Tuesday, August 29, 2006

One Year

Katrina happened one year ago this week. With Ernesto creeping toward Florida, the President rides around Mississippi and Louisiana to try and disassociate himself from the completely shittastic job the federal government did in handling the aftermath of the storm. The media takes some time to pause and remember the people who died and lost everything, but only for this week, as the fifth anniversary of 9/11 is coming up soon.

Last night I watched Brian Williams on a Dateline special about the long road back from Katrina, the first half-hour of which was a commercial-free documentary about Brian Williams' experiences in New Orleans during the first five days of the storm. He prefaced the documentary with the warning that some of the video would be disturbing, and it wasn't aired during the storm because NBC felt the video was "too intense."

This is the problem I have with our modern media. In an effort to keep the news family-friendly, they make everything safe. During the civil rights movement, networks showed black people being beaten or sprayed with fire hoses on the evening news. There is the question of taste, but the American people need to fully understand what is happening in their world, especially when they still have the power to effect a change. When you see a human being being beaten or hosed or starving, you have a stronger reaction that just hearing Brian Williams tell you about it. Americans need to see this video when the story is happening, not a year after the fact.

Last night, they aired video of the room of the Superdome during the storm, with the sound that Williams accurately described as a subway pulling into a station, the clang of metal on metal. The roof would lift up, then come back down with the banging noise of a subway car. This was disturbing, but the most disturbing parts by far was the video of the days after Katrina left. Elderly people swooning or dying in wheelchairs. Toilets and sinks overflowing with sewage. Dead bodies along the walls of the Superdome. Women clinging to limp babies, crying out for water. Michael Brown of FEMA insisting the government hadn't known how bad the situation was, even with Brian Williams basically spelling it out on the national news two days earlier. Someone on the Today show asking Ray Nagin why nothing had been done to help people in the Superdome. A cameraman pleading on television for help after visiting the Superdome three days after the hurricane itself was over. George Bush riding in like a cavalry once food and medical attention had arrived and he could have his photo op.

At the end of the documentary, Brian Williams summed it up by saying that he always believed the American assertion that all people are equal in America, that his two kids are equal to any of two of the kids who were sitting in their own feces inside the Superdome, and Katrina illustrated that this is not true. "We need to have a discussion about race, class, and what went wrong here, keep people's feet to the fire on this, or the media has failed the victims of Katrina."

This happened in America. A huge group of people was left to starve, wallow in their own bodily functions, dehydrate in the summer heat of New Orleans, watch their loved ones die, only to come out and find nothing left for them. The government, on the local and national level, failed the people they're supposed to protect. Don't forget this in the face of the 9/11 anniversary. That's a horrible anniversary too. But it's easy to rail against al-Qaeda, easy to have the good vs. evil to blame for that. Katrina doesn't have a single act or group to blame. The people who failed New Orleans look and act like us, and we need to remember this because it could happen anywhere in America.

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