Wary of the Stories of New Orleans Rampaging

Friday, September 02, 2005 at 09:03 AM

Television coverage of New Orleans is heavy with tales of absolute lawlessness, including a widely reported sniper shot at a rescue helicopter.

I don't doubt that looting has occurred, nor that some of it is for "luxury" goods not just necessities.  But I do have a lot of skepticism about the type and degree of lawlessness being portrayed.

Now it turns out that Laura Brown, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Washington, has cast doubt on the report of the firing on the helicopter.  She said she had no such report.

"We're controlling every single aircraft in that airspace and none of them reported being fired on," she said, adding that the FAA was in contact with the military as well as civilian aircraft.

from http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=1087205]

It's probably good to keep in mind that the last two major disasters of this scale, the Galveston hurricane of 1900 (some 6,000 dead) and the late 1800s Johnstown, PA flood  (2,200 fatalities), both involved false reports of "minority" savagery, Blacks and Eastern Europeans supposedly rampaging and cutting off the fingers of the dead to get their rings. All or most of these stories, many reported in the respectable press of the time, are now believed to have been completely untrue or wildly exaggerated.

In fact, an unpublished paper presented at a conference states that social scientists investigating claims of looting at & after national disasters inevitably find little evidence to back up the claims.  See "LOOTING IN DISASTER: A GENERAL PROFILE OF VICTIMIZATION," Jane Gray and Elizabeth Wilson of the Disaster Research Center of The Ohio State University
(August, 1984).