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September 5, 2005

A National Disgrace

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

A National Disgrace

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Hurricane Katrina swept through the Mississippi delta, leaving a terrible swath of death, destruction, and despair in her wake. We've all been riveted to the wall-to-wall coverage. From Fort Walton Beach on Florida's panhandle to the Louisiana swamps, families' lives have been tragically altered by this blast from Mother Nature.

It's hard to imagine what someone, encamped in a temporary emergency shelter, thinks about as they contemplate a return to a home that might not even exist.

I feel especially sorry for the people who did what they were told and evacuated threatened areas early. Those poor people who traveled to the Superdome for "last resort" shelter had to be terrified when the roof over the massive structure started leaking rainwater.

As the levy system has failed and Lake Ponchartrain flowed into downtown New Orleans, they had to move again. These folks had to pack what little they had left and boarded a bus or boat bound for who-knows-where.

Will a lifetime of memories still be there, or has everything they hold so dear been swept away in the muddy floodwaters?

Horrible, depressing, and completely disheartening, the silver lining in Katrina's cloud is the indomitable spirit of the American people. Red Cross, Salvation Army, and FEMA workers from around the country are rushing in, backfilling Katrina's receding floodwaters with medicine, food, clothing, and shelter.

Cash donations are pouring in from around the nation, representing millions of tears, prayers, and worries for our Gulf Coast neighbors.

So why the headline? What's the big national disgrace? Simply put, some people are garbage; despicable and pathetic examples of a decline in the basic civil nature of human interaction.

As the death toll is still being tallied, even before the professionals can even enter some communities to render aid and comfort, a group of barely human two-legged creatures decided to help themselves to armloads of "free" stuff.

One of the most pathetic scenes came courtesy of MSNBC. One New Orleans adult looter can be seen coaching her young accomplice, who looks to be a child of 11-12 years of age.

Our big and little looters then rush the grocery store, climbing through a broken plate glass window. Someone reading this will say: "They needed the food, why not let them take what they need". Well, for one thing, it's against the law.

So I don't lose the point, what about the footage of the looter carrying the 32- inch flat screen TV? How about the teenagers holding boxes of Nike sneakers, or the four guys running out of the jewelry store, looking both ways before sprinting up the street?

What need legitimizes that behavior? Sadly, it's just a small step from looting for what you need to looting what you want. All in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

It would be fun to be a fly on the wall in that courtroom, though. "Young man, what do you have to say for yourself?" the judge intones, peering over his reading glasses.

"Well, your honor, I wanted to be able to watch the Weather Channel in high definition in case any more hurricanes come around," our young looter responds. "I needed the Nike's to be able to outrun the storm, and the Rolex is for telling time when the power goes out."

What excuse do we offer for them? We're either fully functioning human beings or not. With hundreds of thousands of displaced residents struggling against disease, death, and discomfort, the savage animal instincts of a handful of looters triggers a sort of "opportunity" response.

What is it that prompts otherwise rational-thinking people to connect our nation's worst natural disaster with the chance to smash and grab someone else's property?

When the final counts are tallied, hundreds, maybe thousands will have perished, billions of dollars lost in property damage, and the lives of millions of Americans forever affected.

Some idiot will be wearing a new pair of sneakers and a new wristwatch. Their memories of Hurricane Katrina will be what they stole, not what they lost.

Truly disgraceful!

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