Skip to primary content


Government Policy: We Won’t Evacuate the Poor

Last Sunday when I watched on TV as people lined up for hours trying to get in the New Orleans Superdome, I kept asking my wife, where are the buses to evacuate them. These were folks obviously with few resources and most likely no transportation of their own.

Rather than herding them into this potentially unsafe refuge of last resort, why not help get them out of harm’s way, bring on the buses, the National Guard troop carriers. But there would be none of that. No help for the poor, car-less, aged, or infirm. Then I learned why in a New Orleans Times-Picayune article dated July 24. The city, state, and federal governments’ official plan or non-plan was simply to tell the poor, car-less, aged and infirm that they were on their own. If a hurricane struck, we, your government, can’t help you; we have no resources.

No resources for the poorest of the poor, the aged and infirm? Is this my America? Is this your America? Here are the Times-Picayune’s opening paragraphs from the July 24 story:

City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans’ poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you’re on your own.

In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm’s way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

“You’re responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you,” Wilkins said in an interview. “If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you.

“But we don’t have the transportation.”

When I read these opening paragraphs I got so angry, I could hardly control myself. I put together an Op-Ed piece that appears in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today.

Still I wonder why I had to discover this myself. I did not find it in any of the major news outlets, and never heard a peep about it in the major newspapers.

Yes, via the news media I did hear, see and read a lot about the looting by the people that the rest of us basically left to walk, swim and maybe die in feces infected waters. I watched as they were portrayed as lawless masses. But if you were cut loose by your own government just because you could not afford a car, how would you act?

It is one thing to screw up; it is entirely another thing to enact policy that puts your most vulnerable citizenry in deep, deep waters. Indeed, the government policy was as fetid as are the streets of New Orleans.

To its credit, the Times-Picayune reported the above story and many others of the impending disaster. Now I want the rest of the news media to tell the rest of the nation and the rest of the world all the sordid facts. Indeed, everyone of us who believes in a press that is suppose to protect the interests of the poor, infirm, and aged should figuratively be out in the streets demanding the news media present the complicity of our elected officials, and by extension each of use, in leaving thousands of our fellow citizens to face a situation that was known to be apocalyptic for years.

Witt Editor’s Note: See my blogs here and especially here to get an update on the nonevacuation plan for the poor.

One Response to “Government Policy: We Won’t Evacuate the Poor”

  1. Meandering Vaguely Around Timnah Says:

    Nagin — Good Guy?

    China Mieville on Mayor Nagin:
    But most importantly of all – and to stress, this goes very far beyond Ray Nagin himself – he’s not being entirely honest when he implies that all this chaos was unforeseen.
    In fact, everything has gone accor…