Refugees in Suffolk? Sept. 2 2005

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2005


In the United States.

American refugees.


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Somehow, the words just don’t seem to go together, but that’s exactly what the thousands of now homeless, penniless, foodless and waterless residents of what once was New Orleans and the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coasts are.

Many were being shipped off to the Astrodome in Houston yesterday, but they will likely be dispersed throughout the country. Folks who run particular facilities here in Suffolk are already being contacted about preparing for the possibility of providing space for these poor, wretched souls.

Celia Soper, manager of Lake Prince Center in Suffolk, was telling me over lunch at Thursday’s Suffolk Rotary Club meeting that she had been contacted by the feds yesterday morning about the possibility of the facility having to provide beds for ailing Katrina refugees.

Suffolk public schools also received notice that school systems should be making preparations for taking on refugee students.

It’s just difficult to fathom the depths of the disparity.

The leads on news stories like the one below from today’s New York Times sound more like Fallujah or Baghdad than they do one of the United States’ most fabled and beloved cities.

&uot;NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 1 – Despair, privation and violent lawlessness grew so extreme in New Orleans on Thursday that the flooded city’s mayor issued a &uot;desperate S O S&uot; and other local officials, describing the security situation as horrific….&uot;

Many pundits, particularly on the shrill right wing, have seized upon the looting that has taken place in New Orleans as indicative of the depravity sparwned by the welfare state, but as is typically the case with such people, their description of events is simplistic, wrong, and frankly stupid.

The people we are seeing on TV are the poorest of the nation’s poor. I still don’t know if they &uot;chose not to evacuate,&uot; as the broadcast media have been describing it, as much as they were &uot;abandoned.&uot;

They had no place to go, no way to get there.

By saying that they &uot;chose&uot; not to evacuate, it’s somehow comforting, I suppose, to the rest of us because it implies that what is happening to them now is mostly their own fault. The fact that valuable resources such as helicopters that could have rescued people and dropped sandbags on breeched levies, national guardsmen who could have been mobilized days in advance and been at the ready to provide supplies and security, and money that was earmarked for the improvement of the city’s system of levies were all diverted to a senseless war of choice in Iraq is somehow lost and goes mostly unreported by the television networks.

Katrina refugees in New Orleans are not &uot;animals,&uot; as they are being portrayed. They are people like you and me who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, scared, and doing what they have to survive.

We’d all like to think we would behave better, and Lord willing, we’ll never have to put that belief to the test.

The Rotary Club’s Board of Directors yesterday voted to send $2,000 to the relief effort.

Also, someone let me know yesterday that the Salvation Army is also a great charity that is helping with the relief effort. An editorial in the print edition of the News-Herald encouraged folks to give to the Red Cross. The slight was unintentional. The Salvation Army does great work and my regrets for neglecting to mention that.