September 18, 2005

Political correctness doomed NO Convention Center crowd to chaos

A professor from New Orleans emails:

One of the most shocking things in today’s Washington Post story on the events in the New Orleans Convention center (20,000 people and anarchy) is that during most of the time there was a armed National guard unit there (several hundred men) which never intervened, although it probably could have maintained order. They had another mission and never got the order.

Here is the WaPo story:

Nightmare in New Orleans
By Wil Haygood and Ann Scott Tyson
The Washington Post
September 17, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - For five eternal-seeming days, as many as 20,000 people, most of them black, waited to be rescued, not just from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina but from the nightmarish place where they had sought refuge...

No one has been able to say how many people died inside the convention center; police, military and center officials estimate the number is about 10.

Nor has there been any attempt to document the number of assaults, robberies and rapes that eyewitnesses said occurred from the time the first people broke into the convention center seeking shelter on the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 29, and when units of the Arkansas National Guard moved into the center on Friday, Sept. 2.

But even without those numbers, what happened in the convention center stands as a harsh indictment of government's failure to help its citizens when they needed it most.

That futility was symbolized by the presence in the convention center for three of the most chaotic days of at least 250 armed troops from the Louisiana National Guard. They were camped out in a huge exhibition hall separated from the crowd by a wall, and used their trucks as a barricade when they were afraid the crowd would break in.

The troops were never deployed to restore order and eventually withdrew, despite the pleas of the convention center's management. Louisiana Guard commanders said their units' mission was not to secure the facility, and soldiers on the scene feared inciting further bloodshed if they had intervened.

"We didn't want another Kent State," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the active-duty military forces responding to Katrina. "They weren't trained for crowd control."

In more than 70 interviews, with both military and law enforcement officials - who were themselves sometimes inside the center - and with many of the survivors who suffered over the course of several nights, a chilling portrait emerges of anarchy and violence, exacerbated by young men from rival housing projects - Magnolia, St. Bernard, Iberville, Calliope.

"Everywhere I went, I saw people with guns in their hands," said Troy Harris, 18. "They were putting guns to people's heads."

The professor continues:

Apparently the commanding officer stated his men were not trained in crowd control and referred to Kent State (where National Guard troops shot students). He is probably correct that if someone had been shot by the guard it would have looked bad (and it is likely the person shot would have been black and the shooter probably white) and hurt his career. However, even the gangs of New Orleans are no match for the La. National guard (and much disorder was apparently due to single individuals who were not organized) and order probably could have been restored by this unit by merely bluffing, firing in the air, and shooting anyone who pointed a gun at them.

Apparently the Arkansas National Guard had little trouble restoring order once they arrived with orders to do so.

If given the job, I would have cleared one hall, then let women and children (and their males) in after searching for weapons, and then let others into another room after doing a weapon search. The liquor stocks could then have been secured (the crowd having access to looted liquor added to the problem).

The account indicates the Convention Center management was there during most of the period and they had a small security force that was unarmed. I speculate that if they had had guns they might have been able to do something. (An obvious implication is to have at least a stockpile under a very secure lock and key available in similar circumstances that could be handed out). The anti-gun crowd may have contributed to this, although in normal times having an unarmed security force is probably wise (use a radio to call the police) given the type of person who often takes such low paid work.

There is a general rule of military history that trained troops can always overcome a mob. For example, in 6th Century Constantinople, when the riotous and rivalrous fans of the Blue and Green chariot racing teams suddenly joined forces and delivered the capital of the Byzantine Empire to rebellious anarchy, the Emperor Justinian prepared to flee, until his wife, the Empress Theodora spoke up. Gibbon relates:

Justinian was lost, if the prostitute whom he raised from the theatre had not renounced the timidity, as well as the virtues, of her sex. In the midst of a council, where [General] Belisarius was present, Theodora alone displayed the spirit of a hero; and she alone, without apprehending his future hatred, could save the emperor from the imminent danger, and his unworthy fears.

"If flight," said the consort of Justinian, "were the only means of safety, yet I should disdain to fly. Death is the condition of our birth; but they who have reigned should never survive the loss of dignity and dominion. I implore Heaven, that I may never be seen, not a day, without my diadem and purple; that I may no longer behold the light, when I cease to be saluted with the name of queen. If you resolve, O Caesar! to fly, you have treasures; behold the sea, you have ships; but tremble lest the desire of life should expose you to wretched exile and ignominious death. For my own part, I adhere to the maxim of antiquity, that the throne is a glorious sepulchre."

The firmness of a woman restored the courage to deliberate and act, and courage soon discovers the resources of the most desperate situation.

Three thousand loyal veterans under Belisarius then quickly put down the rebellion.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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