A reader writes:
Your notes about the emerging MSM "exaggerated reports" meme re: the Convention Center/Superdome anarchy yesterday, and then the quote from your 9/6 piece that “it's a key point borne out in many riots (such as Detroit in 1967), that violence, especially any level of sniping, has a paralyzing effect on rescue workers,” made me think a great deal about the respective blankets thrown over both cities’ breakdowns of authority.
My father was at the center of it all in Detroit in 1967—a surgical resident in the ER of an ‘inner-city’ hospital (and yes, he was shot at by a sniper when he went to the hospital roof during a break to get a view of the chaos)--and besides the many harrowing stories of those five days he told me, he imparted one lesson that has relevance beyond just that event, namely:
After-the-fact official reports of death and mayhem resulting from civil unrest always greatly understate the true toll.
To this day, the official death toll of the Detroit Riot of 1967 is 43 persons. My father stopped counting when he reached eighty bodies—and that was in just one of the temporary emergency morgues set up in Detroit during that crisis! There were at least two other morgues receiving the dead.
Now, the rationale behind post facto minimizations of death tolls is surely predictable and expected: city fathers want to sweep the true extent of the tragedy under the rug and declare the metropolis as back open for business, self-appointed leaders of the minority communities involved want to downplay the fact that their constituents largely victimized their own, etc. What is more interesting is the methodology by which the true numbers were obscured—in Detroit in 1967 my father found that this was being done by counting only people killed outright by gunshot as official riot deaths. If someone “fell” out of a 10th-story window in the riot zone—that was ruled an “accidental” death and not counted in the riot tally. Likewise, if someone was run over by a car—and said car then backed up over the person again and then forward over once more—well, that was to be counted as an “automobile accident”, and again, not part of the riot toll. Even gunshot victims were not counted if they died from complications after a decent interval had passed after the riot was declared to be officially “over”...
I strongly suspect that we will see the same dynamic at work in New Orleans in the coming weeks. The media will probably buy into the charade and amplify the conventional wisdom that, no, things in the Convention Center and Superdome really weren’t that bad, and hardly anyone was killed/raped/maimed in the violence. The authorities even have a ready-made excuse for explaining deaths that are uncovered—the storm itself! Sure, there’s evidence of blunt-force trauma all over this cadaver—but how do we know it wasn’t from a collapsing beam rather than a wielded tire iron? The question is whether the confluence of the blogosphere and available public data on the Internet can allow individuals with good analytical skills to let the truth out this time.
A reader sent me this article from a Nebraska newspaper:
Mortician surprised by New Orleans dead
Mark Roper spent two weeks in St. Gabriel, La., this month, moving the bodies of Hurricane Katrina’s New Orleans victims into refrigerated trailers.
After watching the steady stream of corpses, Roper’s biggest surprise about the dead: almost all were elderly or homeless...
He was surprised by the number of homicides — people with gunshot wounds to their heads and backs.