Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Law & Order

     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.


Alisa said...

Looters and riotors are repulsive, and I agree, they should be shot on sight. What kind of animal are you that you have to steal from the already devestated?

(although I can understand the grocery store/pharmacy thing)

Ben said...

I think this is a human nature thing. It would happen in the same situation anywhere. 9/11 was a different situation, in that it was a foreign attack, and there were plenty of cops and such around after the towers fell. New Orleans is a dangerous place right now.

My cousin's fiance's father decided to stay at his place instead of evacuating with my cousin to Austin. He made it through the storm ok, but last I heard he had called with a pay phone and said he was terrified because of the looters and roving gangs and rising water and anything else you can think of. I'm hoping I'll hear more news today, of course I have my fingers crossed that he'll make it through all right.

Incidentely, in a rare case of suspected racial predjudice that is quite correct to be called such, I saw a slideshow or somesuch thing on where all the pictures of white people in the hurricane area were labeled "resident" and the black people labeled "looters."

scorcho said...

I agree, Scott. At a time when people ought to be helping each other out, they've resorted to unecessary acts of violence and theft that deserve a response stronger than arrests or riot control.
I am sure at this point the police are overwhelmed, and it is situations like this that illustrate the importance of(liscensed, non-convict) citizens to be able to own and carry firearms to protect their households, themselves and their families.

ORF said...

Ben, I too noticed that all of the footage of "looters" showed black people exclusively. As did the residents of the poorer sides of town. Perhaps both of these things are true statistically speaking, but I do feel the media should have made an effort to be a touch more sensitive to that issue.

Scott said...

Scorcho, not to get into a conversation about gun control, but the reality of the situation in New Orleans is that if you try to protect your home with a gun against a gang of armed looters, you're going to die. Plain and simple.
I understand the concept of using a gun to protect against a single catburgler. But the situation in NOLA is closer to Somalia or Baghdad, and without a strong police presence, there can be no protection.
I'm watching the news now, and they're talking about balancing saving lives vs preserving law & order. What they are severely miscalculating is how this horrible looting will contribute to more deaths in the present and future when people refuse to evacuate.

Ben said...

You may die if attacked by a gang who is also armed, but you being armed won't make things any worse. They're going to kill you that much faster if you don't have a gun.

I have heard that the looting is distracting the police from saving people. I don't know who the looters are, but I'll bet you that few of them are nice Jewish boys!

Ben said...

Oh, if anyone is interested, there's an update on my New Orleans cousin and his fiance on his blog at

scorcho said...

In my close family, there are four (out of five, the fifth is a 12 year old)of us who are experienced in the use of handguns, and pretty damn good shots.

But to make an even better point, citizens who are armed could form local militias to protect the citizens of the area from looters, since the police are quite overwhelmed. This would still involve the freedom of licensed citizens to own and carry firearms, versus the criminals who would and will always have guns.

Shannon said...

As liberal as I seem, I'm not anti-gun (legal, licensced, trained, and responsible gun use). Maybe it's my libertarian Nevada upbringing. Ahem.

If I were there now, I'd rather be carrying a gun.

I agree about shooting looters within reason. There's a difference, of course, between a mother carrying an infant looting baby formula, and the car jacking and looting of hospital supply vans. Shoot those jerks on sight.

Ben said...

Wow, liberals and conservatives coming together in agreement that people who shoot at rescue helicopters and loot Wal-marts for electronics are the scum of the Earth! At least we agree on something :)

Shannon said...

HA! Ben, is this a sign of progress or impending armageddon?

For the record, shooting at helicopters=absolute scum.
Looting tvs from wal-mart=slime.

I think there's a difference.

Sylvana said...

I don't think that anyone that isn't endangering someone should be shot at. That stuff that they are taking is just stuff. It is not justified to shoot them. If they are shooting at people, yeah, then they could return fire. But to shoot someone, to take their life over an armload of electronics, well that's just not right. They should just take their picture and sort out the legalities later.