that day.
According to an August 28 AP dispatch, Bush also lit a fire under Governor Blanco while Katrina twirled furiously across the Gulf of Mexico.
“Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor [Nagin] at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.”
Here’s the story in Blanco’s own words:
Just before we walked into this room, President Bush called and told me to share with all of you that he is very concerned about the citizens. He is concerned about the impact that this hurricane would have on our people. And he asked me to please ensure that there would be a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.
For his part, President Bush dispatched four Navy ships to the Gulf Coast, asked Congress to return from vacation and approve an initial $10.5 billion in federal assistance to the region (which he signed Friday), and recruited his father and President Bill Clinton to raise private and corporate money to aid Katrina’s survivors.
Clearly, Bush could have done much more. Often soft spoken and non-demonstrative, at least in public, he does not seem like the kind of guy who knocks heads together. It’s hard to imagine him phoning FEMA Chief Michael Brown and saying: “Unless plastic bottles of Poland Spring water fall from helicopters onto those folks at the Superdome within the hour, your cojones will be in my desk drawer the moment you return to D.C. Any questions?” (I could see Rudy Giuliani saying that.)
Of course, even if Bush attempted this exact scenario, he immediately could have run into problems.
As has been reported, federal, state, and local officials in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast labored largely without electricity. Cell phones worked barely, if at all. As I repeatedly did while seeking friends last week, anyone who dialed into New Orleans’s 504 area code heard rapid busy signals, and little else.
Meanwhile, armed psychopaths who shot at rescue helicopters might have sabotaged bottled-water drops, just as their gunfire suspended Friday’s evacuation of the Superdome.
Still, this tragedy of errors has been compounded by, at a minimum, FEMA’s hapless Michael Brown who was surprised to learn last Thursday that hurricane survivors were huddled in squalor at the Convention Center, even though cable-news channels discussed that development on Wednesday. FEMA also reportedly said Thanks, but no thanks to offers of bottled-water deliveries and even a virtual brigade of first responders, boats, vehicles, and more from Chicago. FEMA only welcomed a single tank truck from the Windy City.
At the state level, according to a CNN timeline of the Katrina Crisis, Governor Blanco called for 40,000 National Guard troops, but not until Thursday, September 1, three days after Katrina struck.
Moreover, the AP reported Monday that “Blanco has refused to sign over control of the National Guard to the federal government and has turned to a Clinton administration official, former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt, to help run relief efforts.”
President Bush is getting slammed for not deploying forces he doesn’t control in the first place. James Lee Witt, meanwhile, adds a retired public servant to a process already brimming with agencies and officials that do not exactly harmonize like a barbershop quartet.
As for Mayor Nagin, he failed to move to higher ground and deploy at least 255 school buses (pictured below). Rather than easily evacuate 12,750 New Orleanians per journey last week, these buses sat in formation on a soaked parking lot where an AP photographer found them last Thursday.
Satellite photos of what is now nicknamed the "Ray Nagin Memorial Motor Pool" are posted at JunkYardBlog. They show these buses leaking oil and gas into flood waters, rendering them even more toxic. Another 146 local mass-transit buses, that could have whisked 7,300 at-risk citizens to safety, are stalled in another parking lot less than a mile from the Superdome.
Also, Nagin announced Monday that he would dip into the city’s rapidly dwindling coffers to fly exhausted New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers to Las Vegas for five-days of rest and relaxation even as city residents sleep on cots in sports arenas, and local attics still likely contain citizens anxious for rescue.
For all their mismanagement, Bush, Brown, Blanco, and Nagin have had to operate during what likely is the worst natural disaster in American history. Katrina flattened and soaked 90,000 square miles that remain in a state of emergency an area nearly that of the United Kingdom. The problems these officials faced were (and are) mammoth, Herculean, and gargantuan. For all their shortcomings, at least they have not operated from malice.
That cannot be said of the shameful New Orleanians who darkened and complicated an already grim situation. Few begrudge those who stole water and food to stay alive. Those criminals who ripped off TV sets, jewelry, and enough pairs of jeans to complete their Christmas shopping four months early behaved without a thread of ethical justification. However, one at least can see how they personally would benefit from their thievery.
But imagine the unvarnished evil of a sniper who fired at doctors and nurses who tried to evacuate patients from Charity Hospital. Terrified of bullets, medical personnel kept the infirm in sweltering rooms where some expired.
A flotilla of private boats prepared last week to rescue stranded hurricane survivors. The boat owners turned back when they were shot at. Those dying on their rooftops had to wait longer, perhaps fatally, thanks to their own murderous neighbors.
Spoke to my uncle this morning (Thurs) in Riverbend near Carrolton and St. Charles. He and several (elderly) residents are holed up there and the security situation is getting desperate. Heat is extreme, and there are roving gangs of looters with guns. The looters have also commandeered a backhoe and are ramming homes…While Leake Avenue and River Road are dry, they are afraid to leave as they fear they will be shot, carjacked etc.
Michael Shellie of Oregon told the New York Post about looters who broke into his New Orleans hotel: “They threw everything out the windows just for the fun of watching it crash televisions, vending machines, beds. And they robbed the manager at gunpoint, so he fled.”
The Saks Fifth Avenue near the fashionable River Walk was sacked over the weekend. Soon thereafter, it burned in yet another fire that authorities blamed on arsonists.
Rather than applaud as 14 contractors crossed the Danziger Bridge to fix the 17th Street Canal that faltered and submerged their city, a well-armed band of hoodlums instead opened fire on these engineers. NOPD officers, on hand to provide security, shot back at these hooligans. In a magnificent and morally pristine use of force, the NOPD killed two of these goons and wounded two others in a firefight. They also captured two more who fled, one of whom was injured in an exchange of bullets.
If these derelicts hindered the levee-doctors’ work for even a quarter hour, that would have been 15 minutes too many. Katrina’s still-trapped victims can thank these criminals, not George W. Bush, for this latest delay in getting help.
All of this aside, does New Orleans even have a future? Some see it more clearly than others.
The Associated Press reported on Saturday: “A once-vibrant city of 480,000 people, overtaken just days ago by floods, looting, rapes, and arson, is now an empty, sodden tomb.”
NOPD Deputy Chief Warren Riley was even more ominous. “There is absolutely no reason to stay here,” he told reporters Sunday. “There are no jobs. There are no houses to go to, no hotels to go to. There is absolutely nothing here. We advise people that this city has been destroyed.”
Joyous patrons at Johnny White’s Sports Bar apparently missed Deputy Chief Riley’s advisory. The French Quarter watering hole stayed open for business through Katrina’s 140 MPH winds. Its bartenders poured drinks even as the levees broke and the streetlights dozed through the night. At this writing, they still serve adult beverages around the clock.
On Monday as engineers plugged that deadly hole in the 17th Street Canal and began dehydrating the Crescent City a few revelers who remained in the French Quarter tapped into the magic that makes this enchanting town so precious. These merrymakers threw beads and danced through dry streets in an impromptu parade.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.