Why the Violence in
New Orleans?

More on New Orleans Violence

And who is doing most of it?

While the press is filled with Mad Max-like stories of rapacious gangs, NPRs This American Life on Sunday, Sept. 11 the told an opposite story. In an interview with people who were in the Convention Center, NPR was told that the gangs armed themselves and went out provided clothes and food for the elderly and infirm. What they feared was the National Guard. One person said that she "would never look at gangs the same again" after their concern and her experience with violence from police and the military.

The Guardian reported that mercenaries from Blackwell were providing armed security for the rich in New Orleans. This company has also been hired to do "security" in Iraq. Apparently the rebellious people of New Orleans are the equivilant and the rebellious people in Baghdad.

Other news reports from New Orleans are a good example of the kind of sensationalism that plagues reporting on gangs that this website was set up to counteract. Consider this report from the Conservative Voice

Gangs Have Taken Over City of New Orleans
September 01, 2005 04:49 PM EST

By Sher Zieve - Reports from Shepard Smith of Fox News, who has been in New Orleans since prior to Katrina hitting, say that roving gangs carrying and using AK-47 rifles have taken over the city. Shepard said that last night guns shots rang out from the Superdome and fires were set inside of it. Most still in New Orleans believe that this structure will never be habitable again.

Smith also reports of dead bodies lying in the street and floating in the waters of the still-inundated city and of multiple murders occurring every night. It is reported that gangs roaming the streets are raping and continuing to loot uninhabited residences and stores. The entire area has on the characteristics of complete lawlessness and chaos. It has also been reported that Mayor Ray Nagin has had his life threatened and has now hired bodyguards to protect him.

But then there is the Irish tourist who told the Sunday Times of Ireland

“At first it was the gangs they feared, but now it could be trigger-happy cops. I do not think the police would help, even if they were to approach them. Now the military are involved it is martial law.”

On August 31, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered police to cease searching operations and stop the looting. National guard and army troops were ordered to "shoot to kill looters." On Sunday, police killed four people they said shot at relief workers in a shoot-out.

The New York Times pointed out that many thought the media portrayed Black people taking food as looters, but whites are "searching for food." Kanye West made the same statement on an NBC Relief Telethon, declaring "George Bush doesn't care about Black people." The camera quickly cut away and NBC apologized, saying West "departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him." They did not deny, however, the West may have spoken the truth.

People with no food or water were fearful of being shot by police or the military if they "looted" goods for survival. One New Orleans blogger in the city wrote yesterday: “Bunch of stressed out, trigger-happy police and military types driving by suspicious as all hell. It’s not safe standing out on the street.” It is dangerous to be Black and hungry in New Orleans.

Even reports hostile to the stranded and frustrated people of New Orleans sound a bit strange. For instance

In the turmoil Wednesday, thieves used a forklift to push up the storm shutters and break the glass of a pharmacy. The crowd stormed the store, carrying out so much ice, water and food that it dropped from their arms as they ran.

The report was using such "looting" as a justifcation for police ceasing to search for survivers and shoot looters. It's hard to see why starving people should be shot for trying to get food and groceries.

New Orleans is a city with rates of homicide as high as any other city in the country, on a par with Rio de Janiero, Cape Town, and Medillin, Colombia. Police corruption is endemic and rates of poverty are absymal. According to MSNBC, "Sixty-seven percent of New Orleans' residents are black. And huge numbers of them are poor. Nearly 30 percent of people in New Orleans live below the poverty line, and only a handful of large American cities have lower household incomes than the Big Easy." Gangs have been part of New Orleans' neighborhoods for at least half a century.

Those who were stranded were largely poor and Black, the same group that coincidentally are also the demographic profile of gangs. Racial anger at present and past treatment has spilled over and violence is the result. But most of the violence appears to be from law enforcement and the military as they take out their own frustrations on poor black people. Some things never change.

Two police officers have committed suicide since the hurricane and more than 200 have resigned or deserted. City officials are considering evacuating police officers to Las Vegas for vacations. How about the rest of the people?