Hurricane Katrina exposed the underbelly of life in America. The response to the horrendous devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina delineated for all the world to see the real America that so many of this nation’s people experience on a daily basis. Those individuals who did not have the economic resources to leave the city on their own power (a majority of them being black) were so horribly neglected and shamefully treated by those in power that it was a stark reminder of the extent of corruption in government and the brutality of those who see themselves as worthy of special treatment. The events that surrounded this disaster make it terribly clear that racism and extreme prejudice is never far from the surface in American life.
Two profoundly important examples make this assertion abundantly clear. First, not only was the conditions within the Superdome deplorable beyond measure, but the National Guard, fully armed, was used to prevent the evacuees from leaving; they in fact became inmates in a prison like no other. Their crime was the fact that they were poor and mostly black. To quote an eyewitness, “The Superdome is patrolled by more than 500 Louisiana National Guard, many of whom carry machine guns as sweaty, smelly people press against metal barricades that keep them from leaving, shouting as the soldiers pass by: "Hey! We need more water! We need help!"
Secondly, according to a United Press story entitled, Cops trapped survivors in New Orleans (Sept. 9, 2005), an important escape route from the devastation across a major bridge over the Mississippi to the town of Gretna was blocked by police officers. These officers, obviously acting on orders, physically prevented people from crossing that bridge using gunshots to dissuade them. According to this report, "Louisiana police chief has admitted that he ordered his officers to block a bridge over the Mississippi river and force escaping evacuees back into the chaos and danger of New Orleans. Witnesses said the officers fired their guns above the heads of the terrified people to drive them back and "protect" their own suburbs.”
Chief Lawson told UPI news agency: "There was no food, water or shelter in Gretna City. We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people. If we had opened the bridge our city would have looked like New Orleans does now - looted, burned and pillaged." Gretna is a predominantly white suburban town of around 18,000 inhabitants, and it seems that in the aftermath of Katrina, three quarters of the inhabitants still had electricity and running water.
These appalling and shameful events show America without its veneer of progress, without the flag waving, without ebullient speeches regarding the benefits of freedom and democracy, without the hollow words spoken by the demagogues that claim to be our leaders. We live in very upsetting and troubling times in which the powerful rule and the real issues that plague our nation continue to be ignored.
The president, if I can in all honesty call him that, is supposed to speak to the nation regarding “his vision” of what is to happen in regards to the reconstruction of New Orleans and the surrounding devastated regions. I suspect that, like what we have witnessed in Iraq, this supposed reconstruction will favor the affluent and represent yet another transfer of public monies to the private sector. We shall see.