by Jason Cherkis and Erik Wemple, Washington City Paper
The print media get picky about a story involving police forcing evacuees back into New Orleans.
Soon after the floodwaters engulfed New Orleans, reporters chronicled the thousands trapped at the Superdome, trapped at the convention center, and trapped on rooftops. As the days passed, news consumers had to wonder: Why couldn’t citizens just hike out of the city to the nearest patch of dry land?
The Socialist Worker webzine on Sept. 6 provided an answer: You couldn’t leave without facing down a police barricade and gunfire.
Lorrie Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw, Socialist Worker contributors, had traveled to New Orleans to attend a convention for emergency-medical-services personnel. Then the storm hit. They holed up inside a French Quarter hotel for several days. Once the hotel’s food and water ran out, Slonsky and Bradshaw were booted onto the street, along with other hotel guests.
The group set out for the convention center but decided to change plans after learning that it wasn’t fit for humans. So they consulted a police commander posted near Harrah’s on Canal Street. “He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge…” Slonsky and Bradshaw wrote. Buses would be stationed on the other side, the commander said.
They headed for the bridge, about 200 people, nearly all of them African-American, according to Slonsky. As they approached the structure, Slonsky and Bradshaw reported, they were met with a police barricade and the sound of bullets whizzing overhead. Soon dozens and dozens from their crowd began to peel away and scatter. Slonsky and Bradshaw wrote that they and a few others managed to approach the police line. They were told there were no buses waiting for them.
“We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway,” Slonsky and Bradshaw wrote. “They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans.” Bradshaw reports that there were about a dozen cops guarding the bridge, and only one of them was black.
In covering Katrina, journalists expertly documented the seismic fuckups of officialdom—the stifling conditions at the Superdome, the convention-center fiasco, the weak levees that gave in to floodwaters. The coverage turned Michael Brown from an obscure political appointee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into cannon fodder for Bush-administration detractors nationwide. And it told the compelling stories of people who never made it out of the Crescent City. But it largely ignored the most compelling one, in large part because a pair of lefty Web types were first on the scene.