Clearing the air about post-Katrina events
Since Reuters ran the story about “Ft. Pelican”, there have been any number of queries and emails, both for and against what happened. Unfortunately – like all news stories – the story is incomplete, leaving room for speculation and interpretation.
When events were unfolding, thousands of people on the outside (and some very afraid people on the inside) were depending on me to help them. That was not the time, in my opinion, to lose focus, and I was as carefully neutral, politically, as I could be – only diverging on rare occasions that provoked me strongly. As a result of this careful approach, there seems to be some confusion on a number of issues, and it’s time to clear the air a bit.
First – From my side of events, race never entered the equation. I never asked what “color” anybody was, at any time. The question was, and is, totally irrelevant. It bothers me that people insist on viewing the world so narrowly. As long as I’m “clearing the air”, though, not everyone involved in Algiers was white, and I myself am of mixed ancestry.
I am aware that a few groups have cited my blog to prove their positions. Early on, I reacted strongly to the Democratic Underground, primarily because they interpreted events in an information vacuum. I really resented (and still do) the assumptions made there.
However, a highly offensive White Supremacist group – The Vanguard News Network - also spun events, and while I didn’t have time then to address them publicly, I did write a letter to their webmaster, which was posted to their site (search on "polimom"). This group’s entire ideology disgusts me. (Note: their site contains incredibly vulgar language.)
And that’s about all the spare cycles I had for any of those groups at the time.
Second – While Reuters wire services provided the story itself, MSNBC.com added what I consider to be a misleading and inflammatory title for it: “Residents recall vigilante justice after Katrina”. The term vigilante puts an unfortunate spin on events. From Merriam Webster online:
Main Entry: vig·i·lan·te
Etymology: Spanish, watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilans: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law appear inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice
None of the people I know or worked with during the Katrina chaos were “punishing crime summarily”. Every incident occurred in a self-defense situation. Furthermore, the thought of armed groups roaming streets in order to "punish" without due process of law, appalls me. I can’t say there were no vigilante groups in Algiers (or anywhere else), but I can say I don’t know them.
Third – There was never a direct request for weapons. There was a request for supplies, via which I also helped people obtain gasoline, batteries, and chainsaws.
Fourth – The right to keep and bear arms is a point of heated debate – but it is nonetheless a right. Weapons (in general) scare me; I don’t keep one. But when order is gone (it was), and the authorities are afraid (they were), the thought that anyone would be expected to sit defenseless, while the city is exploding and burning, men are peering into windows, and gunfire is sounding all around, is incredibly naïve. I personally know only a few people – Quakers and Pacifists all their lives – who would have handled things differently. I admire them, but I am not of the same mind.
Neutrality was necessary, but very hard to maintain. I’m glad to be moving on.