Thursday, September 08, 2005

Governor Blanco's law enforcement

Commenter goddessaradia points me to this absolutely horrific account of a group of 200-300 refugees trying to make it out of New Orleans on foot.

UPDATE: In spite of the pretty overwhelming doubt on the part of most commenters, the basic facts are now being confirmed, including by the Gretna, Louisiana sheriff himself and an account from John Moore of what went on inside and outside the Dome.

This story relates the "in control" situation that allowed Governor Kathleen Blanco to so cavalierly refuse the president's request to place all law enforcement under central command. There was some mention last week about a group of "tourists" who scraped up $25,000 to hire a fleet of buses from outside the city to enter and evacuate them. The writers say that the cost of a ticket was $45 each, so that would indicate that at one time there were over 550 of them. The buses never made it because they were commandeered by the Louisiana National Guard when they arrived. The writers of this chilling account were two Californian EMS technicians who were in New Orleans for a national EMS convention and were among the tourists who hired those buses.

The story is a modern Trail of Tears and will leave you speechless. A New Orleans police commander lied to the refugees in order to get them to leave his area. He told them that if they walked 2-3 miles to the Mississippi River bridge there would be buses waiting to take them to shelter. Police and National Guardsmen that they met along the way refused to part with food or water, even for the babies in carriages. The column passed by the convention center where many people, sickened by the inhuman conditions inside the center, joined their escape convoy. When they arrived at the bridge, Gretna, Louisiana sheriff's deputies fired over their heads to turn them away before they even had approached the police line. Deputies told them that there were no buses and that they were not allowed to cross the river. They sought shelter from the rain under an overpass and set up a makeshift camp in full view of police, National Guard and other rescue organizations. Their only water came from a stolen city water truck and their only food from two pallets of military C-rations which had fallen off of a truck when it negotiated a turn too rapidly. They offered food and water to individuals and groups of people who passed them on their way to the bridge. They watched as all of those people were turned away, some by gunfire and others by verbal abuse on the part of the sheriff's deputies and National Guardsmen. No one was allowed to cross the bridge on foot, regardless of their condition or age. And there were no vehicles to transport them.

They began to hear that news organizations were demanding to know what was being done to help them. The answer came soon enough. They were attacked by the sheriff's deputies again with one of them pointing his pistol in their faces to force them away. A helicopter then hovered low over their camp so that the blade wash destroyed their makeshift shelters. The sheriff's deputy then loaded his car with their water and food. By this time the group which had numbered several hundred had been scattered into smaller groups by police who would not permit a group of more than 20 people to gather. The EMS technicians who wrote this story found themselves in a small group of 8 people. After walking all the next day they eventually managed to find New Orleans fire department officials who got them airlifted across the bridge. They then had to beg for a ride from a National Guard truck to the airport. What food they had managed to carry with them was confiscated at the airport because it set off the metal detectors. They were flown to San Antonio where they were forced to sit in an open field for hours, all this with no food and water, while they were screened for admittance to a refugee center.

There is much much more. Almost more than one can absorb. The stories that we have been hearing and reading have mostly been anecdotal, short and lacking detail. The two people who wrote this have found their way home to California and had time to sit down and carefully reconstruct everything that they experienced and witnessed from last Monday to about Thursday or Friday. There are some good things related in the report. I would expect that. I would expect and not be at all surprised by the good things that people are capable of doing when the chips are down. There is damned little of it in this nightmarish tale. You will be shocked and dismayed. You will be horrified.

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