Tuesday, September 20, 2005

If you told me you were drowning

You may well have already heard about the authorities in Gretna, Louisiana, who blockaded pedestrian evacuees out of New Orleans. If you've seen the first reports from the tourists who were turned back, you might want to hear NPR's reporting on the incident as well.

It's a good piece of journalism because I think they do allow the police to present their side of the story. You get a glimpse into what goes through someone's mind as they hear about looting and murder barely miles away, and they realize that they don't have the necessary resources to ease those people's needs either.

It's important to hear both sides, because it's so easy to judge this from afar. It's easy to lump this in with all the other Racist Southern Cops stories. If, like me, you think most things boil down to money, it's pretty easy to define this as Haves versus Have-Nots. But it's scary to put on those other shoes and take the viewpoint of someone whose primary duty is to serve and protect his local community.

And let me make something perfectly clear. That's no excuse. It doesn't make it better.

It makes it worse.

It speaks to the banality of evil. It speaks to how easily we can let fear and a narrow viewpoint lead us to a horribly wrong action. It is a concrete example that you didn't have to be in the floodwaters to choose only to look out for your own gang. Gretna was wrong, entirely wrong to do those things. But if we wish to sit in judgement of their failure to see beyond their own boundaries, we owe it to ourselves to listen to Gretna's words.

A piece of advice I should've considered before I chose this title. Perhaps I should've turned my radio up 16 years.

I'm not a coward, I've just never been tested.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

I listened.

The citizens of Gretna need to take a good hard look in the mirror. Because they were part of the problem, not the solution.

I won't brand the town, or its officials, racist. But I can't help but remember my Dad's attempt to rationalize the fact that his Mother's maid, Daisy, was not welcome at the dinner table. I remember so clearly sitting at the table, all of ten years old, and staring in disbelief at my Dad as he marginalized the woman who I had just spent a delightful afternoon helping her shell peas and shuck corn.

It didn't wash with me then and it doesn't wash with me now.

10:57 AM, September 21, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

Heard this story three times in one morning, thanks to having two area NPR stations with slightly different schedules.

There's ample blame to go around - communities unprepared, hard decisions to make with a minimum of information, people who took advantage of the chaos to create more chaos without a thought to what their actions would mean for thousands, etc. As Sondheim says, we all want someone to blame.

I'm tired of the blame game. Let's accept our collective "asshat award" admit that we have baffled the rest of the world, roll up our sleeves and ,do something to prevent this happening again.

1:57 PM, September 21, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Tom: I quite agree, and I think you allude to my point. We need to listen to this kind of prejudice now, so we recognize it in all its forms.

Lem: How are we supposed to do anything constructive about the next time if we refuse to analyze what happened this time?

You're right: there's plenty of blame to go around. But this is not a "collective" award situation. Individual bad choices were made by individual people, and we need to make sure that the right people are held responsible for the right things. And not for the wrong ones, and that credit is also given where it's due.

I do not see what's a "game" about that.

Indeed, the only public figures I've ever heard use that little rhyme have been desparately trying to evade responsibility.

6:35 PM, September 21, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Thought I'd tag in the followup on Morning Edition's "Letters" segment.

6:10 PM, September 22, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

Every church in Gretna, every service from now until the death of the civic and police leaders:

Matthew 25:31-46.
Matthew 25:31-46.
Matthew 25:31-46.
Matthew 25:31-46.
Matthew 25:31-46.

DAMN IT! Matthew 25:31-46! Where were the hell you on the day this was read from your pulpit?

Matthew 25:31-46. And not just when it's easy. When it's hard, too.

7:34 PM, September 22, 2005  

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