a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Incident at the Superdome

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 10th, 2005

Adam Brookes is a BBC reporter who also happens to be both a neighbor and a friend of mine. He was in New Orleans from just after Katrina hit until Labor Day last week.

Naturally, he had a lot of impressions of post-Katrina New Orleans, combination of being aghast at what he saw and extremely weary from covering the story almost nonstop once he got there; he described the Convention Center and Superdome in particular as ‘the seventh circle of hell’ and ‘Dantean inferno.’

One image he related sticks with me: there was some kind of high-strength chickenwire fence separating people from pallets of food in a Superdome storage area (I believe, it may have been the Convention Center). So people there could see the desperately needed supplies were there, but they couldn’t get to it. And unfortunately, they were never able to. The fence was too strong — and after a few days, the wire was covered with the blood of people’s torn up hands.

Another story is even more disturbing. Adam says he and a cameraman (and maybe another BBC employee) saw a black man on the sidewalk near the Superdome, amidst the chaos of moving some survivors towards evacuation boats. The man was clutching his chest, and while Adam wasn’t sure, of course, it looked like the man was having a heart attack.

The disturbing part is that six state troopers were standing only a couple of yards from the man — doing nothing, just chatting with each other. When he approached them and suggested they do something for the man, they basically just shrugged and walked away. He was able to flag down another policeman a while later to attend to the sick man.

In my view, survivors seem to have immediately become nonentities in the eyes of many of their supposed protectors. And it wasn’t always just “simple” racism. In this case, Adam says he thinks one or two of the troopers were themselves black.

It’s as if the supposed lawlessness of New Orleans was transmitted to these troopers. They felt excused from considering survivors to be citizens they had a duty to serve and protect. Instead, they were apparently either an enemy to be controlled, or not much more than animals whose life and death were of no importance.

There may be footage of this somewhere in the BBC. Someday, maybe the country will see it. We should.

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