Sunday, September 04, 2005
Met Not By Violence, But Despair
In which some National Guard troops, primed to face unending violence in what's left of New Orleans, find something else instead:
...The truck lurched through the streets, past buildings burning unabated and MPs in gun turrets. When they stopped to gear up for their arrival at the New Orleans Convention Center, where more than 15,000 people had been living in squalor since Katrina, these words echoed — for the first time, one would imagine — through the intersection of Poydras Avenue and Carondelet Street: "Lock and load!" "Sixteen in the clip!" one Guardsman shouted, a common refrain used to indicate that rifles are fully loaded. But when they arrived, they did not find marauding mobs. They did not come under fire. They found people who had lost everything in the storm and, since then, their dignity. The troops were part of the Superdome team that came to town before the hurricane. For days, they had been cut off from news reports, sleeping and working among the refugees and the vicious rumor mill at the Superdome. Their Superdome duties left them with a terrible image of the city. They knew that out on the streets, a police officer had been shot in the head, that looting was widespread, that snipers were taking shots even at boaters trying to rescue victims from rooftops and attics. Now assigned to patrol the streets, they headed for the New Orleans Convention Center, in the city's central business district. Many had wads of tobacco in their bottom lip and emitted long, dense streams of spittle into the streets below. Their mission was to establish a command post at the center, which officials have increasingly turned their attention to, particularly as the evacuation of the Superdome nears its end. They would then build a staging area to bring in food and water. Finally, they would send in teams to seize control of a massive and lawless facility. The troops braced for the worst. "Is this the calm before the storm?" one asked as they rolled through the streets. "There are a lot of gangs out here in the water," said Sgt. 1st Class Maris Pichon, a 26-year veteran of the National Guard who served in Afghanistan last year. "This is not going to be a cakewalk." Two trucks pulled beside them, one carrying water and one a massive pile of ready-to-eat military meals in boxes. "Tell me they're not letting the food go in before the troops," one Guardsman said. "That's called bait," another said. They pulled into a parking lot next to the convention center in full battle mode. They spilled over the sides of the truck, formed a tight circle and began walking outward, stepping over the detritus of the refugees. Dirty underwear. A CD that included the song "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." A troop carrier rolled over an empty water bottle, popping it like a balloon. The troops yanked their weapons to a firing position before realizing what it was. "No civilians in this parking lot!" a sergeant shouted. "Hold your perimeter!" No one came at them but a nurse. She was wearing a T-shirt that read "I love New Orleans." She ran down a broken escalator, then held her hands in the air when she saw the guns. "We have sick kids up here!" she shouted. "We have dehydrated kids! One kid with sickle cell!"So much for the Gangs of Vicious Darkies stereotype. But wait! There's more:
Another storm victim, Cory Williams, 50, a respiratory therapist spending his third day at the convention center, greeted the troops as they came up the stairs. He had ridden out the storm at his 9th Ward house. On Tuesday morning, when the flooding began in earnest, 6 feet of water came inside in five minutes, he said. He tried to stay on top of a car in the garage but the water continued to rise, so he made a run for it, dragging several neighbors out behind him on an inflatable raft as he swam, then waded, through the water. He made it several miles west, toward downtown and higher ground, then watched police stop at gunpoint a Ryder van that had been hot-wired by thieves. The officers told the men inside that they had to stop looting and must try to get people out of the neighborhoods, that people were dying. "Believe it or not, those dudes got the message," Williams said. The thieves began ferrying people out of the devastated neighborhoods to the east. The police had deputized looters. "They had to," Williams said. "There was no other way to get people out." The thieves dropped him off at the convention center, where he stayed until the troops arrived. [...] By Friday night, dinner had been served to a seemingly endless line of refugees. Helicopters had begun descending on the convention center, airlifting the most critically ill. The troops had found their mission. It just wasn't what they thought it was going to be.
Unfortunately the troops believe the stuff. And, not unreasonably, they don't want to be the one whose wife gets the visit by the polite officer.
There's an interesting (as yet unconfirmed) story about a guy who was shot because he jumped on the hood of a truck. He was desperately trying to get help to help stop a rape in progress, but no one would stop.
"Greater love hath no man than he that lays down his life for another."
More blogs about politics.