Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Looting by the poor

I was reading through the hurricane coverage, minding my own business when I hit Brian Williams post here---Nightmare in New Orleans - Nightly News with Brian Williams - tripped over this little jewel:

On a clear morning after the hurricane, water started filling up some of the only dry city streets--including the old French Quarter, this city's storied tourist mecca.

Later, in the downtown area, we also saw what can happen when people have nothing. Looting was everywhere and it was flagrant." (Emphasis mine.)

So the poor are responsible for the looting because they just don't have anything. They must be happy about this kind of disaster then because it allows them to loot which is getting something for their nothing. It is, well, obvious that it has to be the poor because they do have nothing and not some bottom feeding parasites taking advantage of people's misery to make a quick little profit for themselves with not much risk and "no money down." No, it can't be that kind of person at all, it has to be the poor. They are crawling out of their little hovels, picking through the flotsam to get a bit to eat.

And it is, well, obvious too that some of these poor will have guns--too many guns in America! is the awful reason-- and will shoot at the police who are trying to apprehend the poor who have nothing. One particular poor man shot a police officer in the head as that officer disturbed him in his foraging. The policeman will survive fortunately but we will have to be forgiving to that particular poor man because he was just trying to find something to eat. Our hearts will go out to him and to those who depend on him for their daily bread in love and charity because we understand him and them and their plight. If America didn't cast up so many of them--oh cursed land!-- there would not be any poor to loot and shoot.

Of course, these people are taking television sets and microwaves, sports jerseys and clothes as well as other non-edible things. No one made any mention of them taking any food. I guess they don't have any of these things--that is what it means to have nothing--and so they go out and take it. Or maybe they will just sell this stuff to get money to eat. They may be poor but that doesn't mean they are not enterprising.

But not everyone thinks this way. The unfeeling members of our society, usually those closest to what is going on, know that any one of these guys would shoot any of us down like dogs if we made it just a little bit more difficult for them to do what they are doing.

Or is it that people left with nothing will loot? That's gotta be worse.

Come on, Brian! That may cause the Brie eating set to swoon at their dinner parties and charity functions, but the rest of us know better. Why not just report the facts and keep the little editorials that fit in with your social class out, huh?

Give me a break.

UPDATE 9/2: People are now looting for food in New Orleans and that is understandable. It is a catastrophe there and getting them help is difficult. Looting for food you can understand, especially now. But taking TV sets, sporting goods, computers, all kinds of other equipment, and stealing cars is not.

My problem with this was that the "they did it because they were hungry" line was pulled out when the winds hadn't even died down yet to explain people packing away TV sets and carrying guns. It's the explanation of choice for a certain segment and, let's admit it, a certain social class. It has been pulled out to explain 9/11 and terrorism generally, even though it is well known that the people doing these things are often middle class or higher. It ain't the poor.

And it's so damned condescending to people. People can't act any differently because they are hungry. Reminds me of the young girl in one of the concentration camps of WWII I read (or heard) about. She had had her meager rations, some liquid concoction they gave the inmates, flung in her face and, though the temptation to do so was strong and for many (including me) probably overwhelming because she and the others were slowly starving to death, she refused to open her mouth to take any of it in that was dribbling over her lips as it coursed down her face. She found some dignity in that. She found it because it was there. And isn't that one of the meanings of being human, of being a real human being?

It has become tiring to hear it and it, frankly, gets in the way of seeing what the real problems are and of making sound policy to confront them. But it plays to the constituency (or class) and that is what it is meant to do. Politics sets the value of everything.

But there is a wickedness in this world that belies economics.


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