September 01, 2005

Blaming the Victims

Like everyone else, I'm horrified, upset, and saddened by the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, and by the death and damage it has wreaked elsewhere. I hope that the people who were left behind in the city can be evacuated as soon as possible.

But we should be clear as to why they were in the city after the evacuation order. There was simply no way for many people to leave the city, and nowhere for many of them to go. The people leaving were leaving in private cars. People without private cars were SOL.

Amanda Marcotte anticipated that the emerging narrative would be that the people left behind were criminals and idiots. via Atrios, the Bush Administration is already officially sponsoring that narrative, as DHS Michael Chertoff says:

The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster. Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part.

If this were true, it would be a heartless thing to say right now.* As it is, it's disgusting beyond belief. The critical thing really was to prevent the city from flooding--fully funding the Army Corps of Engineers in the area might have helped, I don't know. Then the critical thing was to actually evacuate the people who were ordered to evacuate. Now the critical thing is to rescue them; it would be nice if the head of FEMA were qualified.

[UPDATE: via Atrios, that very FEMA head is also saying that people 'chose' to stay behind.]

Lying about the reasons people were left in the city is well down the list of critical things. Frankly, so is casting any sort of blame, the way I'm doing. But since the government's playing the blame game, we might as well call them on blaming the vicitms.

*Technically, I suppose it's true--no doubt some people could have evacuated but didn't--but it certainly implicates a falsehood.

Posted by Matt Weiner at September 1, 2005 10:11 AM

Heartless indeed, especially given the short evacuation time frame: Katrina wasn't a Category 4 storm until about 12 hours before it hit.

Posted by: Cala at September 1, 2005 10:17 AM

For the federal government, it's one thing to be caught completely off-guard by a terrorist attack. It's another thing to know a storm is coming and not have anything in place to help those people who cannot get out of it's way is a critical failure and one for which those in charge should be held responsible.

Of note, it's not enough to say "We've given FEMA some money to deal with this" the Friday or Saturday before landfall. Perhaps it would have been smarter to say, "We've started pre-positioning supplies, hospitals, beds, and personnel in case the worst-case scenarios come to pass." But then, this is a government that has never planned for the worst-case scenario, and perhaps has never planned for anything.

[Cross posted at my blog]

Posted by: tweedledopey at September 1, 2005 10:53 AM

I believe some of the Left Behind were individual entrepeneurs defending their property with small arms. In other words, just the sort of folks that the administration usually likes.

Monday-morning quarterbacking is always--I was going to say difficult. Easy. That just shows how hopeless I am when it comes to sports. That goes for strictures on those who stayed, and maybe for strictures on allocation of resources beforehand.

Posted by: Matt's mom at September 1, 2005 12:40 PM

I apologize for attributing the criticism of the government response to Monday-morning quarterbacking. It's more than justified. Bring back Witt (Clinton's cabinet-level appointee), instead of half-wit! And critics should be sure to emphasize the lack of PREPAREDNESS and PLANNING, not just slow or inadequate response and reaction. Just as in Iraq, the warnings of experts were ignored, insufficient funding was allocated, and it's a chronicle of a disaster foretold.

Posted by: Matt's mom at September 3, 2005 10:10 AM

About Michael Brown and FEMA, with some history suggesting what caused the failures of preparedness and response--and how FEMA in the past foresaw and averted disaster.

Posted by: Matt's mom at September 3, 2005 03:01 PM