Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 2005 / 28 Av,
The looters are helping themselves to DVD and MP3 players, beer,
flat screen TVs, clothing, booze, guns, candy and sporting goods. Some
simply loaded up shopping carts with all they could hold and boldly pushed
them out the doors and down the sodden streets. "With no police officers in
sight," reported The New York Times, "people carried empty bags, shopping
carts and backpacks through the door of the Rite Aid on Wednesday and left
with them full. As they came and went, the looters nodded companionably to
No doubt there were some desperate residents of New Orleans who
took to theft simply to get food and water from stores bereft of clerks and
electricity. But most of the looting is not of that character. As good
people within the city struggle to help the sick who lack functioning
hospitals, the thousands who lack basic food and shelter, and the unknown
number still waiting to be rescued from flooded homes, the psychological
blow looters are dealing to the city (and the country) is dramatic. As
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco put it, "What angers me most is disasters
tend to bring out the best in everybody, and that's what we expected to see.
Instead, it has brought out the worst."
Several news organizations have reported that armed gangs are
now roving the streets. They raided a nursing home and took whatever they
could lay hands on. "We had enough food for 10 days," Peggy Hoffman, the
home's director, told the AP. "Now we'll have to equip our department heads
with guns and teach them how to shoot."
The evacuation of the steamy, filthy, unsafe Superdome was
temporarily halted after a report (which may or may not be true) that shots
were fired at a military helicopter attempting to help out. The Superdome is
a sink of misery, with toilets backed up, no air conditioning, and a stench
so disgusting that authorities are donning face masks when they enter.
Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered New Orleans police officers to halt
their search and rescue efforts and focus on apprehending looters. But how
much will the suffering of the stranded and needy be prolonged as the police
read looters their rights and take them into custody? How many station
houses and jails are even above water? Six thousand inmates in the New
Orleans area are already scheduled to be moved to higher ground.
The city of New Orleans is descending rapidly into a state of
anarchy just when organization and cooperation are most essential. The New
York Times reported one scene that is emblematic: "John Carolan was sitting
on his porch in the thick, humid darkness just before midnight Tuesday when
three or four young men, one with a knife and another with a machete,
stopped in front of his fence and pointed to the generator humming in the
front yard. [One] said, 'We want that generator.' [Carolan responded] 'I
fired a couple of rounds over their heads with a .357 Magnum . . . they
scattered. You've heard of the law west of the Pecos? This is the law west
of Canal Street.'"
Authorities must attempt to rescue and relocate thousands of
people, to care for the injured and disabled, to fight the outbreak of
disease, and to attempt, if possible, to pump the sea out of what was only a
few days ago a thriving city. If police officers are authorized to shoot
looters, this intelligence will spread quickly among the criminal
population. The free-for-all will come to an abrupt end. Only then will the
fire, police, sanitation, National Guard and private groups be able to do
the basics for our suffering compatriots.
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