After the five-year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, a number of articles came out that hoped to indirectly debunk our narrative of it — to replace our memories with other visions, ones that obscured the basic truth.
Here’s a good starter:
The narrative of those early, chaotic days — built largely on rumors and half-baked anecdotes — quickly hardened into a kind of ugly consensus: poor blacks and looters were murdering innocents and terrorizing whoever crossed their path in the dark, unprotected city.
“As you look back on it, at the time it was being reported, it looked like the city was under siege,” said Russel L. Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general who led military relief efforts after the storm.
Today, a clearer picture is emerging, and it is an equally ugly one, including white vigilante violence, police killings, official cover-ups and a suffering population far more brutalized than many were willing to believe. Several police officers and a white civilian accused of racially motivated violence have recently been indicted in various cases, and more incidents are coming to light as the Justice Department has started several investigations into civil rights violations after the storm. – NYT (L)
Notice the sleight of hand here. “You thought it was X, but here we’re going to talk about Y for awhile, and blame someone else for the riots that occurred.” It doesn’t explicitly say “no, rewrite your memories with these illusions instead” but as it says in the first quoted paragraph, it aims to replace our narrative with another.
It could even make you question what you remembered. Here’s more misdirection:
No shots were fired at rescue helicopters. There were no known child rape victims, no bodies stacked like cordwood, no “bands of rapists going from block to block,” no sharks plying the flood waters.
As I write in Getting It Wrong, “the erroneous and exaggerated reporting had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies.” – W. Joseph Campbell
Some event happened, and a few people overstated it, so we’ll claim that the event as a whole was overstated — even though we’re talking about some things that some people said, we’ll conveniently imply that all things said by all people on the topic were overstated. (Kind of funny how a book on correcting media myths creates media myths of its own.)
And then there’s this stupefactive masterpiece of wishful thinking:
The myth of a widespread post-Katrina crime wave has been largely debunked. Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice concluded “the contention that displaced persons altered a city’s crime problem found limited support.” Moderate increases in homicides were detected in Houston, but not a pattern of crime that could be attributable to the new population. In San Antonio — which took in roughly 30,000 evacuees — no significant crime increase was detected.
In 2007, Stein, at the request of then-mayor Bill White, prepared a memo detailing how apartment complexes that housed large populations of New Orleans transplants did experience a spike in crime. But the acts were almost exclusively evacuee-on-evacuee, with no spillover effect. “You had a lot of crime,” Stein says. “But it was so contained that you could literally live two blocks away from the apartment complex and — unless you were there when the police car entered the complex — you wouldn’t know about it.” – Texas Tribune (L)
Look, people are making excuses. Crime went up, but we’re going to use vague terms to claim it wasn’t much. And they did it to each other, which implies of course there were no other effects. And then there’s that great summary statement, the one 99% of the readers will remember:
The myth of a widespread post-Katrina crime wave has been largely debunked.
See, we’ve fixed it! It never happened! We’re going to tell you everything that you knew was right, was in fact wrong. We’re going to re-write your memories, and we’re going to tell you that you’re an ignorant racist unless you repeat what we tell you.
Except for one detail: they’re completely wrong.
Let’s look at facts, instead of vague conclusions and sweeping summary statements that aren’t borne out by the facts.
Jamie Trout, 22, of Sunderland, told BBC News the five “horrific” days he and his two female friends had spent in the Superdome, before being freed by the US National Guard, had been “like something out of Lord of the Flies”.
“It was very dangerous – rioting, looting of vending machines, racial abuse, absolutely terrible sanitary conditions.” – BBC (L)
Must have been an illusion. Here’s more:
Another Briton, Keith Nelson, said his son, Will, had also now been moved from the Superdome after three days.
He told the BBC: “On the third day the army told them that it was getting too dangerous so they moved them to another, smaller stadium.
“Some of the army got shot and the army refused to go into the dome so they moved them again to the Hyatt hotel.” – BBC (L)
Obviously a Klan member in disguise making up slanders, even though the Katrina evacuees were not all black — just mostly.
When New Orleans residents streamed into Houston six months ago to escape the floodwaters caused by Hurricane Katrina, they brought in gangs and the violence that goes with them.
The city had 170 homicides from September through Feb. 22, 28 percent more than in the same period a year earlier, according to the Police Department. In 29 cases, displaced Louisianans were the victims, the suspects or both. – Bloomberg (R)
And even more, the behavior continues to this day in New Orleans:
In fact, it had been six months since I’d taken a walk on these streets, after a bunch of kids shot 16 rounds in front of my house; the police arrived, barricaded my car and refused to allow me to leave for an event. “We need to talk to you,” they said and then left without speaking to me. Once they were gone, the kids stowed their weapons under the house next to mine. A few months later, I found myself running through my dark yard to retrieve my dogs while someone in the yard behind me fired a machine gun into the air. This is the New Orleans I now know.
If you are looking for drugs, you have a wealth of opportunities for comparison shopping on my little block. There are gangs selling from half the stoops, although they don’t actually live here. They drive in to do business, taking over the stoops of the elderly, who are too frightened to report anything. Early in the morning, you can watch people picking up their stash for work, and then again in the evenings on the way home. Sometimes, passage through the block is impossible, due to the stalled vehicles hoping for their dealer to return. The police tell me they have the situation under surveillance. They’ve been telling me that for the past two years. When I recently wrote to our new police chief to ask how many years of observation were necessary before action could be taken, I didn’t get any response at all. – Salon (L)
Gosh, they must all be making all of this up. It wasn’t rioters, looters, rapists, criminals and chaos — it was white supremacists harassing innocent people.
Yes, it’s a mystery — because we just don’t want to look at the facts:
While nonviolent crime in the city dropped by 2 percent in 2005 compared to 2004, homicides rose by 23.5 percent. Since 2005, Houston has experienced a significant rise in crime, which the Houston Police Department partly attributed to an influx of people from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina, Houston’s murder rate increased 70 percent in November and December 2005 compared to levels in 2004. The city recorded 336 murders in 2005, compared to 272 in 2004. Houston’s homicide rate per 100,000 residents increased from 16.33 in 2005 to 17.24 in 2006. The number of murders in the city increased to 379 in 2006. The Times-Picayune disputed that Katrina evacuees were to blame for the rise in crime, citing statistics that crime was rising in Houston before their arrival.  City officials claimed that though the majority of evacuees were law-abiding citizens, and noted that Houston’s population swelled by 10 percent “virtually overnight,” reducing the ratio of police officers to citizens.  A 2010 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice also disputed the assertion that Katrina Evacuees were the cause of rising crime in Houston around the mid-to-late 2000’s, and instead pointed out factors such as growing population, rising unemployment, and decreased police patrol.. – Wikipedia (L)
It’s possible that anything could have caused Houston’s crime wave. It could have been UFOs or witches. Notice how they say Houston’s crime was rising, but don’t compare the rates of rise. Notice how they point out that the population grew, but don’t compare proportions of crime by percentage. Did crime rise 10% when the population rose 10%? No, it didn’t — it rose radically more, and radically more than the previously “rising” crime. But these provide convenient excuses to deny the reality.
Why would we deny the reality of this situation? To face the truth of Katrina denies us an important word: victim. If we look at Katrina as the riot it was, we see that the “victims” were often “victimizers,” and this ruins our whole narrative where the impoverished are oppressed by the rich and powerful. If we look at the data from Katrina critically, we see that the impoverished oppress themselves, and need to be controlled by some rich and powerful force or they destroy utterly everything around them.
This in turn violates our modern illusion, which is that we’re all special. We’re all equal, we’re all important, we’re all valid. That spreads around warm feelings, which when you’re in a society that can delusionally go into denial about a crime wave in its midst, is about the best it gets. When you’re surrounded by dysfunction, happy spaced out illusions are often the way you make it through day-by-day.
Remember the new truth:
The myth of a widespread post-Katrina crime wave has been largely debunked.
If you believe otherwise, you’re ignorant. And with that, we will re-write your memories, re-define what is “true,” and control your thinking — all indirectly, so even if you catch us, we’re not actually caught.