‘They’ Are Our Fellow Citizens

From the Beaumont Enterprise:

LeBlanc was one of about 3,000 evacuees who fled Hurricane Rita aboard a convoy of about 50 Beaumont Independent School District school buses. The drivers originally were scheduled to pull into Lufkin, but were prevented from stopping there. That pattern continued until they reached Canton, about 250 miles from Beaumont, at about daybreak Saturday.

In Lufkin, 81-year-old Charlotte Ranger of Beaumont was struck by a vehicle and killed Friday afternoon after exiting a bus. Lufkin police were unsure whether the bus was part of the convoy.

Several bus drivers from the convoy on Tuesday were staying in Reunion Arena, one of the three main Dallas shelters now housing about 1,700 people from Jefferson County.

As they sat outside on folding chairs, having a smoke, they described seeing people on their front lawns glaring at them with shotguns in hand, and pickup trucks with nooses hanging in back (most of the bus passengers were black). The drivers said whenever they tried to stop to rest or let their passengers use the restroom, town officials had court orders waiting for them to get out of town, an assertion those town officials later denied.

Driver Toni Soularie, 49, said she nearly had a violent confrontation when she pulled into a rest area.

“This officer said he was going to shoot me if I didn’t get back on the bus,” she said. “At that point I was prepared to let him shoot me. I had this invalid on the bus who was already embarrassed because she urinated all over herself. And I was not going to let her embarrass herself again. We just got off.

“But the officer stayed right there with me – made sure we were going to get back on.”

Because, you know, female invalids are going to rape all the white women. Contrast this with what Michael Ignatieff wrote about New Orleans in the NY Times in perhaps the best article he has ever written for the Times (italics mine):

“We are American”: that single sentence was a lesson in political obligation. Black or white, rich or poor, Americans are not supposed to be strangers to one another. Having been abandoned, the people in the convention center were reduced to reminding their fellow citizens, through the medium of television, that they were not refugees in a foreign country. Citizenship ties are not humanitarian, abstract or discretionary. They are not ties of charity. In America, a citizen has a claim of right on the resources of her government when she cannot – simply cannot – help herself.

It may be astonishing that American citizens should have had to remind their fellow Americans of this, but let us not pretend we do not know the reason. They were black, and for all that poor blacks have experienced and endured in this country, they had good reason to be surprised that they were treated not as citizens but as garbage….

Let us not be sentimental. The poor and dispossessed of New Orleans cannot afford to be sentimental. They know they live in an unjust and unfair society. They know their schools aren’t much good, that their police protection is radically deficient, that their economic opportunities are few and that their neighborhoods have been starved of hope and help.

Knowing all this, the people of New Orleans still believed that, as Americans, they were entitled to levees that would hold, an evacuation plan that would actually evacuate them and a resettlement plan that would get them back on their feet. They were entitled to this because they are Americans and because these simple things, while costly, are well within the means of the richest society on earth.

So it is not – as some commentators claimed – that the catastrophe laid bare the deep inequalities of American society. These inequalities may have been news to some, but they were not news to the displaced people in the convention center and elsewhere. What was bitter news to them was that their claims of citizenship mattered so little to the institutions charged with their protection.

The last sentence says it all.

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