The Fire This Time

In a post-Katrina world, Katrina is now the modern benchmark for an unrepentant and aggregate failure of the federal government because of FEMA and state government because Baton Rouge and the governor was only 60 miles away with more than capable resources to go into the city by Tuesday, August 30, 2005–it was a complete SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F’d Up).  But concerning the fire this time in southern California, certain questions can arise at the back of ones mind particulary because of the housing of the evacuated residents in Qualcom Stadium is synonymous to the Superdome.

This is not necessarily a race issue and I’d be very hesitant to bait the issue as one.  This was overwhelmingly a socioeconomic issue.  However the two situations are not totally different from each other.  First let’s explore their similarities.

Both cities and areas are susceptible to natural disaters, one water and one fire (why do I feel like I’m tuning myself up to preach, lol).  Both areas used the largest area stadium as a place of last resort for evacuees (we’ll revist the terminology later); one Qualcom the other the Superdome.  Contrary to news reports, equally nearly 1,000,000 residents were evacuated from the Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and (I can’t think of the parish to the direct southeast of NOLA) parishes.  Well, so far so good on the similarities, the question remains what made the Katrina and later Rita incidents go over so badly?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Firstly, the Superdome itself was flooded on the ground levels.  These people never had fire attempting to burn down the doors at Qualcom stadium.  Lets remember, the vast majority of people who were ultimately evacuated from the Superdome had to be trucked out on school buses and air lifted and escorted on military vehicles that were high enough above the water line.

Secondly, overwhelmingly, the people in this situation had somewhat a double advantage over the residents of New Orleans.  The residents of Southern California had a better means of escaping the fire than the Metro. New Orleans residents.  Even though the fire can jump and come down the street in a matter of minutes, they still had the foreknowledge that there was a fire in the area and the strong possibility existed that it could directly affect them.  Additionally, the residents of Southern California CONSTANTLY know the affects of wildfire as a yearly event.  The residents of New Orleans had not seen hurricane affect the city within recent memory–the last was Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

The second advantage was that these residents had the means of evacuating the area.  As many as 100,000 residents of the city, approx. 22% of the city’s residents were dependent on public transportation.  Automobile’s come ready made in Southern California of course, so many of the residents were able to leave at the drop of a hat.

Ultimately, the country learned how to deal in a post-Katrina world with natural disasters and we now see FEMA approrpriately dealing with a natural disaster.  They learned from their mistakes and we should commend them.  Also, lets not forget that Southern California is a hodge-podge of ethnicities many emigrants from other parts of the country.

Now, all of the above was nice and cute….but lemme be Joshua for a minute.

This was just an updated version of racial profiling.  The damn government knew that a Katrina was going to happen eventually, the same way all of these friggin coastal cities are susceptible.  Hell, New Orleans is in such a situation being below sea level that the city can’t even deal with 8 inches of water in a 24hr. time period without shutting down the whole city.

I mean, who would suggest the Superdome in the first place.  I mean if the city is flooded, wouldn’t that include the Superdome?!?!  I mean wouldn’t the people be trapped—which they were in the case of Katrina.

Furthermore, these people out in Cali got money–its CALIFORNIA, swimming pools and movie starruhs!  They have a larger tax base with which to plan and prepare for stuff like that. Orleans Parish on the other hand had to worry about of the 18 of the 21 or so high schools about to be taken over by the State because of the Boards inefficiency.  Or maybe it was the fact that New Orleans fluctuated between number 1 and number 2 of the highest per capita murder rate in the country.  Or maybe it was because the city was 67% black, in the lowest elevations of the city that it was was “The City That Care Forgot.”

I think the issue isn’t a flat out race issue, but a systemic governmental issue on both the state and federal level, that is directly related to socio-economic issues of our country.  And for anyone who is paying attention in this country, they’d know that your socio-economic status is directly related to what race you are categorized into by the government.

As an addendum to this note, I’d like to tackle this notion of evacuee versus refugee.

Perhaps, this is where I assume my Chicago upbringing and divorce myself from native New Orleanians.  I honestly have no problem with them being referred to as refugees, even though this is their country where they find their citizenship and pay taxes.  Evacuees are those who  evacuate prior to an event occurring, refugees are those who seek refuge in a time of need.  This is my line of reasoning for such a claim.

If I find myself in knee-deep, or God forbid chest deep water and bodies and animals and all matter of debris are floating by, they would invoke scenes of Bangledesh or Calcutta in the middle of monsoon.  (Bangledesh, that has a population density as high as 100,000/sq. mile).  Those are people who seek refuge because they are stranded and in need.  We love reading the 91st division of Psalms where David talks about seeking refuge with God.  Particularly Black people, we identify with the struggle of the Israelites, ergo we like the thought of seeking refuge in God, so why wasn’t it okay for those left in New Orleans to be called refugees? 

In fact I believe that referring to those who stayed in New Orleans as refugees further calls the government’s failure into question even more.  Because the charge against the refugee reference was that “How can one be a refugee in one’s own country?” and I would pose the question, “How could this failure of government both prior to Katrina and after be allowed to happen in THIS country?”  One shouldn’t have to seek refuge in one’s own country, but these people did and we should call them as such. 

Keep it uppity, JLL

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