Fear of a Black New Orleans

I can’t believe that Google didn’t turn up anything with this title already.

For everyone who claims that racism didn’t have anything to do with the laggardly relief effort, I’d like to offer this tidbit that caught my ear when I heard the phrase “civil rights violation,” now that the transcript’s up. From MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews (2 September):

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Carl, when your family asks you about this week and your friends ask you for the war stories, what are you going to come to your mind with?

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It is going to come down to one kid. He‘s about 7 years old. He was sweating in 95-degree heat. He was walking on the interstate. He had walked about, I would say two or three miles to a bus that he did not know whether it would be there or not. And he was carrying his baby brother. We saw that and we realized that this—I think that was the turning point where we realized, this was no longer a hurricane aftermath story.

This was no longer a weather story, a devastation story. It was a human, almost a civil rights violation story.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that this is going to go down—I know you have to be an objective journalist. We all do. But, in analyzing this story, from the reactions of the people in New Orleans, especially, do you have a sense that people feel that not only are they poor and they‘re a minority group, African-American, mostly, but that they were dissed, as we say in the big cities; they were disrespected by their own government this week?

QUINTANILLA: I think it is going to be a really interesting question, Chris, to look at over the coming years. What does it mean when you do not—when you fear your own populace, a populace that you have seen with your own eyes is hurting and you are afraid to get to get in the car, to get in an ambulance and come into a city that has been covered from the beginning by the media?

We have had photographers, Chris, go out outside the city limits to ambulances and buses, standing, running with the air conditioning on, and drivers saying, I can‘t go in there. I told my wife I would not go in there. It is a powder keg. That‘s—it was an interesting dynamic and something we had—I have never seen before.

MATTHEWS: Why were the ambulance drivers, rationally or irrationally, afraid to go in the city?

QUINTANILLA: Well, you did have reports of shots being fired at helicopters. And there was a natural fear that, if these people were denied resources long enough, that they would become desperate enough to do unique things.

The line here was, they‘ve lost everything, but they still have guns. And that could change things rather quickly. But once we—once we got to the Convention Center and once those pictures got out, it was clear. These were not troublemakers. These were simply people from poor neighborhoods and, in some cases, not even that poor, but just black neighborhoods, who were standing waiting for someone to pick them up.

Extra props to Matthews for “being down” with the current big-city lingo.