See - them's two words. In another week or so I'll be back to regular titles.
Nobody's ever accused New Orleans of being a classy place. New Orleans is the place college kids (and those who act like college kids) go to get wild, shed inhibitions, and do dirty, nasty, and crazy things that would get them arrested or killed or both somewhere else. I've heard people ask in jest if even Hurricane Katrina could clean up Bourbon Street. (Short answer: No. It just brought a soup of sewage and toxic chemicals) But I never in my life thought to see lawlessness and despicable behavior like what is going on in Louisiana in Katrina's aftermath.
In the middle of an ongoing tragedy that has only yet begun to unfold, looters and bandits own the city where thousands of people who have narrowly escaped death are still trying to get out with their lives. Police, who are desperately needed to help the injured and trapped and elderly and invalid can only step aside for the criminals, who don't even care to shield their faces from AP cameras. One police officer was shot in the head by a looter. What level of depravity do you have to sink to in order to shoot a police officer in the head during a crisis in which hundreds or thousands of people may die?
Contrast New Orleans, 2005, with New York City, 2001. When the World Trade Center buildings disintegrated, tens of thousands of trapped New Yorkers wandered the streets, unable to get off the island, unable to return home, unable to call loved ones. Their neighbors took them in. Strangers gave them blankets and places to rest and food to eat. While there have been some claims of looting, only 54 arrests were made. Very few, considering that after the towers fell, the police had nobody to save or rescue and could concentrate on catching criminals. Why has New Orleans, which apparently now looks like Hiroshima, 1945, brought out the worst in its residents?
Apparently some of the looting is related to survival. There are reports of people raiding grocery stores and pharmacies for the things that will keep them alive. One report tells of police officers breaking into a CVS Pharmacy to carry away medicines for hurricane victims. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But I cannot give that to the people caught on camera stealing beer, jeans, watches, and cars. I cannot give that to people throwing rocks through windows or to people firing guns or to people rioting around the hospitals. What the hell is the matter with these people? The police can only stand by and watch. The National Guard (the ones not sent to Iraq yet) has been deployed to help control looting, but they cannot cover the entire city.
I say (and this may come as a shock to some) that looters in New Orleans should be shot on sight. Police and Guardsmen should shoot them first, no questions asked. I know - it seems like a reversal from my attitudes about Jean Charles de Menezes and London subway shootings. But these looters are fundamentally different. 1) They are guilty. For all their talk about saving innocents, my critics on the subway shootings ignore the fact that de Menezes was not caught red-handed doing anything. Shooting him was analogous to walking into a bar and shooting a random person because they might have looted something in the past or might loot something in the future. Shooting someone in the act of looting is a different matter. 2) Looters take advantage of the people who can afford it least. Is it any coincidence that the saying which suggests the ease of a crime is also its most despicable? "Like taking candy from a baby" epitomizes the worst of a criminal. Looters aren't robbing from wealthy people (not that that would make it right). Looters are robbing from the victims of the worst storm of the 21st century - the people who have nothing left to come back to. 3) Looters are murderers. This reason is twofold. A) Looters are distracting police and guardsmen from saving lives. They are endangering the fragile systems designed to get people out of the wrecked city. B) Looters are the primary reason people didn't leave the city in the first place. How many people died because they were scared to leave their belongings unprotected? How many people are huddling in abject conditions in the Superdome because they knew looters would rape them of everything they worked their lives for, whether the hurricane destroyed their home or not? How many people will die soon because they will drown in their own houses? If authorities cannot control looting immediately, how many people do you think will ignore evacuation orders for the next hurricane? I can't tell you how many times, growing up in Florida, we were warned about a powerful hurricane that never landed or that fizzled out. When authorities call for an evacuation, they must ensure that property is protected, or deaths will result.
The rest of the world is watching Americans act like savages. And I am ashamed.