September 3, 2005

Katrina and segregation.

Bearing Blog writes about an interview on NPR with Betty Hearn Morrow, a disaster sociologist. (The audio should be available here at 1:00.)
Bizarre. This morning on NPR's Weekend Edition: a sociologist tries to explain to Linda Wertheimer, without using the word "segregation," that the relief workers will be intentionally racially segregating the emergency shelters. I think the link is here.

She's going on about how people want to be with their own "cultural group" and how tensions will be lower that way. This may or may not be true, but what's interesting to me is the linguistic somersaults she's putting herself through to avoid saying "we will segregate the shelters."
Has everyone forgotten about Johnson v. California, a case the Supreme Court issued back in February?
The Supreme Court ruled ... that California must abandon its policy of assigning inmates to racially segregated cells for as long as 60 days when they arrive at new prisons -- unless the state can prove it has no race-neutral way to prevent interracial violence.

A five-justice majority rejected the state's contention that the court should defer to the judgment of the corrections officials who deemed the unwritten policy necessary to prevent members of race-based gangs from turning on one another in two-man cells. The state also argued that its policy affects members of all races equally. The court said California's policy must withstand the same "strict scrutiny" as all other racial classifications.

"We rejected the notion that separate can ever be equal . . . 50 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education, and we refuse to resurrect it today," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in an opinion that was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

"When government officers are permitted to use race as a proxy for gang membership and violence without demonstrating a compelling government interest and proving that their means are narrowly tailored, society as a whole suffers," O'Connor added.

[Justice Stevens, writing separately, took an even stronger anti-segregation position.]
I wonder what the civil rights cases coming out of Katrina will look like. If the issue of segregating refugee shelters worked its way up to the Supreme Court, would the Johnson dissenting view prevail?
Justice Clarence Thomas said the majority put concern for the "indignity and stigma of racial discrimination" ahead of inmates' "safety and . . . lives."

In a 28-page dissenting opinion that was nearly twice as long as the majority opinion, Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, said California authorities need latitude to deal with such gangs as the Crips and the Aryan Brotherhood. Its policy, he wrote, "is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests."
John Roberts will have replaced Justice O'Connor (unless something very strange happens), but the Johnson majority would still have five votes. It will be interesting to see what effect transformed microcosmic society of the Court will have on Anthony Kennedy.

13 comments:

DirtCrashr said...

Segregation, yes - profiling, no?

bearing said...

Now that I look at it again, she may have been *recommending* segregation rather than saying that the staff in the Superdome *will be* segregating them.

Brando said...

clearly, i think immediate underlying dynamic is security. the poor and largely black population were abondoned in the wake of Katrina while all the rich white folks drove out in their SUV's and were the first to get busses out of town. racial tension must be at an extreme. if people weren't hungry, dehydrated and dying, there would likely be massive riots.

however, focussing on the segregation of the shelters is looking at the tree and not the forest. plus, after all, we are not talking about a prison, but about the people of New Orleans. Why were the poor and largely black so disproportionately affected by the circumstances of Katrina in the first place? I don't know enough law to judge if there is a civil rights case here, but sure seems that some claims could be made.

John Thacker said...

were the first to get busses out of town

Actually, Greyhound stopped running Saturday night-- before the mayor's mandatory evacuation order. That just screwed the poor over more, of course.

Why were the poor and largely black so disproportionately affected by the circumstances of Katrina in the first place?

Because they're poor. All sorts of unforeseen circumstances hurt the poor more. Things like cars and money in savings allow people to get out.

jaed said...

while all the rich white folks drove out

All the what?

Also the rich black folks, the middle-class white folks, the middle-class black folks, and the poor black and white folks who were lucky enough to have transportation (and smart enough to take thought to do it). New Orleans was something like 67% black, and some 80% of the population left before the storm arrived; you do the math.

Eli Blake said...

I was watching CNN early Monday morning as the hurricane came ashore. They had taped interviews of people (all poor black people) who flat out said that they wanted to leave but had no money and no transportation out. One man just came out and said that if anyone gave him a ride, he would have gone.

A friend of mine (I linked from my blog to his) copied some pictures from his computer on his blog, and two of them were very telling. One showed a black man carrying a 12 pack of pop and a bag of groceries. The caption was, 'a young man wades through chest deep water after looting soda and groceries from a grocery store.' The second had a picture of two white people carrying a 12 pack of pop and a loaf of bread. The caption said, 'Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding soda and groceries from a grocery store.'

So, if it is black people, it is 'looting.' If it is white people, it is 'finding.'

Eli Blake said...

No need to worry about how Roberts or Kennedy will vote. This won't get to the Supreme Court. This is a once in a very long time event, and the chances are the state will in effect plead guilty and say, 'yeah, we shouldn't have done it, but it's in the past now.'

Ann Althouse said...

Eli: That finding/looting story has been solidly debunked. Please don't be part of the phenomenon of spreading it.

Jennifer said...

Eli: Check out snopes.com for an explanation of the seemingly racist captions. Apparently, both photographers had witnessed the events they caught on film.

The young black man had gone into a store and taken (or looted, if you will) groceries.

The white couple had been wading down the street where there were groceries floating around in the street (clearly having come out of the nearby store). So, they actually did "find" the items.

Personally, I don't think either of the photographees did anything wrong. But, I would say the captions are factually accurate rather than racist.

Ann Althouse said...

As to litigation, Eli, saying we won't do it anymore not only doesn't avoid liability for damages, it doesn't even necessarily get you out of prospective relief. (There's something called the "voluntary cessation doctrine.")

Ann Althouse said...

What's really terrible is stoking feelings about racism. Let's look at what's actually happening and take it seriously. But let's not use things that aren't actually racist to get people going about racism. That is very destructive, even if you don't mean to be.

Daryl Herbert said...

Johnson v. California only says that the courts must apply strict scrutiny to California's prison policies. But strict scrutiny is not so strict when it's applied to prisons: the Court likes to defer to the "penological experts" (aka prison guards)

Likewise in a disaster situation, the Court would probably roll over. Even if the Court later found this arrangement to be unconstitutional, there is definitely doubt as to whether it would intervene while the situation was unfolding.

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I think racial segregation now would be a terrible idea because it would reinforce the idea that blacks are being victimized by a racist government and cause great emotional pain to the blacks who are segregated--they would know why the segregation was put in effect: because they're presumed to be a bunch of violent thieves and rapists! At the very least, they're not "good enough" to be in with the white people.

I just wonder how much more likely whites are to be attacked in an integrated shelter, either in racially-motivated violence, or just because there are more black criminals in the shelter than white criminals. I suspect it's a non-trivial increase, but I don't think we have any way of knowing.

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If you get your way and the shelters are integrated, and a white woman is raped by a black man, would you be able to look her in the eyes and tell her that your decision was the right one?

If the shelters are segregated, would I be able to look a black person in the eyes and tell them the right decision was made? I don't think so.

I think there's no way to avoid unpleasantness. I think the facilities should be integrated and soldiers should respond immediately and heavy-handedly to any strife, whether it's racially motivated or not (if they know for sure that someone is a rapist, they should shoot him on the spot, regardless of the races involved).

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I think we have to decide how we want to measure whether or not a policy is "good." Are we merely trying to reduce the total number of violent attacks? If so, then racial segregation might help (or it might not).

Or are we trying to make everyone safer? Should we measure the benefits of any policy by the smallest increase in safety that any person experiences? (In other words, if segregation makes whites 10% safer but puts black women at 1% greater risk, then we would view segregation as a failure because the lowest gain is actually a 1% loss)

Do we think rape is so much worse than everything else, that we don't take into account whether someone's feelings are hurt over racial issues?

I don't like any of these questions and I don't see any easy answers (which is why I fall back on my default answer to all difficult questions, which is "summary executions")

amba said...

It's not just a legal issue but an emotional one. To the small extent that the throngs stranded in NO were integrated -- there were some white people there, mostly elderly -- you could see white and black people helping each other out and crying in each other's arms. Now that they've survived this way-more-than-skin-deep mortal predicament together, now you're going to separate them??

For God's sake, this is an opportunity. Have some guts. Segregation perpetuates mutual ignorance, which perpetuates racism.

Thugs are not very political about who they try to rape; the vast majority of such crimes are committed within their own community (black on black, white on white). So if you take the white women out and black women get raped, is that any better?

It doesn't make any sense to me. The vast majority of people aren't going to hurt anybody. The minority who are going to aren't going to be particularly discriminating about it. They need to be cracked down on and stopped, or shot.