The American Red Cross

Letter to the Dover (NH) Foster's Daily Democrat

Timothy Horrigan

Written September 1, 2005; Published September 6, 2005

This is a letter I wrote immediately after the seriousness of Hurricane Katrina. In retrospect, I may have underestimated the importance of the looting.

The looting shown on TV was trivial, and in most cases it was not at all irrational: it was almost entirely ordinary people taking items needed for survival in extraordinary circumstances. However, there was somewhat more serious lawlessness going on off-camera. In particular, interviews with foreign tourists in the international media generally indicate that there was actually more violence at the Superdome in particular than the Bush-controlled domestic media let on. On the other hand, the reports of snipers shooting down medevac helicopters and the like were pure fantasy cooked up to establish that “Those Folks” in “That Area” didn't “deserve” to be rescued.

And in any case, my original point still holds true: this disaster was not caused by the looters, and the poor and the powerless are not to blame for their suffering.

Hurricane victims are not to blame

To the editor:

Blaming the victim is an old American tradition that has been carried over to the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

In the first days of the disaster, the media obsessed over a trivial part of the story: i.e., the looting in downtown New Orleans. Looting is reprehensible, but the looters are not the villains here. The looters aren't responsible for the failure to build adequate flood control systems in New Orleans and elsewhere.

(Katrina was a powerful storm, but it was not a unforeseeable catastrophe.)

The looters aren't responsible for the fact that inadequate plans were made in advance for feeding and sheltering the victims of the storm. The looters aren't even responsible for the fact that thousands of National Guard troops were unavailable because they had been sent off to Iraq.

The poor, the old, the weak, the sick and the powerless have been especially hard hit by the storm. There have been some ugly comments to the effect that the victims are to blame for their suffering because they were too stupid to leave (e.g., the Houston Chronicle's Cragg Hines's Sept. 1 op-ed)

Sadly, it is virtually impossible to be smart when you have nowhere to go and no way of getting there. It's easier to be smart when you are have resources, as we saw in the case of a local woman named Johnice Katz who was, until last week, a student at Loyola University in New Orleans. She and her housemates initially opted to ride out the storm, but then they got smart and fled to Houston. Ms. Katz is now back home in Somersworth.

She had a car, as well as enough money to buy gas to Houston and a plane ticket to Manchester. She became one of the smart ones who got out. She had someplace to go and a way of getting there. If she had no way of getting out of New Orleans, she would have ended up being one of the so-called stupid ones who stayed behind.

Timothy Horrigan


Foster's Daily Democrat, Sept. 8, 2005 Letters to the Editor Page

(Click here to see my Hurricane Katrina page!)

Read The Forgotten Liars, the novel by Timothy Horrigan