BLOCKING THE GRETNA BRIDGE
Racism and Resource Scarcity May Be Siamese Twins in a Post-Petroleum World
Michael C. Ruppert
© Copyright 2005, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
Septemeber 15, 2005 0800 PST (FTW) – Back in the 1950s a black and white film – I forget the title – posed a dilemma that will soon confront all of mankind. It is without doubt a question that most people are totally unwilling to face. In the wake of the sinking of a cargo ship, a group of survivors take refuge in an overcrowded lifeboat. The dilemma, which soon becomes apparent to the tiny ship’s officer in charge, is that there are too many people aboard the small craft and that it will sink and kill all of them unless someone is cast overboard. This actually happened in real life and the officer who made a decision to cast people off was subsequently exonerated. Instead of sacrificing all lives in a politically correct gesture, he saved some lives that would otherwise have been lost.
What happened after Hurricane Katrina is a different story.
In the aftermath of the storm we are seeing many ominous warnings of choices that will come to us all sooner or later as hydrocarbon energy reserves diminish in America and around the globe. None are easy. None are palatable. And none are politically correct. But hard science doesn’t care about being politically correct. Below is a story of what happened when the occupants of one lifeboat felt threatened at the prospect of taking on too many survivors – so they took on none. I neither agree with this nor endorse it. In fact it fills me with rage. The people of Gretna and Tarrytown, places I visited in 1977 during my heartbreaking discovery that the CIA was bringing drugs into this country, could and should have done better as thousands of New Orleans refuges started streaming across the Mississippi into these relatively unscathed communities. Instead of blocking the bridge and threatening to shoot the “unwashed” masses comprised largely of African-Americans, they had an obligation to extend aid to whomever they could. At some point also they would have been justified to say, “That’s enough, we just can’t take any more.” The fact that no attempt was made at all is what will remain forever unforgivable about this tragic episode.
It is a lesson for all of us.
As I continue to lift my eyes above the immediate horizon I see choices like this soon coming at all of us. Will it be the unwashed of Phoenix fleeing to Scottsdale? The gay, lesbian and Democratic hordes of San Francisco fleeing north into Marin County? The undereducated poor of Boston heading towards Martha’s Vineyard or Vermont? Or will it be millions of Manhattanites and Washington office workers eyeing the Amish farmlands of Pennsylvania and Ohio?
We are all only one hot, soothing shower away from being unwashed.
The racism of Gretna is obvious and despicable. But it is also predictable. Psychology 101 in almost all college courses directs our attention to fruit flies and red sturgeon. It tells how species recognize each other and form into societies based upon visual recognition. This is neither good nor bad. It just is and it is also ingrained in human behavior. What this story tells us is that we must chose to act differently if we are to survive as a species or even in a few fortunate communities. It’s easy to distinguish black, brown and yellow from white. It’s also a cop out (pardon the pun). What happened in Gretna is an archetypal model of what is coming for all of us and a warning; a very clear warning.
As we confront Peak Oil and Gas, and as we march headlong into a winter of devastation for the US economy from which there will likely be no recovery, all of us must force discussion of these issues now so that we can be prepared when the time comes and not linger in denial until the only option we have left is to revert to the level of the red sturgeon in panic or of the Gretna police department – also in panic.
Gretna also reinforces my stated position that local police agencies are going to become uniquely important as collapse becomes evident. Scientists like Richard Heinberg and I both see a “devolution” into feudal societies. Feudal societies were maintained by cadres of local knights and their first duties were to the people of their barony or fiefdom. This horrible tragedy took place in a region where racism is about as easy to find as a freshly shucked oyster used to be, so I am not surprised to see how it played out. I am only heartbroken.
My fear is how other, supposedly homogeneous communities will react.
How will all the “have” places react when they see the unwashed “have not” hordes approaching. At some point they will have to say we can’t take any more. At some point, they will have to defend their supply or risk hastening a total ecological collapse. But the decisions about whom and how many to save must be based upon some other criteria than race. Always, wherever possible, attempts must be made to save those who can be saved. It may be ultimately necessary to decide whom to save based upon skill sets. These decisions must be made by the people themselves in each place and not by Dick Cheney, David Rockefeller, Hillary Clinton or any other elite person or persons. Ultimately each locality will be forced to make its own choices and what will decide whether they are correct or not will be solely whether the community itself survives in nature. Diversity is a key to sustainability. I pray that we can do better than Gretna and the only way that we will is if we start talking about it right now.
'Racist' police blocked bridge and forced evacuees back at gunpoint
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
Published: 11 September 2005
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
A Louisiana police chief has admitted that he ordered his officers to block a bridge over the Mississippi river and force escaping evacuees back into the chaos and danger of New Orleans. Witnesses said the officers fired their guns above the heads of the terrified people to drive them back and "protect" their own suburbs.
Two paramedics who were attending a conference in the city and then stayed to help those affected by the hurricane, said the officers told them they did not want their community "becoming another New Orleans".
The desperate evacuees were forced to trudge back into the city they had just left. "It was a real eye-opener," Larry Bradshaw, 49, a paramedic from San Francisco, told The Independent on Sunday. "I believe it was racism. It was callousness, it was cruelty."
Mr Bradshaw said the police blocked off the road on the Thursday and Friday after Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday 29 August. He and his wife Lorrie Slonsky, also a paramedic, had sheltered with others in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter.
When food and water ran out they were forced to head for the city's convention centre, but on the way they heard reports of the chaos and violence that was taking place there and inside the Superdome where thousands of people were forced together without running water, toilets, electricity or air conditioning. So Mr Bradshaw spoke with a senior New Orleans police officer who instructed them to cross the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish, where he promised they would find buses waiting to evacuate them.
They were in the middle of a group of up to 800 people - overwhelmingly black - walking across the bridge when they heard shots and saw people running. "We had been hearing shooting for days. What was different about this was that it was close by," he said.
Making their way towards the crest of the bridge they saw a chain of armed police officers blocking the route. When they asked about the buses they were told their was no such arrangement and that the route was being blocked to avoid their parish becoming "another New Orleans". They identified the police as officers from the city of Gretna.
The following day Mr Bradshaw said they tried again to cross and directly witnessed police shooting over the heads of a middle-aged white couple who were also turned back. Eventually, late on Friday evening, the couple succeeded in crossing the bridge with the intervention of a contact in the local fire department.
Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna police department, said he had not yet questioned his officers as to whether they fired their guns.
He confirmed that his officers, along with those from Jefferson Parish and the Crescent City Connection police force, sealed the bridge and refused to let people pass. This was despite the fact that local media were informing people that the bridge was one of the few safe evacuation routes from the city.
Gretna is a predominantly white suburban town of around 18,000 inhabitants. In the aftermath of Katrina, three quarters of the inhabitants still had electricity and running water. But, Chief Lawson told UPI news agency: "There was no food, water or shelter in Gretna City. We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people. If we had opened the bridge our city would have looked like New Orleans does now - looted, burned and pillaged."
Mr Bradshaw and his wife were evacuated to Texas and have since returned to California. They condemned the authorities, adding: "This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans.
"Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist... Lives were lost that did not need to be lost."