Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Harry Shearer Gets It Wrong

I generally like Harry Shearer but his response to A. C. Thompson's article in the Nation profiling the racist killings on Algiers Point during Katrina is way off track.

It is not how I want to face the nation.

I actually had a number of concerns about A.C. Thompson's writing style and the lack of context too. I also lamented the lack of national progressive attention to issues like the closure of Charity Hospital.

But the facts were there for all to see. Maybe you've seen this despicable video by now:

Harry Shearer read that article and watched that video and started his response acknowledging that the actual crux of Thompson's article - the part about the supremacist white mobs hunting down unarmed black men during Katrina, bragging about it on tape, and the NOPD letting it slide - is solid journalism.

Then he proceeds to rip Thompson apart for "lies" related to basically off-topic factual infractions. For instance, Shearer complains that Thompson said Katrina "crashed" into New Orleans when it is technically true that it was the undermining of the poorly constructed Federal levee system that truly precipitated our tragedy. He implies that the article was written as part of some mainstream media refusal to investigate the levee failures.

Maybe so, but way way off-topic.

In downplaying the racial tensions that exist here, he suggests that Thompson's article - about the city ceding authority to a modern day lynch mob, their failing to investigate the murders they committed, and the free murderers basically confessing on tape that they went out and shot black people for sport, all chased down over 18 months - was published by the Nation because the publication had "contented itself with a crime story."

Certainly, Thompson's article included some unhelpful and inflammatory rhetorical embellishments. It also boasts some pretty gaping context gaps. But let's be real.

This disgusting event happened in our city. The tragedy of Katrina touched people of all backgrounds. But let's not pretend for one second that African Americans weren't treated "special." I'm not just talking about the indifference of Bush and Brownie because state and city officials also played their respective parts. So did some of our police and so did some of our citizens.

Shearer's pride in anecdotal "casual, easy, frequent interactions" with black neighbors just isn't evidence that this city doesn't have gravely serious racial tensions to work through. I'd point to statistics that discuss which community is disproportionately victimized by things like, I dunno, the criminal justice system, the public education system, neighborhood recovery policy, public health policy, post Katrina economic development policy, and affordable housing policy.

Progressive New Orleanians are working to form diverse coalitions around those actual policy matters. When African American victims of supremacist crimes cannot get the NOPD to investigate, there is a huge problem, one very indicative of the many forms of institutionalized racism that progressive New Orleanians must work to eradicate.

Shearer has worked hard as an advocate for New Orleans and for the need for a massive federal infrastructure intervention. His point has always been that America needs to step up and take responsibility for the 2005 flood.

And he's right.

But New Orleanians need to step up themselves and take responsibility for local institutionalized racism. Mr. Shearer could have made all the points that he did without totally brushing aside the matter at hand. Our African American neighbors are hurt by this. We shouldn't ignore that just because Thompson said 'race war' without offering a nuanced differentiation of liberal whites and the supremacist vigilante terrorists that appear in the video.

We can draw that contrast pretty sharply ourselves by condemning these acts and demanding a full criminal investigation.

Shearer should have used his national forum to do that first and foremost. His larger mission to hold the Federal government accountable would not be undermined, it would be that much more credible.


Schroeder said...

I distinctly recall "Our Mayor", Ray Nagin, who is, of course, African-American, as well as our black police chief, completely avoiding this issue. I'm just saying, there's lots of complexity to the issue. Although, in fairness, confiscating people's guns may have been the response, but they should have something more to say (and do) in light of Thompson's article. By the way, to me, it *is* all about the context. Crimes are committed by individuals. I was not one of those individuals. I didn't point a gun at anyone. Let's find fault with the criminals, and accept that everyone (white and black) would probably benefit from greater understanding. Let's *not* generalize and imply that everyone who is white (or black) is a rabid racist, by using language like "race war."

Red said...

You nailed it as usual E. I am astounded by Harry's perspective, completely obfuscating the thrust of this very important investigative report to nitpick about the way the storm and levee failures were characterized.

And yes, the 'Race War' title is off, I admit. But to completely blast A.C.'s report, especially with Harry's tired kumbaya anecdotes about his easy interaction with Black folk here, just because the background technical info about the storm and the levees is not 100% accurate is truly insulting.

These were hate crimes and our authorities have refused to investigate them. And that serves to re-stimulate the trauma of having to endure institutional racism and post-storm depression/feelings of hopelessness that many of us slog through on a daily basis living here. I could give a rat's ass about the 'Mississippi surge' phrase. This report could very well help us get some justice here for these heinous crimes committed. Harry's article absolutely WON'T.

Funny...the word verification I'm asked to produce to post this is "lamme". Misspelled but nonetheless right on characterization of Harry's response to the Nation's report.

Harry Shearer said...

In fact, I had not seen the video before I wrote my post, I was writing strictly in response to the printed article. Interestingly, the video makes far fewer references to, or errors regarding, the nature of the disaster. So I'm able to concentrate much more on the reporting of the incidents. Obviously, the testimony of the victims is most compelling and angering. The boasting of the white drunks may or may not be worth anything. The reference to "eyewitnesses" is peculiar--they're not named, enumerated, shown, nor quoted. That's not sound journalism, and not convincing. None of this is to say I don't believe that some of this awfulness occurred, nor would it surprise me that the NOPD and DA's office dropped the ball on the Herrington incident. Nor does that mean I think dropping the ball is either justified or legitimate. Again, my critique was with the reporting of the disaster, and the many erroneous references to it I quoted in my post. I think the reporter, and his editors, did a disservice to the printed story with the "Race War" headline and with the non-factual verbiage regarding the disaster. Best regards.

Editilla said...

Thanks E. And thanks Harry.
I want Justice for those 1200+ people killed despite their color, by the Corps of Engineers.
Then we can move onto prosecuting the ones who killed each other?
If you folks, and Mr. Thompson, fail to note the murder and violent crimes rate among blacks upon blacks in New Orleans and from Blacks upon Whites --Before the Federal Flood-- then you really have no place here worrying about them after the storm do you?
And if so, why now?

I lived in the Bywater.
I lost a friend that summer of '05 to a Black teenager who shot them dead for nothing.
We were having to literally dodge 5-10 Black Shootings or Muggings per week in New Orleans during the days leading up to the Federal Flood.
It was ridiculous.
That is the way it was and I dare anyone to contradict that who lived in New Orleans.
That is the Truth.

Everyone abhors individual violent crime murder and mayhem.
That is bad enough for me.

I'm losing it over the concept of Institutional manslaughter, murder and mayhem, as the Corps of Engineers perpetrated on us on August 29th, 2005.

But the Corps of Engineers kills over 1200 people indiscriminately because of corrupt engineering and y'all ain't gonna blink an eye?
Come on, Y'all, at least blink.

Leigh C. said...

Editilla, I think most of us parsing this thing agree that this is the tip of a huge iceberg of disastrous failure on the part of many concerning the events of 8-29 and after. You have been pursuing the Corps' culpability in those events and have been doing it quite well.

In some ways, however, this is an issue that most everybody in this country can relate to and can also see the levee breaches through that lens - where does individual responsibility begin and compassion for one's fellow human being end, ESPECIALLY in times of crisis? Is it really fair to label all of this with a swath of racial antagonism or is it much more difficult than that? How can those in the wrong be brought to justice without it becoming a witch hunt of proportions that would mane the McCarthy years seem like a nice picnic lunch?

I'm getting a little nuts with this. Working on something to be posted later...

Editilla said...

I need to qualify my last statement.
I didn't mean "Y'all don't blink an eye" there in New Orleans in the midst of it all.
I should have said "and the Nation doesn't blink an eye"
That y'all.
Not Y'all Y'all.
Y'all heard me?

Editilla said...

Good point, Leigh, and E... and Harry.
I just can't get my head around where we start to count the dead and when will the last one count.

Race really did not matter to the Reaper from everything I saw that first week of the Flood.
But Race matters after the Flood and Race mattered before the Flood.

Just as the sea refuses no river, so many could have refused Racism and have not.
Thus I find it remiss to try to connect one with the other.

But we can connect the Flood with its Perpetrators.
We've got those bastards.
Except it looks like they may get away with it.
Now that is Power over Racism.

E said...

Harry - Thanks for responding. I think we're all in some degree in agreement about certain things about how Thompson and the Nation contextualized certain aspects of the events of Katrina and the use of the phrase 'race war.'

But I think the larger issue is what is important for what we need to do to build the kind of biracial progressive political coalitions that can topple people like Ray Nagin - like Schroeder says - Our Mayor who has completely avoided this issue and countless others related to institutional racism.