Are racial tensions and divides a part of the New Orleans story? One might think so. Here, for example, is a story from the UPI telling us that the suburban police blocked the bridge leading from New Orleans across the Mississippi River to Gretna. Two paramedics from San Francisco described the incident as racially motivated, and, from Memeorandum, we see that lots of folks (including Glenn Reynolds) agree that race may have been a factor in the police conduct.
So how does the NY Times cover the racial dimension? With the same confidence and candor that they cover race-based stories in their Metropolitan section, which is to say, they totally whitewash it.
Gone, from the Times reporting, is this editorializing from the San Fran paramedics (as found in the UPI version, or in their original account:
We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-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 are not getting out of New Orleans.
Instead, the Times limits themselves to this:
"The police kept saying, 'We don't want another Superdome,' and 'This isn't New Orleans,' " said Larry Bradshaw, a San Francisco paramedic who was among those fleeing."
I am not opposed to "just the facts" reporting. However, it is a fact that an eyewitness to the event claimed that it was racially motivated; the Times ought to address that.
Now, is the allegation credible? If the Times concluded that it was not, they should include that too. Instead, we get this "Lots of the News That's Fit to Print" tapdance around a story that might typify the class, race, and geographic divisions in and around New Orleans.
A bit of reporting would have helped. For example, the two paramedics from San Francisco claim to be able to understand to coded language of the southern cop, so they know that "We don't want another Superdome" means "We don't want black people here", rather than, for example, "We don't want to take in 5,000 people with no food, water, shelter, sanitation facilities, or police protection, thereby reprising the debacle at the Superdome". Is the decoding provided by the Californians plausible? They were traveling with a group that had been guests at a downtown hotel - was this group mostly white? Were the paramedics white? One is named Lorrie Beth Slonsky, which sounds, well, Polish.
If the Times had simply reported that the police turned away a group of mostly white people led by white people, this story might have presented a different complexion. Instead, we may never know.
Or the Times might have given us more on the make-up of Gretna, LA. The UPI describes it as "a bedroom community". Fine, what kind of bedrooms - is this a yuppie enclave, a gated community, or what?
Lacking the resources of either the Times or UPI, I am forced to rely on Google, from which I learn that Gretna is about 35% black, that it has a median income that trails Louisiana as a whole, and that about 11% of the adults have a college degree, or higher, a percentage which also trails both Louisiana and the country. A yuppie enclave? Hardly.
Well, working class homeowners want to protect their property too, I have no doubt. And keep in mind - people will be more inclined to evacuate if they believe they can rely on the police to protect their property in the homeowner's absence.
So what happened in and around Gretna? Was this just one more example of the complete confusion that developed under Mayor Nagin, or did brutal, racist cops compound the misery of the (mostly black) refugees in New Orleans?
The Times will be on this, I am sure. Meanwhile, if the disaster in New Orleans was going to trigger a national conversation about race, the Times has turned it into a pantomime.
MORE: Naturally, I can't find an example just now [But here are 1, 2, 3 in the continuation], but regular Times readers are regularly entertained by stories that read, roughly, "Two pedestrians were assaulted outside a subway station last night. Police are looking for a man between 5' 8'' and 5' 10" wearing jeans and a blue Nike warm-up jacket, with a gold earring in his left ear".
Whether the two witnesses were astute enough to notice their assailant's skin color is normally left unrevealed by the Times. However, if the crime is sufficiently heinous they will finesse the editorial policy by printing a police sketch or photo.
Or, on the subject of New Orleans, an example of the Times tapdancing is here - "In Tale of Two Families, a Chasm Between Haves and Have-Nots" describes the plight of two families evacuating New Orleans. Only the photos illuminate the race issue.
On the other hand, the Times did run a Week in Review article, "What Happens To A Race Deferred", which directly admits that race is a factor in New Orleans. Groundbreaking. Now, if race would be allowed to creep into their other reporting...
Picture for a moment young women with their children, old people, families, single people gathered together in a make-shift community in the middle of chaos approaching police officers on a bridge begging for help. Picture them being white. Do you think the police would shoot over their heads and push them back?
For the reasons noted above, I can easily picture them being white. And if that turns out to be the case, it does not lessen my outrage at this police behavior.
Meanwhile, I continue to wonder whether a reporter will actually report on this. Or perhaps some lefty blogger could track down the two Socialists who started this:
LARRY BRADSHAW and LORRIE BETH SLONSKY are emergency medical services (EMS) workers from San Francisco and contributors to Socialist Worker.
"The Real Heroes and Sheroes of New Orleans" is their title - how PC are these two?
EDITED FOR EFFECT: Hmm. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes a slightly different version of the parmamedics story. They are describing their plight at the hotel:
At that point, we had not seen any of the TV coverage or looked at a newspaper, but we guessed there were no video images of European and white tourists, like us, looting the Walgreens in the French Quarter,'' the couple wrote in an eight-page account of their experience.
The phrase "like us" does not appear in the version of the story offered at the Socialist Worker.
And here in the Independent, we get this:
The following day Mr Bradshaw said they tried again to cross and directly witnessed police shooting over the heads of a middle-aged white couple who were also turned back. Eventually, late on Friday evening, the couple succeeded in crossing the bridge with the intervention of a contact in the local fire department.
The links may fade, but a smile is forever:
(1) Sept 12, 2005:
QUEENS: MAN FATALLY SHOT OUTSIDE PARTY A man was shot outside a party on 128th Street in Jamaica early yesterday, the police said. The man, Edwin Morrissette, 19, of 391 Crescent Street in Brooklyn, left the party about 2 a.m. and was confronted on the street by four men dressed in blue, friends said. Mr. Morrissette was shot three times by one of the four men, the police said, and taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Mr. Morrissette's neighbors said the teenager, a senior at Franklin K. Lane High School, immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republican in 1986. He worked as a delivery boy at a neighborhood grocery store, his family said. His father, Martin Morrissette, said his son was interested in computers. Michael S. Schmidt (NYT)
(2) Sept 14, 2005
WEST BABYLON: POLICE SEEKING PROWLER The Suffolk County police are searching for a man wanted for a series of at least 10 break-ins, some involving sexual attacks on girls, the police said yesterday. The most recent attack in a series that began on Aug. 29 occurred yesterday morning in North Amityville, the police said. In each attack, the prowler entered through an unlocked door or window in the early morning. The other break-ins have occurred primarily in the Wyandanch area, Detective Lt. James Maher said. In some cases, the prowler has touched or groped girls before fleeing. In one case he displayed a knife; in two, he was seen fleeing on a bicycle.(NYT)
CBS TV NY added this:
The suspect makes efforts to conceal his identity but police have released a basic description. He is a dark skinned male, approximately 6-feet tall, in his teens or early twenties. He has been seen fleeing on a bike.
(3) A comedy classic from April 7, 2005. A blogger actually contacted Times Public Editor Okrent, who admitted it was ridiculous.
April 7, 2005
Woman Is Mugged in Central Park as She Walks With Child
A woman walking with her child in a carriage near one of the most popular spots in Central Park was accosted by a man with a gun about 10 a.m. yesterday and robbed of her gold jewelry, the police said.
No one was injured in the incident, which occurred on a pedestrian path just south of the Central Park band shell, but a robbery and a threat of violence, coming as thousands of people were drawn to the park by the year's first uninterrupted burst of mild weather, provided a reminder of more sinister days.
The authorities declined to identify the robbery victim, saying only that she was in her 30's, but a report on WNYW-TV, Channel 5, in New York, identified her as Catherine Collins and her 3-month-old son as Jackson.
In the report, Ms. Collins said that she was walking through the park tending to her son in his carriage when she realized that someone behind her had edged closer. She turned, and the man pointed a gun at her and demanded a ring, she said. Then the robber pointed the gun at her son before fleeing with her engagement and wedding rings, she said.
The police said the man, who was about 30 years old, about 5-foot-10, wearing a tan waist-length jacket and dark baggy pants, displayed a black semiautomatic gun and ran away to the south...