Saturday, September 10, 2005

No Superdome in my back yard

This American Life, today, has stories from people who were left in New Orleans. This will be available on the web next week, they say.

One group was trying to walk to safety, over a bridge out of the city, and they were met by armed police from the town of Gretna who threatened to shoot them if they tried crossing the bridge. "You're not going to turn the West Bank into another Superdome." This was described as a racist/classist motivation. The policeman was keeping out the undesirables. After the group found a sheltered spot on a bridge on the highway and cleaned up the area to give themselves and their children a place of safety, another policeman from Gretna showed up, looking totally crazy, and started shouting at them to get off the bridge - and when they picked up what they could carry, a helicopter from Gretna came down to their spot to blow away all the rest of their possessions - cleaning off the bridge. Listen to that show - from 9/10/05 - "After the Flood".

We had a small town in the vicinity of Seattle that was preparing to accept evacuees from New Orleans - but a town politician was quoted on local radio saying that only well employed people were allowed to use that emergency shelter. No one who was on chronic welfare and who might be dangerous would be allowed into the shelter. This policy was necessary to keep the local community safe, she said. I was deeply ashamed of Washington State, when I heard that.

I'm reminded of talk I used to hear in Utah in the 1970s - of survivalists who were setting up their own enclaves for when the cities fall apart and the ravening hoards boil out of the city and might threaten the hard-built safe enclaves. These survivalists had guns - not small guns - assault weapons.

What is this other than the suburban::city split, taken to extremes? When the situation gets bad and people get desperate, weapons come out and people are threatened with death.

Is it too late to address the underlying problem? Can we find no way to convert American culture into one that loves one's neighbor - even the least of these? That's a Christian maxim, but I don't hear the Christians who are such vociferous Republicans adopting this attitude and modeling it for others. I see them modeling the suburban circling of wagons against the great unwashed in the city ghettos.

If they're not going to lead this effort to restore American culture to civility, who is going to?

When you see people in need - people who are desperate - people who have no supplies and who see a store with supplies on its shelves - people who break into that store to take what they need (diapers, baby food, water, ...) - do you take that as a sign of how desperate people are and therefore as a sign of how the governmental relief effort failed - or do you assemble troops to send into the area to shoot looters?


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