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Katrina Five Years Later: Has Anything Changed?

Katrina Five Years Later: Has Anything Changed?

As the flood waters receded from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, so too did many of the horror stories of rapes, murders and a general disintegration of civil society into lawlessness.  But like the still-visible mark of a flood’s crest, the image of looters and armed responders still permeates our collective conversation of the tragedy.

Surely to complicate efforts at recasting the Katrina narrative is a feature by ProPublica, Frontline, and The New Orleans Times-Picayune that uncovers that during the chaotic first few days following the hurricane New Orleans police officers had an order circulate instructing them to shoot looters and “take back the city”.  The report details several disturbing facets to the Katrina story, not least of which is that in a time of total chaos the force appeared to revert to a lawlessness of culture which made enforcing any order in the city all but impossible.

The accounts of this “martial law” report show conflicting messages coming from top leadership about just what was to be done to keep the citizens of New Orleans safe while aid arrived.  Despite the conflicting messages there is a uniformity that emerges–a uniformity of confusion.  It is not entirely clear just how broadly this order to “take the city back” and to “shoot looters” was communicated nor what exactly it meant.  According to ProPublica, some officers who heard it refused to carry it out while others say it meant a fundamental change in deadly force protocol.

The accounts and the concurrent investigation is part of a broader examination of the use of police force following Katrina with the goals of both bringing any rogue officers to justice and creating procedures designed to prevent another such breakdown of order.  There is no doubt that the New Orleans police force came under unprecedented pressures after the hurricane.  Stations were submerged in water and the entire computerized communications system failed.  Some officers went for days without sleep as they rescued trapped residents from rooftops.  In short it was a nightmare scenario that, in the first several days, seemed to have no end.

Now, five years later, many are still looking for answers, not just from the New Orleans police force, but from a federal and local recovery effort that has sputtered and stalled.  It’s almost too cliche to say that it is the moment of crisis that tests the strength of our democratic structures and principles, but for the post-op of Katrina, the cliche holds.  The New Orleans police department had been plagued with corruption and abuse problems long before its command center collapsed.  Lax federal spending and oversight meant there was no way the levees would hold.  Entrenched racial and class bias almost pre-determined who would be victimized most by this disaster and who would recover first.

Five years later I think it’s time to ask have we really changed at all?

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photo courtesy of potato potato via Flickr

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65 comments

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9:26AM PST on Feb 11, 2013

Katrina was a total nightmare.....some people just wouldn't leave even when ordered to by the authorities. It was just a nightmare.

2:19PM PDT on Apr 22, 2012

I'll never forgive the US for its' treatment of American Citizens and the callous, almost alien
way they were treated. I'm glad justice was served in the Danzinger Bridge case and a clean
sweep by the Justice Department might yield some honest cops! Post Racial? The race war
started back in 1964 with the passage of 2 civil rights laws that ended racial segregation and
the voting rights act. White Americans have been incarcerating us and killing us ever since. My 2 cents.

3:57AM PDT on Sep 4, 2010

some officers who heard it refused to carry it out while others say it meant a fundamental change in deadly force protocol.

5:47PM PDT on Sep 2, 2010

Where is all the millions of donations? The interest alone must bring more millions!

5:45PM PDT on Sep 2, 2010

2/2
Furthermore, buying from such sites you support violations of Western Copy and Patent Rights. China and alike are lazy and continue to steals ideas and designs from the West. International Copy/Patent Rights mean zero. Fight such cost millions and ends in a no-win situation.
Buyers know Identify theft is mushrooming. PayPal is only secure to a certain degree, once your name and address is in foreign hands you and your family are free game; your info will be re-sold repeatedly.

Support your local economy, your friends and neighbours!

5:44PM PDT on Sep 2, 2010

My standard letter re: Asian On-Line-Sellers.

1/2
Asian consumerism is killing and choking the planet with its non-lasting junk. Products from China and other Asian countries are cheap due to lack of quality (product & craftsmanship). The products break down quickly, thus more products are “needed”. Landfills, not only in their country but also in the West grow alarmingly and are part of the downfall of the environment. Asian products are known to contain harmful chemicals and are permitted in the West due to “international” agreements between their and our government in view to support the economy overpopulated countries.
The continuous input (into the Earth) of harmful chemicals damage and pollute drinking water and all global waterways. Did you know that China’s drinking water is one of the most polluted water in the world? The West has enough to deal with their own pollutions and we don’t need any more in “help” from foreign countries.

10:58AM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

I'm sorry but I don't understand Dave Tohunga's resolution to boycott all American- made goods "until this country changes her ways" What is that going to accomplish other then punish the very citizens who are lucky enough to have jobs? One has nothing to do with the other. You would be better off trying to change the 2 party system with groups like Get out of our house (www.goooh.com) . Boycotting goods only takes away the money people need in order to have the tools to create change and makes China rich. As a veteran I am trying very hard to change the idea we must vote for one of the 2 parties. I haven't voted for either party for years. Last election we again voted for Nader. We spend hours filling out our absentee ballots.

11:16PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

Until the insurance companies are held accountable for their failure to honor policies nothing will change. The Corps of Engineers have fallen down on their job to keep New Orleans safe. For 40 years plans to fix the levies and put in pumps to save the city have dragged on. It doesn't seem to matter which party is in office...none give a crap about saving New Orleans and it's residence. The deaths that happened fall squarely on our politicians who feel it's more important to use their time to decide on which frog should be our national frog. Take a look at these 2 articles about the failures: http://fixthepumps.blogspot.com/

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/8/30/143535/687

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129466743/story.php?storyId=129466743

How many more people are going to die when the next storm hits? And will anyone be held accountable this time?

3:38PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

I went to the site, then it wouldn't let me escape without trying to have a conversation with me, scary. Pardon me, but that scares me.

2:12PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

Noted

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