Saturday, August 25, 2007

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

It’s another beautiful day in West Los Angeles, and I’ve spent the afternoon in my apartment weeping after witnessing the devastation and crippled humanity brought to light in, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

This four hour documentary, directed by Spike Lee, is an untainted portrayal of the state of emergency in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the communities appalling struggle to receive aid. The tragedy occurred two years ago, next week.

Told via first person interviews, there is no escape from the heart-retching reality of a city virtually abandoned by its own government (there to pick up the scraps only after the lives were lost). It is a black pit of unthinkable stories: a wheelchair ridden woman washed away to drown – her husband unable to come to her aid, a son helpless to provide his mother with medication – forced to spend four sweltering days in the Convention Center next to her corpse. Over 1,800 men, women and children where killed during and after the storm, 700 of those in the New Orleans, many left to rot floating in flood water or cast to the shoulders of I-10 for well over a week.

Natural disasters are clearly terrible events, which are unmanageable at some level; however, the national disaster in New Orleans only truly came once the storm had vanished. From the gaze of most News watching Americans, people saw a mandatory evacuation and thought – why did so many people chose to stay in a death trap? Aren’t they partially responsible for their fate? The answers to that are: 1) While the evacuation might have been mandatory, there was little to no aid for the poor and elderly to make their way out of the city. How can an elderly couple leave the Lower Ninth Parish without transportation, extra food, medication or water? 2) The Superdome and Convention Center were meant as temporary refuge for citizens during the hurricane, but by the third/fourth day were of no use without the deployment of Federal troops and aid*. The water had been shutdown, the plumbing overrun and the bodies were piling up, yet this was looked at as the community safe-hold.

A slew of rumors swept the news that people were being murdered and even children raped in the Convention Center; however, every level of police and government official has dismissed both as false. Despite the falsities, the claims further fueled the idea that these citizens were savages and brought the chaos upon themselves. While images of people looting electronics are disheartening, it does not dismiss the dire needs of a city or represent the community as a whole.

A fury of finger pointing was conducted after the devastation between: the heads of government - Bush, Rice, Rove and Chertoff, FEMA – Michael Brown, and local and state officials - Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin. Chances are the fumble was caused by a combination of all these elected officials, but Michael Brown was the one who went down with the wreckage. It only takes a quick glance at Brown’s background (a decade as commissioner of the Arabian Horse Assoc) to realize he had no authority, outside of political ties, to manage any sort of Federal Emergency team. Brown had been forced to resign from the AHA, and needed a new gig – he just happened to pick FEMA out of the grab bag of government positions thrown at candidates who “fit the bill.”

Does George Bush hate black people (as Kanye put it)? Probably not, and I hope that somehow I (or this film) didn’t just preach to the choir and leave Conservatives dismissing this as a political attack. This event was infinitely bigger than the political aisle – if you don’t believe me, I’ll go out and vote for Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in 2008 just to prove it to you. It’s about the sanctity of human life, and our government’s responsibility to put an equal stake in everyone. I truly believe Katrina is our great nation’s largest failure in the last 100 years. I also recognize that my hurt/anger is a product of the United States’ greatness, and feel blessed to be given the opportunity to hold my government to a high standard.

Over seventy countries pledged monetary donations including: Kuwait ($500 million), South Korea ($30 million). Cuba and Venezuela were first to pledge $1 million and various aid (canned food, doctors, medicine); however, the US denied these donations.

Please take the time to educate yourself about this national disaster by watching When the Levees Broke. It's on HBO all month, available for rent on Netflix and purchase on Amazon.

Donate to Direct Relief

*The Coast Guard should be seen as heroes during Katrina - restlessly saving people from their roofs via helicopter.


Anonymous said...

Well, I don't actually think this is likely to have effect.

11:18 AM  

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