Monday, December 22, 2008

Hidden History from New Orleans

As one of the many people who viewed the ravages of Hurricane Katrina through the prism of television, I am haunted by images of fellow Americans fleeing through floodwaters in the absence of any semblance of a humane rescue plan. Those scenes were an irrefutable indictment of cruel inequalities and injustices that permeate our politics and economic system. But now, from The Nation magazine and Rebecca Solnit in TomDispatch, come even more disturbing reports about New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm: stories of white gunmen intentionally shooting down black men

The big, rumor-driven stories of the Katrina disaster were all about looting and mayhem in the Superdome. Both turn out to have been exaggerated, especially the stories about the Superdome. But the reports of white gunmen, who have surfaced a bit up to now, deserve more attention.

In The Nation, A. C. Thompson's article of 17 December 2008, "Katrina's Hidden Race War," carefully tracks down eleven shootings. Focusing on Algiers Point, a white enclave in the larger black neighborhood of Algiers, he comes up with eleven shootings, some of which may have been fatal. Bad coroners' records, and the chaos of the city at the time of the killings, explain the ambiguity in the figures. So does the absence of prosecutions.

Equally useful for understanding this is Rebecca Solnit's "The Grinning Skull" in the latest TomDipsatch. Solnit reports one estimate of as many as 18 killings, but allows that may be a little high. Even if that is the case, she is clear on the true dimensions of these unrecognized crimes of New Orleans.

While the national and international media were working themselves and much of the public into a frenzy about imaginary hordes of murderers, rapists, snipers, marauders, and general rampagers among the stranded crowds of mostly poor, mostly black people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a group of white men went on a shooting spree across the river.

Their criminal acts were no secret but they never became part of the official story.

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