Sunday, December 28, 2008

Like Pheasants (who couldn't even fly)

I'll admit it. I'm a Katrina junkie. I spent most of my formative years in New Orleans, and I love the place. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city--large parts of it are still nothing but wasteland over three years later--but it also devastated the thousands of us who know and love the Crescent City, and who, like everyone else had to watch the horror of the storm's aftermath on TV.

One of the true horrors, and one you didn't see on TV was the one that's the subject of this piece in Tomdispatch. A great deal of the media hysteria in the immediate aftermath of the storm focused on the widespread looting happening and the supposed sniping by black gunman after the storm. This, it later turned out, was greatly exaggerated, as in: it didn't happen at all. Mind you, I'm not saying looting did not happen. It did,by both whites and blacks. But snipers? Nope. Urban legend.

What did happen, however, was a bunch of white vigilante killings of black people across the river from downtown New Orleans in Algiers. This was alleged quite soon after the storm, but the full story is just now coming out. It's estimated that at least 11 young black men, all innocent of anything except being black and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, were shot and killed by white gunmen "protecting" their neighborhood. At a backyard barbecue several weeks after the storm, one of these vigilantes boasted about it being "like pheasant season in South Dakota. . . . If it moved, you shot it." You can read a substantial report about this under-reported atrocity here. And the video below allows a glimpse into the minds of the shooters.

This video about what went on in Algiers after Katrina, including interviews with a couple of guys who were shot and survived, moved me greatly:

In similar instances, the New Orleans police gunned down unarmed African-Americans in the aftermath of the storm. And the Gretna police chief and his officers refused at gunpoint to let desperate victims of the storm cross a bridge from ruined and flooded New Orleans to the untouched west side of the river. Check it out right here.

I don't think we'll ever know just how awful it was for those poor people left in the city after the storm. Suffice it to say the whole truth is a lot uglier than we suppose.
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