Was the spectacle of so many citizens left behind to fend for themselves in a destroyed city bad planning, or the poor planning?
Hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana. Storm waters engulfed New Orleans, but it was the images of poor, mostly African American citizens that flooded television screens across the nation and begged the question: Why? Louisiana Public Square turns its attention to the turbulent waters of race and poverty stirred by Katrina. Watch "Race and Poverty in Louisiana."
Race, Poverty and the Response to Katrina
The images from New Orleans were shocking: tens of thousands of Americans stranded with little food or water; mothers tending children for days in crowded, unsanitary conditions; the sick and elderly sitting in the sun, without medicines or medical attention. How could these things be happening in the worlds richest country? And why did so many of the desperate faces belong to people of color?
Was the spectacle of so many citizens left behind to fend for themselves in a destroyed city just bad planning, or the poor execution of well thought-out preparations? Or were other factors at work? The role of race and class were immediately raised as possible explanations for the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans seemingly abandoned in the streets of New Orleans.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 6-7 among 1,000 Americans, finds that the hurricane has had a profound psychological impact on the public. Fully 58% of respondents say they have felt depressed because of what's happened in areas affected by the storm. In recent years, this percentage is only surpassed by the 71% reporting depression in a survey taken just days the Sept. 11 attacks. But it is significantly greater than the percentage who reported feeling depressed in the opening days of the current war in Iraq.
Half of those polled (50%) say they have felt angry because of what happened in areas hard hit by the hurricane. But overall opinion on this measure obscures a substantial racial divide in reactions to the disaster as many as 70% of African Americans say they have felt angry, compared with 46% of whites. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to know people directly affected by the hurricane and are generally much more critical of the government's response to the crisis.
In addition, blacks and whites draw very different lessons from the tragedy. Seven-in-ten blacks (71%) say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country; a majority of whites (56%) say this was not a particularly important lesson of the disaster. More striking, there is widespread agreement among blacks that the government's response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the storm's victims had been white; fully two-thirds of African Americans express that view. Whites, by an even wider margin (77%-17%), feel this would not have made a difference in the government's response.
Black-White Perspectives on Katrina
African Americans across the country have had stronger reactions to the disaster in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast than have whites. Blacks make harsher judgments of the federal government's response to the crisis, perceive the plight of disaster victims in a different light, and feel more emotionally connected to what's happened.
More than eight-in-ten blacks (85%) say Bush could have done more to get relief efforts going quickly, compared with 63% of whites. Blacks are also considerably more critical of the federal government's performance in general 77% say the federal government's response was only fair or poor, compared with 55% of whites. While both of these attitudes are also strongly related to partisanship, these racial differences remain even when party affiliation is taken into account.
The disaster has had a far more significant personal impact on blacks than whites. African Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites (43% vs. 22%) to say they have a close friend or relative who was directly affected. African Americans are also much more likely than whites to report feeling depressed and angry because of what's happened in areas affected by the hurricane. Blacks also hold more sympathetic attitudes toward the people who became stranded by the flooding in New Orleans. An overwhelming majority (77%) say most of those who stayed behind did so because they didn't have a way to leave the city, not because they wanted to stay (16%). Most whites agree, but by a slimmer 58% to32% margin. Most blacks (57%) also think people who took things from homes and businesses in New Orleans were mostly ordinary people trying to survive during an emergency. Just 38% of whites see it that way, while as many (37%) say most who took things were criminals taking advantage of the situation.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
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The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press is one of six projects that make up the The Pew Research Center. The Center is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
For additional information on poverty in Louisiana, see "Fighting Poverty, Building Community" report by CABL [Coalition for A Better Louisiana].
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