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September 04, 2005

Pointing the finger

I've exercised restraint so far in criticizing any government officials in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I felt it would be unseemly in the extreme to point the finger of blame while people were still desperately fighting for their lives, while people were still dying in misery thanks to this largely man-made disaster. I say "largely man-made" because while New Orleans was doomed, New Orleanians were not and the horrific body count can be mostly attributed to men and women who were entrusted with public service and who failed utterly to protect the public.

I note that many Democrats have not been so respectful of the dead and the dying; notables from New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu to Kanye West (at a benefit, for crying out loud!) have taken every opportunity to criticize the government, especially the President, not even waiting for the carnage to die down. Some have gone so far as to accuse the President, the President who has appointed more men and women of color to high government office than any President in history, of racism. It's truly repulsive, and the offensiveness of their remarks has nothing to do with the merits of their case. It's wrong, so very very wrong to engage in naked partisanship at a time like this. For shame.

But now, the dying is pretty much over, the former residents of the former New Orleans are scattered to the winds, and while they'll surely be uncomfortable for a long while and our national economy will surely suffer, the City of New Orleans is now largely vacant except for the multitude of corpses floating in the toxic soup that fills the streets, and the rats who are gorging themselves and multiplying like, well, rats. Now is the time to start asking who was the cause of this unprecedented calamity.

Bryan Preston may be lovely and talented but certainly neither as much as the woman on whose blog he posts, Michelle Malkin. His own Junk Yard Blog is currently suffering from bandwidth overconsumption. Preston does an excellent job of slamming the New Orleans government, which was apparently rotten to the core. Now circulating are images of what bloggers are calling Ray Nagin Memorial Motor Pool, where at least 255 buses, capable of carrying tens of thousands of New Orleanians to safety, now sit uselessly in a lot, flooded to their grilles. Way to go, Ray.

Preston also does an excellent job of slamming the New Orleans police department, which deserted en masse and even contributed to the deadly breakdown of civil order. But there's one person he does not give enough attention to.

Look at the whining (Toronto Star) from the rescued. Look at how eagerly they blame President Bush, without even thinking that their own black Democratic leaders might have failed them. Look especially at this (AP via Halifax Herald):

New Orleans police Supt. Eddie Compass got a hero's welcome as he rode down the street on the running board of a box truck and announced through a bullhorn to thunderous applause: "We got 30,000 people out of the Superdome and we're going to take care of you. We've got food and water on the way. We've got medical attention on the way. We're going to get you out of here safely. We're going to get all of you," he said.

Now, I have long believed that status as a victim does not shield one from criticism, and with that in mind I say to the New Orleanians who gave Eddie Compass a "hero's welcome": Hey, dumbasses! That man you're cheering just killed a whole bunch of you, do you realize that?

A whole lot of people unnecessarily died because of Ray Nagin's failure to competently evacuate the city, but many died unnecessarily after the storm had passed, and you can lay the blame for several of those deaths squarely at the feet of police Supt. Eddie Compass.

For starters, he's the Chief of Police. When it comes to the cops, the buck stops with him. And Eddie's cops demonstrated their fierce loyalty and trustworthiness by cravenly abandoning their posts when they were most needed, in some cases becoming armed looters themselves. These are men paid to serve as police officers under Eddie Compass.

But Compass's failure is greater than that of his subordinates. As the city's top police officer, the maintenance of public order is his responsibility. When there's civil unrest, it's his job to quell it. He didn't do it.

For example, consider the grave situation at the New Orleans Convention Center (AP via Yahoo! News). Civic order was breaking down, the crowd was growing ugly. Crimes were being committed; people were being... well, let's let Chief Compass explain it:

About 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at New Orleans convention center grew increasingly hostile after waiting for buses for days amid the filth and the dead. Police Chief Eddie Compass said he sent in 88 officers to quell the situation at the building, but they were quickly driven back by an angry mob.

"We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten," Compass said. "Tourists are walking in that direction and they are getting preyed upon."

News flash, Chief: when you're in charge of a situation like that, every rape, every beating is on your shoulders. Don't tell me that your 88-man company of officers got "driven back by an angry mob". They're well-trained and well-disciplined police officers (well, in theory, anyway). They can control a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 unruly civilians. Or if they can't, shame on you. This was a desperate situation, and failure to maintain order was sure to lead to more assaults, rapes, and deaths. Keeping order must of necessity have been the highest priority. Here's a suggestion: why didn't you find somebody, anybody, who was guilty of rape, assault, or looting, and put a bullet in his head? I bet that would make the more violent among the crowd choose to sit quietly and wait for rescue.

Why didn't you do it? To throw this schmuck's words back in his or her face:

"This is race. Do you think if this was happening in Idaho that they would let people starve?"

Uh, if this was happening in Idaho, do you think the police would let violent individuals in a desperate situation commit rape and assault without taking serious action? I don't. After the San Francisco earthquake, the rule was "looters will be shot", as it has been in time of disaster since the invention of the firearm. Why wasn't that the rule here? Could it be because the looters, thugs, and rapists were largely black?

This victim, on the other hand, had exactly the right idea, although he may have been wrong on the specifics:

"I don't know, I guess we voted the wrong people into office."

Getting back to Compass's "hero's welcome":

As he came down the road, elderly people gave thanks and some nearly fainted with joy. Compass also warned that if anyone did anything disruptive, the troops would have to stop distributing the food and water and get out.

If anyone did anything disruptive, the troops distributing desperately needed food and water would stop and get out?? I can't believe I'm reading this. That's like the natural disaster version of "if you kids don't stop fighting right now, I'll turn this car around and go home." So if one of the many thugs and criminals that Chief Compass knew were in that crowd had done something untoward, thousands of innocents would get to suffer. Nice. Real nice.

In case you were wondering, the correct answer is, "If anyone does anything disruptive, the troops will have to stop distributing food and water for as long as it takes to summarily execute the disruptor without warning."

The way I see it, there were four things that went wrong in the destruction of New Orleans:

  1. Many people were unable to evacuate the city due to lack of resources.
  2. The levees failed to withstand the hurricane.
  3. Relief took several days and rescue took most of a week.
  4. Civic order broke down among those who were trapped in the city, resulting in violence and even death.

Who gets the blame? Number 2 is arguably the federal government, although some bloggers have persuasively made the case that levee construction was largely in the hands of corrupt New Orleans politicians. In any case, the failure of the levee hardly seems to matter... given New Orleans's geographical position, it was only a matter of time before a hurricane came along strong enough to batter down any levee that was raised against it.

Is there anybody to blame for Number 3? I don't think so, I think that despite the complaints of the same New Orleans politicians who had to know they were responsible for a clusterf**k of Biblical proportions, relief and rescue workers got there as fast as was humanly possible. It's not easy to get supplies to people who are trapped in a flooded city... especially not when many of the denizens of that fine city take it upon themselves to shoot at their unarmed benefactors. Nice going, guys.

But the two biggest causes of mayhem and death were numbers 1 and 4, and you can lay those squarely at the feet of Mayor Ray Nagin and Chief Eddie Compass respectively. They are yelling and screaming and (in Nagin's case) crying in an effort to divert their own richly-deserved blame onto others. And so far, they're largely succeeding.

UPDATE: And now, at a time when every dollar will be needed for reconstruction, Mayor Nagin is offering free trips to Las Vegas to the failed police force, I guess so they can fence their loot and try to double up in the casinos.

September 4, 2005 in Hurricane Katrina | Permalink

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Hey, here's an idea: How about pointing the finger at the people who cut the funding for hurricane defense long before Katrina existed?

http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,372455,00.html

Posted by: Stabbey_TC | Sep 5, 2005 6:39:09 AM

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