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Volume III, Number 8, September, 2005

Negligent Homicide:
Leaving Children,
the Old,
the Sick
and the Poor
Behind to Suffer
or Die

By Jamie McKenzie (About Author)

Many people died this past week in New Orleans not because of the storm but because of the gross incompetence and neglect exhibited by government officials who failed to plan properly, who ignored pleas for funding of stronger levees and who moved too slowly to protect those left behind. Instead, the poor and the powerless were stranded and exposed to life-threatening, unsanitary conditions.

There were many resources that should have been rushed to New Orleans in the first days that were held up for 3-4 more days in a quagmire of red tape and incompetence.

New Orleans looked at times like Bagdad in the early days of "liberation."

Many, Many Left Behind

Photo from Wikipedia . . .

New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005:08:29 17:24:22).
Photo taken by U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi
Licensing - This work is in the public domain.

There was a naval ship just off shore that could have saved lives. Chicago Tribune article.

The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore.

There were troops and trucks and food and water and medical supplies that were strangely held back from the thousands in need. This holding back was criminally negligent.

The disaster had been foretold and many leaders had ignored the warnings, had failed to prepare, and had failed to organize for the worst case scenario.

Last to know?

The nation watched TV scenes of New Orleans with horror as the FEMA Director showed himself to be one of the last to know of the suffering at the Dome. Note September 1 CNN interview below:

Michael Brown, director of FEMA: People who were unable or chose not to evacuate are suddenly appearing. And so this catastrophic disaster continues to grow. I will tell you this, though, every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today and so I have directed that we have all the available resources to get to that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need.

Paula Zahn: Sir, you’re not telling me –

Brown: To care of those bodies that are there –

Zahn: you’re not telling me that you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn’t have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea that they were completely cut off?

Brown: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.

Actions (or the lack of them) Speak Louder than Words

This publication has repeatedly pointed out the gap between the Administration's rhetoric on the one hand and actions on the other.

"Help is coming!" the President promised repeatedly.

"Help is coming!"

"Help is coming!"

It was not true. The delays were unconscionable. The planning was inadequate. The Administration spent its time on PR and spin instead of crisis management.

Half the old folk in one nursing home drowned when the staff could not remove them all before the water rose above their beds.

Thousands of other deaths occurred outside the range of cameras and counters.

Civilian deaths mounted without counting unless it was your father or mother or grandma or son or daughter expiring on day four of a rooftop vigil.

The storm was lethal in its own right, but the failure to mobilize resources rapidly to save lives in the storm's aftermath was probably more lethal than the storm itself.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

"This was a really bad storm!"

Leaders ranging from the President to the Director of FEMA hid behind the enormity of the hurricane and the flooding.

It seemed as if the greater the challenge and the greater the disaster, the less we should expect from our government in Washington.

These kinds of excuses ring hollow from those who invented NCLB and AYP, an inflexibly harsh system of testing and penalties aimed at schools that do not make the grade.

President Bush failed this test.

His administration failed this test.

The Director failed this test.

None of them made AYP.

Like a driver who loses control of a car through reckless abandon, they should all be put on trial for negligent homicide, the unprecedented abandonment of hundreds of thousands of innocents.

The failures were criminal. The unnecessary pain and suffering was mammoth. Many of the deaths were preventable.

Safety Net? Homeland Security?

Katrina showed that we no longer have a government safety net. We have nothing approaching homeland security.

If you had a good car, a bank account, a credit card and reasonable resources, you could drive out of New Orleans and find a motel at a distance some place safe. The neocons don't like government and have been dismantling the safety net. They have effectively privatized disaster relief by minimizing the role of FEMA and expecting faith based organizations or localities to pick up much of the slack.

More intent on tax breaks for the rich than protecting the society, the neocons have pushed responsibility for survival down onto individuals, families and localities.

Trickle Down Relief

We now have "trickle down relief." The main role of the federal government is to deliver platitudes and false promises, words of encouragement not backed by actions or resources.

If you were poor, old, weak or sick and lacked resources in New Orleans, the Bush administration showed a callous disregard for your welfare and survival. You were sent to a refuge that had none of the resources we associate with refuge.

  1. There was no exit strategy.
  2. There were no support systems.
  3. There was no security.
  4. There was no food, water, electricity or sanitation.

All three levels of government bear responsibility for a flawed disaster plan, but the enormity of this disaster called for a level of response that only the national government could mount.

The Bush administration responded with the speed and compassion of an absentee landlord.

Note the story on two families in the New York Times . . . "In Tale of Two Families, a Chasm Between Haves and Have-Nots" - September 5, 2005.

Ignoring the Warnings and Weakening Homeland Security

The story begins long before Katrina struck when studies repeatedly warned about the damage that could result from a category 4 or 5 hurricane. The levees were known to be vulnerable. Money was requested to fix the problem. The Bush administration turned down the requests.

Fixated on terrorism and a bungled war in Iraq, the administration borrowed from national preparedness to fund an overseas adventure, moving national guard troops to Iraq who would have normally helped rescue New Orleans and switching funds from disaster relief to projects related to the so-called war on terrorism.

In addition to ignoring the levee requests, the Bush administration actually downgraded the capacity of FEMA to respond to emergencies, placing its operations under the Office of Homeland Security and appointing a Director with little prior experience or qualifications.

Paul Krugman outlines these issues in great detail in his column in the September 5, 2005 issue of the New York Times " Killed by Contempt." Click here (Registration required.)

The President has flown down twice for photo opportunities, staying clear of crowds that might ruin his image, wrapping his arms around victims, doing a masterful job of acting compassionate on camera while the relief effort stumbled and true compassion choked and sputtered.

Educational Neglect - Many Children Left Behind

While it remains obscured in most places, the treatment of New Orleans by this administration is a mirror image of the treatment of weak students in places like Texas and elsewhere as NCLB forces more and more schools to engage in questionable practices to escape the penalties and disgrace imposed by NCLB.

It is the poorest and weakest students who suffer the most from the administration's obsession with testing as a means to improve schools. In Texas we saw nearly a million students sacrificed to this system while the President was governor. Test scores rose and drop out rates fell while attrition rates remained shameful. Minorities were effectively pushed out of school, and the bottom of the school population became the victims of neglect and abandonment. Note article "A Lost Generation? A Million Left Behind?" Note book, Many Children Left Behind.

Educational Triage

Triage is a disturbing term used to describe the way emergency rooms and disaster relief organizations must focus energies and resources on those most likely to survive.

If the flood waters are rising and we can only move half of the residents in this nursing home to safety, which ones do we sacrifice? Which ones live and which ones die?

The same strategy is now used in some schools to survive the NCLB storm and flood waters.

In November, No Child Left will publish an article showing how one school in Texas engaged in "educational triage" to score well on Texas state tests. To play the testing and AYP game, some schools have learned to target those few students at the borderline of passing while neglecting the high scoring and the low scoring students. "Below the Bubble: "Educational Triage" and the Texas Accountability System" by Jennifer Booher-Jennings originally appeared in the Summer 2005 American Educational Research Journal but will be adapted for publication in No Child Left.

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.