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Policing the Poor amidst Flood Disaster

by Jocelyn Blake Monday, Sep. 05, 2005 at 12:52 AM

The official response to Louisiana's flood disaster has been dominated by policing the state's poor black population while thousands more are still waiting to be rescued.

“It’s worse than prison,” Michael Childs, one of the thousands of New Orleans flood victims seeking refuge in the Superdome, told the New York Times, “In prison you have a place to urinate, a place for other bathroom needs. Here you have no water, no toilets, no lights. You get all that in prison.”

Because the Superdome is housing the city’s poor, primarily black families, prison-like conditions are deemed acceptable. The government has already shown no hesitation in locking up African Americans, who make up over 50% of the U.S. prison population.

Just as policing the oppressed is a top a priority for foreign policy, which has federal resources tied up in exploiting the Middle East – it has taken priority amidst the disaster in Louisiana as well. In response to the looting incidences, the mayor of New Orleans has ordered 1,500 police officers to return from rescue efforts to their traditional roles. The state police have also sent out 200 officers specially trained for riot situations. Clearly intending to send a message to the poor black population, the state is establishing a temporary detention center in a nearby area and asserts it is “ready to accept [law-breakers] into our system.” The official response to the disaster is dominated by “restoring order” to protect private property to the detriment of thousands flood victims still waiting to be saved.

Now New Orleans is starting to look like occupied territory. Like the man-made disaster in Iraq, the city is littered with dead bodies and debris from demolished homes and buildings. It also bears resemblance with the presence of armored vehicles filled with troopers flaunting firearms and patrolling the area. Politicians and the corporate media have denounced the thefts as though they are the real emergency, implying that the mostly poor black population is incapable of living peacefully without constantly being policed. This familiar “white man’s burden” argument is the same one used to justify the occupation in Iraq.

In both cases, it is a profoundly racist conclusion that blames the oppressed for the conditions that U.S. ruling class itself has created for them. It is a method of distracting from the fact that the main reason for the looting in New Orleans is that people are not being given what they need to survive – not just in the flood disaster – but also to survive in a system that condemns millions life-long poverty.

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