Friday, August 27, 2010

Katrina Racial Violence

I read an article in the New York Times about the post hurricane violence in New Orleans after Katrina and the stories that are finally emerging about vigilante white people, including police, who threatened and murdered innocent blacks.  These accounts, so many years later are difficult to believe and several police officers have finally been indicted in various cases.

It takes me back to the post flooding of New Orleans and my work there as a medical volunteer.  I wasn't writing a blog then, but I wrote about it later.  One of the things I have never mentioned or written about was the story one survivor told me when I was taking care of him at the refugee center in Baton Rouge. 

The patient was a young black man in his 30s who was displaced and was with his uncle at the Center that served as temporary housing for about 5000 victims.  He left his home as the waters started rising and was walking shoulder deep through the murky water.  People were left to fend for themselves and, except for helicopters flying overhead and CNN recording the events below them on the ground, there was no organized rescue effort at that time.  This man was trying to get to higher ground and was helping others around him.  As the sun started to set a rowboat came along side of him with men carrying guns.

He told me they said, "Get out of here or just die. We want you dead."  I couldn't believe my ears.  "Are you sure they said that?" "Maybe you were in shock and didn't really hear them right", I naively replied.  "Why didn't they help you? Did they just leave you there?"  I asked...not really hearing what he was saying.  

I was incredulous that no help was offered and that they threatened him while he was helpless.  Frankly I just didn't believe the story, despite the details he provided and the sad, matter of fact way he spoke of it.  I brushed by his story and now I wish I would have listened with a more open ear and encouraged him to talk even more.

When people survive atrocities, just being heard and validated can help with healing.  My lack of understanding of the overt racism that exists in the South prevented me from hearing the truth and I failed that gentleman after the disaster.  The stories that are emerging now need to be heard.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Invaluable point you brought up. I have noticed that as well in serious and less severe cases of patients trying to communicate with physicians. It is an important lesson to listen open minded as well as put yourself in the patients shoes to get a better grasp or understanding of how they have been affected and what the real situation is. When some patients feel unheard and not understood they quietly disappear to find a more open minded better listener to trust with their health issues. Similar way communication applies to most relationships in life.

Spice Island Queen said...

I just read "Zeitoun" and it illustrates just how much we failed those in New Orleans after Katrina. Thank you for posting this, it is important that we are better than our past. Katrina and these issues only illustrate just how much farther we still need to go as a nation and as medical providers. For another well written example see: http://www.gradydoctor.com/2010/08/reflection-of-former-varsity.html

AbhayaMedia Health said...

Unbelievable, but it is the truth. It is unfortunate that even in the 21st century people harbor hatred and racism. We have a long way to go in terms of equality and fair rights

tracy said...

That is just so horrible, unbelievable how truly awful people can be. There is "overt racism" everywhere, though...not just in the South.

You cannot legislate goodness nor open mindedness...what a pity.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

Of course, this is a horrible vignette, if true. The anecdote describes such depravity and inhumanity, that is hard to accept as credible. While I agree we must show empathy, understanding and sometimes outrage, we must be cautious before accepting any version of events as fact.

bbmd1111 said...

So sad but still so true. I live in Tancredo's district and some of the hateful things I heard here after Katrina and Haiti could make your skin crawl.

Have Myelin? said...

My friend (a white male ) was in New Orleans giving a presentation and he barely got out of there. I don't want to share the story here because the details are not important, only that it happened.

Racial violence can be (and often is) a two-way street.

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