Africa in Our Midst
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which blasted the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, the entire world saw images that left no doubt that what is repeatedly called the sole remaining superpower can be reduced to squalor and chaos nearly as gruesome as anything found in the Third World. The weather–a Category 4 hurricane–certainly had something to do with it, but the most serious damage was done not by nature but by man.
Much has been and will be written about why the levees that are supposed to keep the water out of below-sea-level New Orleans failed. There will be bitter recrimination about whether the federal rescue effort could have been launched sooner. Commissions will ask questions and lessons will be learned. But there was another human failing that was far more ominous. No commission will study it, and official America will refuse to learn from it. In the orgy of finger-pointing it will be all but forgotten. That human failing–vastly more significant than the ones the commissions will investigate–is the barbaric behavior of the people of New Orleans.
New Orleans is 67 percent black, and about half the blacks are poor. Of the city’s 480,000 people, all but an estimated 80 to 100 thousand left before the hurricane struck. This meant that aside from patients in hospitals and eccentrics in the French Quarter, most of the people who stayed behind were not just blacks, but lower-class blacks without the means or foresight to leave.
Katrina hit on the morning of Monday, Aug. 29. The levees broke on Tuesday and the city began to flood. Before long, 80 percent of New Orleans was under as much as 20 feet of water.
The city’s 70,000-seat football stadium, known as the Superdome, had been officially designated as a public shelter before the hurricane, and several thousand people were already there the night before the storm. It had some food and medical supplies, but when the waters began to rise, people poured in from all directions, swelling its numbers to an estimated 25,000.
People came because their houses were under water, but also because New Orleans very quickly collapsed into banditry. Looting began even while the storm was still blowing. At first there was sympathetic clucking about the need for food and medicine, but news clips of blacks wading happily through waist-deep water with television sets over their heads dispelled that view.
The day after the hurricane, a reporter caught the atmosphere of high-spirited chaos at a Wal-Mart in the Lower Garden District. People were grabbing things as quickly as they could, smashing open jewelry cabinets and scooping up double-handfuls. One man packed his van so full of electronic equipment he could not close the rear doors. A teenage girl passed out, face down, and people stepped on her. A man stopped to roll her onto her back, and she vomited pink liquid. “This is f***ed up,” he said, and rolled her back on her stomach. An NBC correspondent filmed black, uniformed police officers strolling through the aisles, filling shopping carts.
At one store, a policeman broke the glass on the DVD case so civilians would not cut themselves trying to break it, but one man was ungrateful. “The police got all the best stuff,” he said. “They’re crookeder than us.” One woman stocking up on makeup was glad to see the officers. “It must be legal,” she said. “The police are here taking stuff, too.”
Violence of all kinds quickly spread through the paralyzed city, where robbery, rape and even murder became routine. There were still thousands of people trapped on rooftops and in attics, but on Sept. 1, Mayor Ray Nagin called the entire police force off of rescue work and ordered it to secure the city. The response from the force? An estimated 200 officers just walked off the job. “They indicated that they had lost everything and didn’t feel that it was worth them going back to take fire from looters and losing their lives,” explained Henry Whitehorn, chief of the Louisiana State Police. Many disappeared without a word. Sheriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans also said his men were deserting. “They want to be with their families,” he said. “Well, I want to be with my family too, but you don’t quit in the middle of a crisis.”
Two police officers, including the department’s official spokesman Paul Accardo, committed suicide by shooting themselves in the head. The London Times estimated that one in five officers refused to work, and some of those who stayed on the job were useless. When Debbie Durso, a tourist from Washington, Michigan, asked a policeman for help he told her, “Go to hell–it’s every man for himself.”
Ged Scott, 36, of Liverpool, told BBC News what happened when a group of stranded British women shouted to police for help from the rooftop of a flooded hotel: “They [the officers] said to them, ‘Well, show us what you’ve got’–doing signs for them to lift their T-shirts up. The girls said no, and they said ‘well fine,’ and motored off down the road in their motorboat. That’s the sort of help we had from the authorities.”
“No one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans,” explained Lieutenant General Steven Blum of the National Guard. He said the city was operating on only one third of its pre-storm strength of 1,500 officers, and that the guard suddenly had to switch from rescue to law enforcement: “And that’s when we started flowing military police into the theater.”
New Orleans has had only black mayors since 1978, and has spent decades making the police force as black as possible. It established a city-residency requirement for officers to keep suburban whites from applying for jobs, and lowered recruitment standards so blacks could pass them. Katrina blew away any pretence that the force was competent (see next story).
(On September 5, exactly a week after the hurricane, Mayor Ray Nagin offered to pay for the entire police force, firefighters, and city emergency workers to go on five-day vacations–with their families–to Las Vegas or some other destination. He said there were enough National Guard in the city to maintain order, and that his men “have been through a lot.” He brushed off suggestions that this was dereliction of duty. He even asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay for the vacations, but FEMA refused. “We haven’t turned over control of the city,” a city spokesman explained. “We’re going to leave a skeleton force–about 20 percent of the department–for leadership and liaison with the troops while we get some rest.”)
New Orleans has a high crime rate at the best of times–it is usually in top contention for the American city with the highest murder rate–and looted firearms spilled into the street. Some blacks fired on any symbol of authority, blazing away at rescue helicopters and Coast Guard vessels. Several days after the hurricane, with desperate people still huddled on rooftops, FEMA said it was too dangerous to attempt rescues.
On Wednesday, along one stretch of Highway 10, hundreds of volunteer firefighters, auxiliary coastguardmsmen and citizens with small boats were eager to reach people, but could not set out because of sniper fire. “We are trying to do our job here but we can’t if they are shooting at us,” explained Major Joey Broussard of the Louisiana State Fisheries and Wildlife Division. “We don’t know who and we don’t know why, but we don’t want to get in a situation of having to return fire out there,” he said.
Perhaps the most chilling accounts were from hospitals, where staff desperately tried to move patients up stairs as the water rose, while blacks looted the floors below. Most hospitals had emergency generators, but these began to give out. Two days after the hurricane, the city had no running water, and as food ran out, doctors and nurses gave themselves intravenous feedings to keep going.
Just outside New Orleans, gunmen held up a supply truck carrying food, water, and medical supplies that were on their way to a 203-bed hospital. Patients all across the city eventually had to be taken out, but rescuers met resistance. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan told reporters at an emergency headquarters: “Hospitals are trying to evacuate. At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them, saying, ‘You better come get my family.’” An effort to evacuate patients and staff from Charity Hospital in downtown New Orleans was stopped by sniper fire. Other hospitals reported gangs of looters attacking and overturning ambulances.
Chris Lawrence, a reporter with CNN, filed a report from the roof of a police station: “Right now it’s the only safe place to be in the city. We were on the street earlier but the police said under no circumstances would you be safe on the street. They said anybody walking in the streets of New Orleans is basically taking their life in their hands. . . . They directed some of the young women to get off the street immediately.”
What may have been the most shocking headline of the entire crisis was in the September 2 issue of Army Times: “Troops Begin Combat Operations in New Orleans.” The article was about the Louisiana National Guard massing near the Superdome in preparation for a citywide security mission. “This place is going to look like Little Somalia,” Brig. Gen. Gary Jones explained. “We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.” The amphibious assault ship Bataan was in the area, but kept its helicopters on board after pilots reported sniper fire.
Many soldiers came under gunfire from civilians. “I never thought that as a National Guardsman I would be shot at by other Americans,” said Philip Baccus of the 527th Engineer Battalion. “And I never thought I’d have to carry a rifle when on a hurricane relief mission. This is a disgrace.” Cliff Ferguson of the same battalion added: “You have to think about whether it is worth risking your neck for someone who will turn around and shoot at you. We didn’t come here to fight a war. We came here to help.”
Michael Brown, head of FEMA, said: “We are working under conditions of urban warfare.” General Blum of the National Guard said half of the 7,000 guardsmen under his command had just returned from overseas assignments and were “highly proficient in the use of lethal force.” He promised to deal with thugs “in a quick and efficient manner.”
Shoot-to-kill orders were supposed to have gone out, and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco boasted that battle-hardened veterans would put down the violence in no time. However, there were few accounts of soldiers firing their weapons. The London Times reported that a New Orleans policeman explained through tears that he had seen bodies riddled with bullets, and one man with the top of his head shot off. He said looters were armed with stolen AK-47 rifles, and that the police were outgunned just like in Somalia. “It’s a war-zone, and they’re [the federal government] not treating it like one,” he said.
We will never know the full extent of the mayhem blacks loosed on their own city. Many victims will not be found for weeks or even months, rotted beyond recognition, their killers never found. Drowned or murdered, the bloated, stinking bodies that turn up by the hundreds will look much the same. In their haste to get cadavers off the streets, the authorities may not worry much about cause of death.
From Hurricane to Jungle
In the two main refugee centers, however–the Superdome and the Convention Center–too many people witnessed the degeneracy for it to be ignored. The first refugees had arrived at the Superdome the day before the hurricane, on Sunday, August 28. The last finally left the stadium on Saturday, Sept, 3, so some people may have spent nearly a week in what, after the toilets began to overflow, became known as the “Sewerdome.”
Preparation for refugees was pitifully inadequate. By day, as many as 25,000 people sweltered in temperatures that rose into the 100s. Whatever order had been established soon melted away, and the stadium reverted to the jungle. Young men robbed and raped with impunity. Occasional gunshots panicked the crowd. At least one man committed suicide by throwing himself off a high deck and splattering onto the playing field. Bodies of the murdered, and of infants and the elderly who died of heat exhaustion began to accumulate. Six babies were born in the stadium. Charles Womack, a 30-year-old roofer, said he saw one man beaten to death, and was, himself beaten with a pipe. Crack addicts–who had brought their most valuable possession with them–smoked openly and fought over drugs.
A group of about 30 British students were among the very small number of whites in the stadium, where they spent four harrowing days. Jamie Trout, 22, an economics major, wrote that the scene “was like something out of Lord of the Flies,” with “people shouting racial abuse about us being white.” One night, word came that the power was failing, and that there was only ten minutes’ worth of gas for the generators. Zoe Smith, 21, from Hull, said they all feared for their lives: “All us girls sat in the middle while the boys sat on the outside, with chairs as protection,” she said. “We were absolutely terrified, the situation had descended into chaos, people were very hostile and the living conditions were horrendous.” She said that even during the day, “when we offered to help with the cleaning, the locals gave us abuse.”
Mr. Trout said the National Guard finally recognized how dangerous the threat was from blacks, and moved the British under guard to the basketball area, which was safer. “The army warned us to keep our bags close to us and to grip them tight,” he said, as they were escorted out. Twenty-year-old Jane Wheeldon credited one man in particular, Sgt. Garland Ogden, with getting the Britons safely out. “He went against a lot of rules to get us moved,” she said.
Australian tourists stuck in the Superdome had the same experience. Bud Hopes, a 32-year-old man from Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, took control and may have saved many lives. As the stadium reverted to anarchy, he realized whites were in danger, and gathered tourists together for safety. “There were 65 of us altogether so we were able to look after each other, especially the girls who were being grabbed and threatened,” said Mr. Hopes. They organized escorts for women who had to go to the toilet or for food, and set up a roster of men to stand guard while others slept. “We sat through the night just watching each other, not knowing if we would be alive in the morning,” Mr. Hopes said. “Ninety-eight percent of the people around the world are good,” he said; “in that place 98 per cent of the people were bad.”
John McNeil of Coorparoo in Brisbane tells what happened when their group, too, heard the lights were about to go out: “I looked at Bud [Hopes] and said, ‘That will be the end of us.’ The gangs had already eyed us off. If the lights had gone out we would have been in deep trouble. We were sitting there praying for a miracle and the lights stayed on.” Mr. Hopes said the Australians owed their lives to a National Guardsman who broke the rules and got whites out to a medical center past seething crowds of blacks.
Peter McNeil of Brisbane told the Australian AP that his son John was one of the 65 who managed to get out. The blacks were reportedly so hostile “they would stab you as soon as look at you.” “He’s never been so scared in his life,” explained Mr. McNeil. “He just said they had to get out of the dark. Otherwise, another night, he said, they would have been gone.” No American newspaper wrote about what these white tourists went through.
When guardsmen began to show up in force on Sept. 1 and take control, some blacks met them with cheers, but others shouted obscenities. Capt. John Pollard of the Texas Air National Guard said 20,000 people were in the dome when the evacuation began, but thousands more appeared from surrounding areas when word got out that there were buses leaving town. Soldiers held their M-16s and grenade-launchers at the ready, and kept a sharp eye out for snipers.
That same day, when it was time to board buses for Houston, soldiers had trouble controlling the crowd. People at the back of the mob crushed the people in front against barricades soldiers put up to control the flow. Many people continued to yell obscenities whenever a patrol went by. Some were afraid of losing their place in line and defecated where they stood. The Army Times reported that Sgt. 1st Class Ron Dixon of the Oklahoma National Guard, who had recently come home from Afghanistan, said he was struck by the fact Afghanis wanted to help themselves, but that the people of New Orleans only wanted others to help them.
By the evening of Sept. 3, the Superdome was finally evacuated, but the state-of-the-art stadium was a reeking cavern of filth, human waste, and an unknown number of corpses. It, too, had been looted of everything not bolted down. Janice Singleton was working at the stadium when the storm hit. She said she was robbed of everything, even her shoes. As for the building: “They tore that dome apart,” she said sadly. “They tore it down. They taking everything out of there they can take.”
Only afterwards did the public learn there were 50 police officers assigned to the Superdome, but they appear to have been completely ineffectual. Toni Blanco, a 24-year veteran, said police could not arrest anyone because there was no place to hold suspects, and they were afraid to use their guns for fear of the crowd. “You felt helpless in the sense there was absolutely nothing we could do for the city,” she said. What did she do at night, when conditions were worst? She and another officer, Alecia Wright, would slip out to a patrol car and have a good cry. “Many times we laid in the car and tears just rolled,” said Miss Blanco. Some officers simply abandoned their posts and fled the Superdome.
Conditions were even worse at the Convention Center. Although on high ground not far from the stadium, it had not been designated as a shelter. It was, however, beyond reach of the high water, and soon some 20,000 people were huddled in its cavernous halls. There were no supplies or staff, and for several days neither FEMA nor the National Guard seems to have known anyone was there.
Armed gangs took control, and occasional gunshots caused panic. There was no power, and at night the center was plunged into complete darkness. Degeneracy struck almost immediately, with rapes, robbery, and murder. Terrible shrieking tore through the night, but no one could see, or dared to move. When Police Chief Eddie Compass heard what was happening, he sent a squad of 88 officers to investigate. They were overwhelmed by superior forces and retreated, leaving thousands to the mercy of criminals.
It was not until Sept. 2–four days after the hurricane–that a force of 1,000 National Guardsmen finally took over from the armed gangs. “Had we gone in with a lesser force we may have been challenged, [and] innocents may have been caught in a fight,” explained Gen. Blum.
Sitting with her daughter and other relatives, Trolkyn Joseph, 37, told a reporter that men had wandered the center at night raping and murdering children. She said she found a dead 14-year old girl at 5 a.m. on Friday morning, four hours after the girl went missing. “She was raped for four hours until she was dead,” Miss Joseph said through tears. “Another child, a seven-year old boy, was found raped and murdered in the kitchen freezer last night.”
Africa Brumfield, 32, explained that women were in particular fear: “There is rapes going on here. Women cannot go to the bathroom without men. They are raping them and slitting their throats.” Donald Anderson, 43, was at the convention center with his wife, who was six months pregnant: “We circled the chairs like wagons because at night there are stampedes,” he said. “We had to survive.”
The very few whites in the crowd were terrified. Eighty-year-old Selma Valenti, who was with her husband, said blacks threatened to kill them on Thursday, Sept. 1. “They hated us. Four young black men told us the buses were going to come last night and pick up the elderly so they were going to kill us,” she said, sobbing. Presumably, the blacks wanted to take their places on the buses.
The center was not entirely without a form of rough justice. A National Guardsman reported that a man who had raped and killed a young girl in the bathroom was caught by the crowd–which beat him to death.
At one time there were as many as seven or eight corpses in front of the center, some of them with blood streaming from bullet wounds. Inside, there was an emergency morgue, but a National Guardsman refused to let a Reuters photographer take pictures. “We’re not letting anyone in there anymore,” he said. “If you want to take pictures of dead bodies, go to Iraq.” By Saturday, Sept. 3, the center was mostly cleared of the living. Refugees pulled shirts over their noses trying to block out the smell as they walked past rotting bodies.
Later it would be learned there were 30 to 40 bodies piled into the convention center’s freezer, almost all of them murder victims. Arkansas National Guardsman Mikel Brooks showed a reporter the charnel house: “I ain’t got the stomach for it, even after what I saw in Iraq. In Iraq, it’s one-on-one. It’s war. It’s fair. Here, it’s just crazy. It’s anarchy. . . . And this is America. This is just 300 miles south of where I live.”
For the city as a whole, not even 50,000 soldiers and federal rescue workers could bring calm. On Sunday, Sept. 4, contractors working for the US Army Corps of Engineers came under fire. Their police escort returned fire and killed four attackers.
On Monday, Sept, 5, a week after the hurricane and after virtually everyone who wanted to get out was gone, there was still widespread banditry. “We’re having some pretty intense gun battles breaking out around the city,” said Capt. Jeff Winn of the New Orleans SWAT team. “Armed gangs of from eight to 15 young men are riding around in pickup trucks, looting and raping.”
Brian McKay was one of 300 Arkansas guardsmen just back from Iraq. He was in full battle gear, including body armor, putting down insurgents. “It’s like Baghdad on a bad day,” he said. Another Arkansan veteran under fire agreed: “It’s just so much like Iraq, it’s not funny, except for all the water, and they speak English.”
Since the old jail was flooded, police set up a holding pen at the Greyhound bus terminal. State Attorney General Charles Foti said there were plans for a temporary court system, but no one knew how they were going to assemble juries or call witnesses. The grim business began of combing the drowning city for corpses and the remaining survivors.
The world reacted with astonishment to sights it never expected to see in America. “Anarchy in the USA,” read the headline in Britain’s best-selling newspaper, The Sun. “Apocalypse Now,” said Handelsblatt in Germany. Mario de Carvalho, a veteran Portuguese cameraman, who coveres the world’s trouble spots, said he saw the bodies of babies and old people along the highways leading out of New Orleans. “It’s a chaotic situation. It’s terrible. It’s a situation we generally see in other countries, in the Third World,” he said.
Some Third-Worlders would have been insulted. “I am absolutely disgusted,” said Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, of the looters. The Sri Lanka native added: “After the tsunami our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering. Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S. we can easily see where the civilized part of the world’s population is.”
In the United States, the stark contrast between endless scenes of appalling behavior by blacks and rescue personnel who were almost all white was greeted with the standard foolishness. Some people accused the “biased” media of suppressing footage of rampaging whites and heroic black helicopter pilots.
Many blacks made excuses for looters. “Desperate people do desperate things,” said US Rep. Diane Watson of California. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. from Illinois, said we must not judge harshly: “Who are we to say what law and order should be in this unspeakable environment?” Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was perhaps the greatest ass of all: “Whatever is being taken could not be used by anyone else anyway,” he said.
Many blacks took it for granted that federal relief was slow because the victims were black. Rep. Elijah Cummings said “poverty, age and skin color” determined who lived and who died. Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, blasted “disparate treatment” of Katrina victims. “Many black people feel that their race, their property conditions and their voting patterns have been a factor in the response,” explained Jesse Jackson, Sr. He said the rubbish outside the Convention Center made the place look “like the hull of a slave ship.” Black activist and reparations-booster Randall Robinson said the relief effort was the “defining watershed moment in America’s racial history.” He said he had “finally come to see my country for what it really is. A monstrous fraud.”
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan said she was “ashamed of America and . . . of our government.” The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin–the man who gave city workers a vacation when the feds arrived–shouted and wept on local radio, demanding of federal officials: “Get off your asses, and let’s do something.” There was an undercurrent of fury at a meeting of black leaders in Detroit. One audience member wanted to know whether the slow federal response was “black genocide.” Another shouted, “African Americans built this nation. Descendants of slaves are being allowed to die.”
One black man, observing the chaos from abroad, took a different view. Leighton Levy wrote in the Sept. 2 Jamaica Star: “I am beginning to believe that black people, no matter where in the world they are, are cursed with a genetic predisposition to steal, murder, and create mayhem.” He wanted to know why there was no footage of white looters: “Is it that the media are not showing pictures of them looting and robbing? Or is it that they are too busy trying to stay alive, waiting to be rescued, and hiding from the blacks?”
Most blacks and many whites fell into the usual assumptions about omnipotent white government and helpless Negroes. If black people were suffering it was because whites had not done enough for them. It did not occur to them that it was the responsibility of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana–not the federal government–to prepare for hurricanes. Before the storm, Mayor Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation only under pressure from the Bush administration. The mayor then did nothing to enforce the order, leaving hundreds of city buses and school buses to drown, rather than use them to offer transportation to people without cars.
Something of the mood of black New Orleans was caught by Fox News film crews as late as Sunday, Sept. 4. White volunteers were trying to persuade a black woman and her small children to leave her flooded house. “You’ve got to get out,” they explained. “The water isn’t going away.” A black man at the top of a multi-story building told a helicopter crew he didn’t need to leave. All he needed was some supplies.
These people could not understand something that was obvious to the whole world: New Orleans had no electricity, no plumbing, no transport, and no food. Blacks refused to leave their flooded homes, even though to stay meant near-certain death.
Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff noted how crazy it was to stay in the wreckage. “That is not a reasonable alternative,” he said. “We are not going to be able to have people sitting in houses in the city of New Orleans for weeks and months while we de-water and clean this city.”
FEMA reported that it had pulled three Carnival Cruise Lines ships from commercial duty to shelter the blacks of New Orleans. Maybe the chance of berth on the Ecstasy, the Sensation or the Holiday would be enough to drag them out of the muck.
Ninety-nine percent of the white people left New Orleans when the evacuation order went out. Some 80,000 blacks could not or would not leave. Whites did not “leave them behind,” as the editorial writers keep telling us. No one could have gotten some of them to leave–a number of men cheerfully admitted they stayed in town to loot–but if it was anyone’s job to give them the option, it was that of the black-run city government. Of the blacks who stayed, probably only a minority committed crimes, but they were enough to turn the city into a hell hole. Some did unspeakable things: loot hospitals, fire on rescue teams, destroy ambulances. No amount of excuse-making and finger-pointing can paper over degeneracy like that. Black people–and only black people–did these things.
The Superdome and the Convention Center were certainly unpleasant places to spend three or four days, but 50,000 whites would have behaved completely differently. They would have established rules, organized supplies, cared for the sick and dying. They would have organized games for children. The papers would be full of stories of selflessness and community spirit.
Natural disasters usually bring out the best in people, who help neighbors and strangers alike. For blacks–at least the lower-class blacks of New Orleans–disaster was an excuse to loot, rob, rape and kill.
Our rulers and media executives will try to turn the story of Hurricane Katrina into yet another morality tale of downtrodden blacks and heartless whites, but pandering of this kind fools fewer and fewer people. Many whites will realize–some for the first time–that we have Africa in our midst, that utterly alien Africa of road-side corpses, cruelty, and anarchy that they thought could never wash up on these shores.
To be sure, the story of Hurricane Katrina does have a moral for anyone not deliberately blind. The races are different. Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western Civilization–any kind of civilization–disappears. And in a crisis, it disappears overnight.