Wednesday, September 14, 2005

We don't want your kind here!

The police of the city of Gretna used their guns to threaten away residents of New Orleans fleeing their flooded and apparently abandoned city by attempting to walk over the Highway 90 bridge. Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson said:

"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."

The story (or here) told by two paramedics is amazing (my emphasis in bold):

"As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.

As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans."

Policemen firing weapons over the heads of a crowd of black people fleeing a devastated city. Is this 2005 or 1805? From Workbench (referring to the same account by the two paramedics):

"The increasingly desperate group set up camp on the New Orleans side of the bridge, where they were seen by several media outlets, until they were chased off at gunpoint by Gretna police:

Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The paramedics believe that race played a factor in the decision to block evacuees on foot. Gretna's population is 56 percent white and 36 percent black, according to the 2000 U.S. Census."

Some of these people who were turned away may very well have died or been injured in New Orleans, and certainly experienced needless suffering. I know you're not supposed to compare anything to the 'morally unique' suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, but this reminds me of the famous ship S.S. St. Louis, filled with Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, which was turned away from Cuba, and, although this account is amusingly written for current-day political reasons to amend inconvenient facts, from the United States (by gunship) and Canada as well. Although the consequences were much worse for the people on the S.S. St. Louis - many died in the Holocaust - the principle is the same: We don't want your kind here! And we mean that knowing that we are chasing you off with guns into certain danger.