Thursday, September 08, 2005

They Were Going to Take Care of Us...

Two EMTs in New Orleans for a conference find themselves trying to escape the city. Except the authorities won't let them leave. In their account, they describe joining a group camping outside a police station after being shut out of their hotel and having buses they arranged commandeered by the military. A police official, anxious to escape the media attention this group is attracting, sends them off to a freeway where they are assured buses are picking up evacuees. More join the group as the good news spreads.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.


The group moves off and sets up a camp.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organization saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.


Eventually, they are airlifted to Texas, where they are treated well by average citizens, but with suspicion by authorities.

But don't worry, the President is personally overseeing an investigation into what went wrong.

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