September 09, 2005

Gretna city limits

The San Francisco EMS techs' and others accounts of the only dry route out of the French Quarter of New Orleans being blocked by cops after Hurricane Katrina has been pretty much confirmed.

At first glance, the whole thing seems kind of appalling. Gretna is over 50% white, and Jefferson Parish, of which Gretna is a part is even whiter than that. As the storm neared, buses transported the poorer folk of the parish (no guesses what colour most of them would have been) to the Superdome. San Francisco Chronicle:

"About 70 percent of the population [of Jefferson Parish] is white, and nearly 23 percent is black, according to the 2000 census...

"Jefferson Parish's divide between races and classes was evident in those who returned to check on their homes -- whites -- and those who were noticeably absent -- blacks.

"Much of Jefferson Parish's black community had been evacuated to the Houston Astrodome on buses and had no means of returning.

"'They bused people out of the city, and now they don't have a way to get back,' said [Journell] Henry, who is black."

How nice for those poor people. Then immediately after the hurricane, police put up a roadblock on the only bridge out of downtown New Orleans.

Then, anyone who managed to sneak past the roadblock and make it into Gretna anyway (4,000) or so were bused BACK AROUND New Orleans into Metairie, to the west. UPI:

"He says that his officers did assist about 4000 people who "arrived at the doorstep of (Gretna City)" either by crossing the bridge before it was closed or approaching from another route.

"'We commandeered public transit buses and we took them to higher and safer ground" at the junction of Interstate-10 and Causeway Boulevard where "there was food and shelter," he said."

Kinda reminds you of Day of the Triffids, doesn't it?

However, in the cops' defence, evacuating people further east when the main relief effort is coming from the west wouldn't really have made much sense. Any callousness they displayed would have been completely beside the point if there had been anything like a feasible evacuation plan, or if the New Orleans city authorities had acted to set up a third collection point once the Convention Centre overflowed, perhaps in one of those nice hotels they'd just ordered emptied out... or, in the final extremis, if the New Orleans cops were able to offer the tourists or others who had as a consequence of these failures, to essentially live on the street, anything like constructive assistance or good advice.

Let's be clear, though: ... it was NEW ORLEANS civil authorities who ordered the hotels emptied, apparently. It was NEW ORLEANS authorities who failed to establish a third collection point after their first two were overflowing (say, in one of those evacuated luxury hotels), leaving people no choice but to sleep in the street. It was NEW ORLEANS authorities who apparently misled the resulting refugees about the Gretna bridge being open. And it would have been NEW ORLEANS POLICE who dispersed first one encampment near their casino headquarters, and another on the freeway near the bridge, in the second case possibly at gunpoint with a helicopter. The "sheriff" who dispersed the camp after dusk and repossessed refugees' food and water would not have been a Gretna cop... the location of the camp described is well within New Orleans city lines.

Some Gretna police may have said some stupid things to people trying to slip past their roadblock that might suggest a racial motivation, but their actions overall were at least logical, if not entirely humane. But I don't know what the hell the New Orleans police thought they were doing by this point.

Posted by BruceR at 05:43 PM