Thursday, September 29, 2005

New Orleans Katrina Rumor Grist Mill

New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie
Compass, right, announces his retirement as
Mayor Ray Nagin looks on in New Orleans,
Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2005.(AP Photo/LM Otero)

If I hear one more time on cable news, or read in the L. A. Times or N. Y. Times, or see some anchor person reading another report, that the stories about the mayhem following Hurricane Katrina in NOLA were exaggerated—I’m still not gonna believe it didn't happen!

Somewhere in my intuition—we’re all intuitive but some of us recognize the signals more than others and trust them—I know there’s something fishy about back-tracking and dog-legging, or whatever else you want to call revising, the news reports of the gun-wielding looters, the baby-rapers, the homicidal down-and-outters, that we all came to see as the descent of mankind into animalism, as Mayor Ray Nagin put it, that the mainstream media, aided and pushed forth by the police, military, and whoever else doesn’t want to be blamed for what went wrong, are shoving at us periodically the last few days.

In other words, someone, or some group, or some entity or entities, have something to gain, or some foothold they don’t want to lose, by downplaying the amount of violence, cruelty, and general anarchy that overtook NOLA when the streets were flooded and the power was out.

Beyond doubt, the sense of menace had been ignited by genuine disorder and violence that week. Looting began at the moment the storm passed over New Orleans, and it ranged from base thievery to foraging for the necessities of life.

Police officers said shots were fired for at least two nights at a police station on the edge of the French Quarter. The manager of a hotel on Bourbon Street said he saw people running through the streets with guns. At least one person was killed by a gunshot at the convention center, and a second at the Superdome. A police officer was shot in Algiers during a confrontation with a looter.

It is still impossible to say if the city experienced a wave of murder because autopsies have been performed on slightly more than 10 percent of the 885 dead…

…In an interview last week with The New York Times, Superintendent Compass said that some of his most shocking statements turned out to be untrue. Asked about reports of rapes and murders, he said: "We have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault." -- [emphasis added] September 29, 2005 Fear Exceeded Crime's Reality in New Orleans By JIM DWYER and CHRISTOPHER DREW New York Times

Compass resigned this week as the mayor called him a hero. There is speculation that Compass was forced out by the mayor due to his poor performance, which wasn’t that good before the hurricane events. Maybe Compass is back-tracking on his former descriptions of a town gone wild because he couldn’t control it and doesn’t want the blame either way. Nagin had this to say about Compass:

"He leaves the department in pretty good shape and with a significant amount of leadership."-- Police Chief Abruptly Resigns in New OrleansBy MARIA NEWMAN New York Times September 27, 2005

Everybody covers for each other down in the Bayou. Carolyn Kay at Make Them has some first-hand ideas, having lived in the area:

Why would the African American police chief help propel the rumors? Maybe it was to make it sound as though the police under his command couldn’t possibly have acted better…

…BuzzFlash and Daily Kos are describing the reports of exaggeration as the mainstream media’s way of downplaying the suffering after Katrina. I don’t agree. I was born and raised in Louisiana and lived in New Orleans for almost 15 years. I think that the stories of rampant rape and murder were part of a racist hysteria that fueled the emotional fires leading to Gretna police refusing to allow anyone from New Orleans to walk across the Mississippi River bridge to dry ground, and the Baton Rouge police acting as though the evacuees in their city would start rioting at any moment.—email from Make Them

While the media is going along with all of this downplaying of horrendous events, because the reports are unsubstantiated at this point, the fact remains that neither side of the story has been proven true or false. The picture of Oprah standing at the entrance to the Superdome and being told by the mayor of huge chaos and crimes being committed, may still be appropriate as to what actually was happening.

Reports of dozens of rapes at both facilities - many allegedly involving small children - may forever remain a question mark. Rape is a notoriously underreported crime under ideal circumstances, and tracking down evidence at this point, with evacuees spread all over the country, would be nearly impossible. The same goes for reports of armed robberies at both sites.

Numerous people told The Times-Picayune that they had witnessed rapes, in particular attacks on two young girls in the Superdome ladies room and the killing of one of them, but police and military officials said they know nothing of such an incident.

Soldiers and police did confirm at least one attempted rape of a child. Riley said a man tried to sexually assault a young girl, but was "beaten up" by civilians and apprehended by police. It was unclear if that incident was the one that gained wide currency among evacuees.—, Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell Staff writers

That’s why next time I am confronted with the news story, which is still ongoing, that what we were told happened in NOLA really wasn’t all that bad, I’m going to remember what NOPD Captain Jeff Winn said:

NOPD Capt. Jeff Winn's 20-member SWAT team responded on about 10 occasions to calls from the Convention Center, usually after reports of shots being fired. The group found people huddled in the fetal position, lying flat on the ground to avoid bullets or running for the exits. They also heard stories of gang rapes, armed robberies and other violent crimes, but no victims ever came forward while his officers were in the building, he said.

"What's true and what's not, we don't really know," he, Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell Staff writers

And that’s the truth right now—we don’t really know.

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