What Is Looting vs. Surviving?

When did surviving become looting? What does it look like when your in the midst of survival? Is it because these are black faces, extremely poor people who are extremely hungry, scared, unsure about their future and safety? When is it survival?  The racial double standard in the news media covering a catastrophic tragedy were obvious. Hungry, desperate white survivors were “finding food” while hungry, desperate black survivors were “looting” for food.

Let’s get real about this for a minute.:

When was the last time anyone of us had to savage for food, water and clothing in this country we call the land of the free and the home of the brave? Americans feel in their minds they are poor in terms of not having enough money in our bank accounts, unemployment but you still have a source of something to survive on….be it a homeless shelter, a food bank and free health clinics to go get medicines or an emergency ward at any hospital in America for urgent care. I thought my family was extremely poor while growing up until I listened on the news that most families in Haiti were surviving only on a $1 per day. My first thought was there are people in this country as poor as the people in Haiti but the media will not touch those stories. Now that the focus is on Haiti, we question why the people in Haiti are very poor? There are many places on the globe that have extreme poverty but we never hear about it until something causes the media to report it, they basically have no choice at that point.

4273890315 999f8f68aa What Is Looting vs. Surviving?This country has never been been devastated from an earthquake or lived in a war zone. Many of you never had to make a choice between looting and surviving to stay alive. We sit back and we listen to the media.  We make our condescending remarks behind close doors and listen to folks make offhanded remarks while they sit in their heated and air conditioned rooms. None of us are willing to put our lives nor our pocketbooks on the line for other people in dire straits. I commend the volunteer relief workers, doctors, media who report truthful news and the military who put their own lives on the line to rescue individuals in extremely harsh terrains and dangerous conditions. Haiti could have another earthquake at any moment and every individual is striving to survive over in Haiti including the volunteers. If another earthquake hit the island, every individual on the island will be fighting for survival including the volunteers, media and relief workers. Will it be call looting or would it be survival? Enough with the dirty politics, bashing and focusing on assholes who have nothing to offer beside negative commentary. Getting everyone off the island of Haiti should be the main focus right now.

What I find to be very disturbing about two catastrophes such as Katrina and Haiti is in a span of a couple of years is that this disaster happened to a group of blacks who are extremely poor and with very little means. The images that flash across twitter and many of the social networking websites are in your face like you have never seen reported by any journalist in this country. Of course we have seen war images in textbooks, television screens but never has it been reported in real live reporting as the disaster occurs. These two disasters are beyond the scope of any relief effort ever taken on by today’s generation of relief workers. I believe the individuals who put themselves in jeopardy to help others are scared for their own safety and this earthquake disaster is beyond the scope of anything they have ever encounter in their lifetime. The last thing anyone needs at this time is negative reporting and outlandish comments that fuel hatred and contempt.

boy looting What Is Looting vs. Surviving? An arresting Damon Winter photo of a Haitian child graces the cover of the Sunday New York Times. A boy of about 10 wearing a bright red, oversized polo shirt, is caught mid-stride by the camera, dashing through the streets of Port-au-Prince, eyes gazing purposely ahead, gripping a white plastic bag.

The caption gives a seemingly “objective” recitation of the facts. “Haitians fled gunshots that rang out in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday. Tons of relief supplies had arrived for delivery.”  It is up to the viewer to connect the dots, and connect them to another front-page article below the fold: “Looting Flares Where Order Breaks Down.”

So was the kid looting?

Nearly five years ago, when you could see photo captions of white Hurricane Katrina survivors side-by-side with black survivors, the racial double standard in the news media covering a catastrophic tragedy were obvious.  Hungry, desperate white survivors were “finding food” while hungry, desperate black survivors were “looting” for food.

Since the earthquake hit Haiti, I don’t know what is more troubling: That so many observers, including political strategist and New Orleans native Donna Brazile, have been drawing facile parallels between the two cities. Or that so many of those comparisons are turning out to be true.

Start with this “the Devil” cursed Port-au-Prince business. I discussed the truth about how Haitians managed to defeat the French army, without a Satanic assist in this essay. And Kathleen Parker uncovered the source of this urban legend (turns out it was a 1791 voodoo ceremony.)

But this Devil talk also came up in the wake of Katrina. Another so-called Christian, Pastor John Hagee one of John McCain’s high profile backers, told NPR’s Terry Gross that Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans. “New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God,” Hagee said, because “there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.”

Phillip Kennicot of the Washington Post believes that Hurricane Katrina helped pave the way for loosening standards for how graphic images can be published in the news media. He calls the graphic nature of the images coming out of Port-au-Prince dehumanizing. “Bodies caked in dust and plaster, faces covered in blood, the dead stacked in the streets without sheets to hide them — these are all violations of the unwritten code [how] death can only be seen, in the established etiquette of the mainstream media,” he wrote in a recent essay.

“[Haiti] was a country tossed aside, seemingly consigned to the status of a street person whose needs are intractable…The camera is recording something elemental that will affect everything to do with the future of this troubled country. It is asking if these are people, like us. It is asking if we believe they are human.”

I am inclined to find the Port-au-Prince images so far more illuminating than exploitive. But Kennicot’s larger point about the way the camera views brown people is totally sound. The lynching scene depicted in the Sunday New York Times was appalling. It is one thing to “find” bread; it is quite another to break into stores and score bolts of carpet and luggage while intimidating people with machetes and guns.

Eyewitnesses told the journalists Simon Romero and Marc Lacey, that police yanked a man accused of looting off a truck, and watched as he was beaten to death, and set afire by an angry mob. Since there is no photographic evidence, and the reporters reported the scene second-hand, it is hard to know for 100 percent certainty that this happened.

But what is 100 percent true is that that awful scene had nothing to do with the child in the red shirt whose photo was snapped as food and supplies were being given away. In general, that photo conjures an image of black anarchy, aka The Horror.

Maybe most telling when it comes to parallels between Katrina and the Haiti earthquake is the debate over what to call the displaced people. In the first days following Katrina, news outlets, big and small were calling the American citizens displaced by the hurricane “refugees.”

I was teaching journalism to university undergraduates at the time, and one of my students vigorously defended using the word refugee in that context. When pressed for a definition of “refugee,” which Webster’s called “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution,” he held firm. “They are refugees. I watch CNN, I know what they look like.”

The confusion is worth remembering in the coming months and years, when there will be actual refugees coming to the United States’ shores. They will be brown. They will poor. They will be desperate.

Whatever we call them, the media images of them will tell a truth of their own.

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