June 29, 2006

15 years!

A harsh sentence for Katrina looters.

37 comments:

Pete Hallman said...

Yep - seems pretty harsh, but I don't see booze as an absolute necessity during a disaster (your mileage may vary). I'm now very interested in seeing how that policewoman (interviewed while lifting items at Walmart) is sentenced. Harsher yet? Can her sentence exceed the 15 year max due to her position of 'trust'? Has she even been charged with looting?

Dave said...

Well, I would aver that 15 years in the big joint is nothing compared with the sentence imposed on people who choose to waste away their lives in the fetid swamp of corruption that is New Orleans.

Good riddance to the city. Here's hoping it never stains America again.

Not likely of course, but one could hope. Never have I seen a city so mired in the filth of its racial politics and political corruption as New Orleans.

John said...

I agree that it seems harsh-I'm sure people, especially first time offenders, often receive little more than probation for a simple burglary.

However, taken in context with the disaster that was taking place, and how looting seems to encourage a further breakdown of society, putting other people's lives in jeopardy, perhaps it is that out of line.

Recall that in other disasters (SF quake), looters (real, suspected, imagined), were shot on site.

Looting really is something beyond simple stealing-it is a complete breakdown of society, and that is dangerous.

Maxine Weiss said...

Not really, when you consider all the many cries, during that time to..."shoot looters".

Things could've been far worse for them.

Peace, Maxine

Elizabeth said...

don't see booze as an absolute necessity during a disaster (your mileage may vary).

If we were being generous, we'd say the water was undrinkable, so booze was a safe alternative. But I'm betting they walked right by the bottled water.

I'm now very interested in seeing how that policewoman (interviewed while lifting items at Walmart) is sentenced.

She won't be. She's been restored to duty after a little armtwisting by her minister. It's a terrible morale buster for the rest of the department.

Good riddance to the city. Here's hoping it never stains America again.

Dave, may I say sincerely, with no equivocation, fuck you, your entire family, everyone you know, and the horse you rode in on. May all instances of your DNA run out and cease to stain humanity, toute de suite.

Elizabeth said...

The looting problem goes on now, and it's almost exclusively out of state, organized thieves (may their cities of origin be wiped out and never stain America again!) who hit the neighborhoods that are being repaired. They come in at night and steal copper pipes (one friend lost $30K in pipes last month), appliances, work trucks, tools, and so forth. I'd love to see the National Guard shoot them, on sight. They're leeches, and certainly a bigger threat to law and order, and to the continued survival of our beautiful city, than anybody shoplifting after the storm.

Buddy Larsen said...

Elizabeth, I grew up in Lafayette, and like you, know that most impressions of SW Louisiana are nowadays almost exclusively formed by the way the national press has written "Katrina".

I wouldn'nt blame anybody for feeling that New Orleans is a worthless mess--that's been the drumbeat ever since Bush's hurricane.

It's to the point you almost have to be 'from' there to feel warm toward the place.

lawdog said...

Seems like a fair sentence to me. I think the items taken are the real issue here. I would let them off completely if they had taken food, bottled water, diapers, etc.

As for the City itself, it does seem that the rate of the break down of scociety in New Orleans was rapid and total. Another, example that comes to mind is Detriot - seems to be a riot everytime anything happens there. Contrast that to Florida and its hurricans. Obviously there will be examples of looting there to but nothing in the scale of New Orleans; thoughts?

MadisonMan said...

Obviously there will be examples of looting there to but nothing in the scale of New Orleans

I suggest you do a quick search on "Hurricane Andrew" and looting.

Buddy Larsen said...

Lawdog, an unfortunate situation arose during Civil War Reconstruction, wherein a certain General Benjamin Butler put the Ninth Ward under his (federal) protection and began to administer it with federal funds direct from DC. The story was, the freedmen he was bringing in from the area needed protection from the local populace. The other story was, he was a big-time grafter and it was all about dipping into the cash flow.

Anyway, that part of New Orleans got politically stuck, frozen in the Reconstruction Era, and is little different now than 1866.

But what riled Elizabeth is, so many people now judge the whole unique, hard-working, otherwise conservative Acadian area by this small but camera & reporter-magnetic area.

I know it sounds like I'm making excuses, but, there *is* more to NOLA than the looting.

Elizabeth said...

Hey Buddy. I just recently had some excellent boudin from Breaux Bridge, and Lafayette is home to friends and family. It's a lovely drive from here to there, through cane fields and bayous along Highway 90.

The Katrina coverage is indeed out of whack, but I'd say it's a long way from lacking "warmth" for New Orleans to the putrid spew above. And here's good news you might like to hear: I can't drive a mile without seeing two or three groups of teens, from church groups and high school service classes, cleaning and gutting homes all over town. There are people all over America who love New Orleans, and who know what it is to love their one another.

I hope people get the picture about looting. The looting after the storm was a terrible break of civilized society. The idiots stealing TVs in the immediate aftermath of the storm need to do jailtime, so that in future evacuations, the rest of us can rest more easily than we do right now. Shooting on sight wasn't an option, though. All over the city, people who had remained were checking on neighbor's homes, feeding abandoned animals, looking for survivors, getting supplies and medical help to folks who were stranded. Letting some recently deputized militia-wannabee shoot anyone he suspected of looting would have turned into a nightmare.

But the looting going on now, the organized, criminal gangs that prey on the darkened, flooded neighborhoods by night, selling the loot all over the U.S., is much more damaging to our security, and to our economic well-being. Those people need to be slammed in jail for long, long terms, and made into public examples. They are stealing people's futures, and I have no mercy in my heart for them.

Elizabeth said...

Buddy, thanks for the bit of history. I'll add a little more recent history to it, if you don't mind. Two things happened in the period after WWII that created a unique set of circumstances with poverty and race in New Orleans, that didn't have the same effects on Birmingham and Atlanta.

The cotton and sugar cane industries started switching to mechanized farming systems in the late 50s, and the result was that the newly unemployed African Americans, directly descended from slaves who'd labored on the same plantations, left the country towns and went to New Orleans, particularly the 9th Ward, looking for work. Those folks were in most cases not trained for any other work, and poorly educated, if at all. In earlier migrations, some of those same folks would have gone to Chicago and Detroit, but those cities didn't have much opportunity for work, either.

At the same time, the labor-intensive jobs on the river were being replaced by mechanized loading systems, so there weren't enough low-skilled jobs for these newcomers. Cities farther north of here had other resources, being on major delivery routes, so they dealt with this increasing poverty class better. The racial politics that Dave refers to in part has to do with the competition between the African Americans from the country, and the light-skinned, Catholic-educated, middle- and upper-class Creoles of New Orleans, who make up most of the political power in the city.

I mentioned in a post maybe a month after Katrina that I hoped to see some reforms start happening in this time of opportunity. This legislative session saw bills passed that will consolidate our unwieldy judicial system, and reduce our property tax assessors (a huge patronage pie) from seven to one. Our worthless school board now controls only four of the 120+ schools it had before the storm. Charter schools are cropping up all over the city, as people are taking control of their children's learning. A high school for carpentry and building skills is opening in the fall, which will allow low income kids from around town to take advantage of the work opportunities are that expanding exponentially, and to continue the skilled crafts of their ancestors.

Sorry, Dave. We're not going anywhere.

Buddy Larsen said...

Elizabeth, really nice posts--you & Dave aren't that far apart--between your lines you allude to the same things that have up in arms. The difference is the damnable press coverage--unless you're on the spot seeing things turn--as you are--a person might easily accept the "Let's you and him fight" press attitude. Alas. But, hang in there! Y'all 'r gettin' 'er done (and writing good new history).

Central Texas (home now) has no real boudin. None. Can ya believe it?

Buddy Larsen said...

I think maybe even ole Ray Nagin has seen the light. The voting patterns have changed, and Performance is now on the inside, with Patronage on the outside, fading fast down the backstretch.

Thorley Winston said...

A harsh sentence for Katrina looters.


Looting during a natural disaster is more than just a property crime – it breaks down the civil order and endangers the general public by making rescuers reluctant to enter an area where they might be harmed. By rights every one of these looters should have been shot.

Elizabeth said...

Buddy, you've got the heart of a peacemaker, so I honor you for that. If you ever get a real envie for boudin, let me know and I'll package some up with dry ice and send it out to you. I've done it before, with boudin, good Italian sausage, and andouille. What is it with Louisianians?

You're right that Nagin, while not my choice in the recent election, is a reformer, and seems free of the stink of patronage. That's a good thing for us right now.

Ann Althouse said...

The argument for shooting people during the breakdown in order is entirely different from the argument that, after the event is over, 15 years is an appropriate sentence. While I didn't favor shooting the looters, I do see the need to take strong actions to restore order and prevent a downward spiral into chaos. I understand the people who say they should have been shot. But when it is all over, it's important to give appropriate sentences. 15 years is just ridiculous. It's far short of breaking into a house or robbing someone. The sentences need to be proportional.

Pogo said...

TV coverage never seems quite able to capture the real variety of any area, especially after a disaster. It wants a hook, a theme, and then hangs everything on that. Local residents see themselves portrayed in some hackneyed tale and say, Whaaat?!?"

So NOLA gets painted as a little Nigeria, corrupt and anarchic, and deserving Sodom's fate.

Elizabeth knows the people there, and says it just ain't so. Of course not. It never is. It's jes' folks, trying to rebuild from a horror. The political failures wrecked some of the rescue and recovery to be sure, but I was sure as shootin' that real people who lived there were muddling through same as in Des Moines and Grand Forks.

I only learned of their determination to rebuild, and the really sad human stories (untold by CNN's **CHAOS IN NOLA!!!** approach) by watching a TV show on H&G. Man. Scooped by a low-rent cable show. Funny where one can find the truth.

I've only visited 5 or 6 times, and don't know but a few square miles. Any place that can make Po' Boys taste like heaven can't be bad.

Buddy Larsen said...

That's mighty sweet of you, Elizabeth--never know when lack o' Cajun food will get unbearable. My two sisters in Lafayette, last time I was over, one of 'em had to make emergency gumbo while the other defended the kitchen with chair and bullwhip. Mmmm chicken gumbo....

Jeff said...

Louisiana Looting Law
LA R.S. 14:62.5

A. Looting is the intentional entry by a person without authorization into any dwelling or other structure belonging to another and used in whole or in part as a home or place of abode by a person, or any structure belonging to another and used in whole or in part as a place of business, or any vehicle, watercraft, building, plant, establishment, or other structure, movable or immovable, in which normal security of property is not present by virtue of a hurricane, flood, fire, act of God, or force majeure of any kind, or by virtue of a riot, mob, or other human agency, and the obtaining or exerting control over or damaging or removing property of the owner.

B. Whoever commits the crime of looting shall be fined not more than ten thousand dollars or imprisoned at hard labor for not more than fifteen years, or both.

Buddy Larsen said...

A market-share growth-opportunity is always rare, so no crisis will ever be underplayed by any news enterprise. Sober coverage is just throwing money away. Nothing wrong with that, so long as everybody reads it right.

Pogo said...

Buddy, I can see why that's true, but I ended up turning off all TV coverage because it was so distorted.

I knew folks here in MN that were staffing the medical help areas in NOLA who saw a totally different story, so I learned to avoid TV altogether. But I'm not typical, I expect.

(One of my worst days as an adult was when my bosses refused to let me go with the volunteer group from our hospital, the day before departure. Man, for the anger and shame it caused, well, it was nearly enough to make a man lose faith in the world.)

Buddy Larsen said...

Good of you to try, tho. MN is a long way, & hospitals are emergency venues in themselves, hey?

tjl said...

Elizabeth (who is in a position to know) said:

"The looting problem goes on now, .. and it's organized thieves ... who hit the neighborhoods that are being repaired... I'd love to see the National Guard shoot them, on sight. They're leeches, and certainly a bigger threat to law and order, and to the continued survival of our beautiful city, than anybody shoplifting after the storm."

Ann, with that in mind, can you honestly say that exemplary sentences aren't called for? Elizabeth's observations can be confirmed many times over simply by checking out NOLA.com, the website of the Times -Picayune.
Here in Houston we still have many thousands of New Orleanians who long to return home but don't want to put their children at risk by doing so. Unless public safety is better protected, most of these exiles will never return.

Like most Houstonians, I've been to N.O. many times (most recently in December) and treasure what it has to offer. New Orleans can be compared another city whose decaying cultural riches are threatened by the encroachment of the sea -- Venice. Both cities are worth whatever it takes to preserve them.

Elizabeth said...

Buddy, your sisters sound like the real deal. Turkey and andouille gumbo for me, please. I'll top it off with some homemade file.

Pogo, thanks so much for your concern. I got a little teary after I read your first comment. Let's remember, the next time we tangle over other stuff, that we share a very real core of respect, yes?

The response of people like you and your medical colleagues, the kids down here on their summer break, the folks I've met who just decide to take a week and join in with a work group, are evidence of the best in America. We're a good people, and we like to do for others.

tjl, it's great to hear from a Houstonian who still likes New Orleans! Y'all gave us so much, and have had to put up with a lot as a result. Thanks. And your source, nola.com, is exactly what people should be reading if they want to get beyond CNN and the other cable networks.

About my comments on looting--in my heart, I don't want to see people shot. As a gunowner, I'm prepared to defend my life and property, but cold-blooded shooting on the street isn't what civilized people do. Because we are civilized, justice needs to be swift and sure, and harsh enough to stop what's becoming an industry. The National Guard is now patrolling those empty neighborhoods, and I am grateful. These guys are experienced, smart, and well-trained. I have every faith they will protect property, and respect life.

Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
alexmitchell said...

I understand why people might use the looting that's happening now as a reason that deterrence through harsh punishment is necessary, but to me what's going on now is maybe worse than what was happening then.

To me, those three people who robbed the store of alcohol were just opportunists, who got greedy and couldn't resist the temptation presented by the storm.

I can see why it was worse than stealing under normal circumstances, but at the same time, people who commit crimes of opportunity are perhaps more likely to be shamed and rehabilitated by a shorter punishment than people who commit crimes of premeditation.

The out of state people looting at the moment are committing a far worse crime in my eyes, and I can see why this punishment might send a message to them, but punishment isn't just about deterrence, it's also about proportionality, and really, 15 years for stealing a few hundred bucks worth of booze? I mean, that's almost double what Duke Cunningham got for accepting more than $2million in bribes, and corrupting the political process.

15 years in prison is a hell of a long time, and to me it just seems out of whack.

alexmitchell said...

A further point:

These 15 year sentences are an example of one of the problems I have with the increasing 'lock em up and throw away the key' attitude towards crime and punishment- I mean, is this really helping America become a better place?

It certainly sends out a strong message of deterrence- but how effective is that really? are there any would be criminals who are going to cease breaking the law because of this? are there any idiots who are going to think twice next time they're tempted with a lucrative but illegal opportunity?

probably a few. But does that justify the cost to society of 45 years (combined) imprisonment of three people, not to mention the impact it's going to have on their families and their ability to get work and provide for themselves lawfully when they are released?

Sometimes these consequences are unavoidable, because the nature of the crime itself dictates that a long stretch in jail be served, but is that necessary here? I don't think these are people who need to be locked up for the protection of society, because as far as I can tell, they haven't got previous records as thieves, so they're much less likely to re-offend than people who have a history of offending.

I agree they have to be punished, and punished to such an extent that they never want to do anything like this again- but do we need 15 year jail terms to acommplish that?

we also need to ensure the victim recieves justice- but does the shop owner really need to see three looters get 15 years to feel justice has been done?

What about an alternate sentence such as restitution and compensation to the victim (of twice the value of the good stolen and any associated costs), plus 6 months or a year in prison, followed by 15 years of community service (say 250 hours a year).

That surely would satisfy the victim, be an onerous enough sentence that the criminals are going to be sorry enough at their actions to want to avoid them in the future, and also send a message to the community. It will also provide whatever benefit to society that those 11,000 odd hours of work are worth.

Furthermore, it might do even more to help society. That's because the crime these people committed was not just theft, it was, at a time in which people needed generosity and help from their fellow citizens, a selfish act that was in direct contrast to the way good people should have been behaving at such a time.

And if you want to change that attitude, and encourage these people to become responsible citizens who do the right and compassionate thing to help others in need, then if 15 years of charity work doesn't do it, I don't know what would. certainly not 15 years in prison, potentially nursing resentment at a society which has given them a particularly harsh punishment.

I mean, i know the mature response to an abnormally harsh punishment for something you've done wrong is to accept that even though it is 'unfair' in relation to how other people may have been treated, nonetheless, you brought it on yourself by screwing up in the first place and you just have to wear it, that's not necessarily how people behave in real life, and I think there are a lot of people in prison who aren't learning any real lessons beyond 'don't get caught next time', who might benefit from a punishment that teaches them to have a bit more compassion for the world.

Also, I know jail is the default setting for punishment and sending a message, but it doesn't seem to me to be the most effective option. I think jail's a great idea when you need to lock someone up to protect the community- e.g. a child molester, or a violent thug, or a repeat offender. But forcing someone to dedicate hours of their free time every week to helping others- for 15 years- that's certainly a punishment. The publicity attendent about this crime and the resulting shame of knowing your family and friends all know about your actions- that's a punishment. The fact that every time these people will apply for a job, they'll have to disclose their criminal record, and that the embarrassing details are only a google search away from any potential employer- that's a punishment. So they certainly wouldn't be getting off scott free.

I just think in these circumstances, 15 years jail isn't going to balance the competing demands of justice as well as other options.

and while it will satisfy many people who hear about it on the news in a 'ooh, I'm glad those nasty people got what they deserved' way, while that's useful in making the public feel like the justice system works- it's too simplistic an answer, and in the long run, the most important goal of the criminal justice system is making society a better place, and that sometimes requires a bit more creativity and thought in punishing people.

my 2c anyway. I'd be interested in hearing responses, particularly from Elizabeth and buddy, but anyone else as well.

tjl said...

Alex Mitchell said:

"I don't think these are people who need to be locked up for the protection of society, because as far as I can tell, they haven't got previous records as thieves, so they're much less likely to re-offend than people who have a history of offending."

It's hard to tell very much about these looting defendants from the brief CNN story. However, it's possible to make some likely deductions. The Louisiana statute cited above makes looting in time of emergency a felony with a range of punishment of 3 to 15 years. While Louisiana's legal system is unique in many ways, it has certain features in common with those of other states. Most felony offenses may be probated for first offenders. Probation always includes restitution to the victim and extensive community service. For a first offender charged with a non-violent felony offense, probation would be virtually automatic even in the jurisdictions toughest on crime -- such as Texas, the one I'm familiar with.

The fact that the judge in this case did not probate the sentences,but gave the maximum term available under the law, indicates that the defendants most probably did have lengthy criminal histories and were poor prospects for the kind of rehabilitation urged by Mitchell.

Buddy Larsen said...

alexmitchell--I can't add anything worthwhile to tjl's. If we're assuming for purposes of discussion that the three were good citizens before committing a simple property crime, you bet, I'd agree with you, give rehab a chance (but not an endless series of chances).

Elizabeth said...

Restitution would be more useful to the victim, I agree, tjl. My nephew owns a hardware store that was not only looted but trashed to the point of destruction after the storm. He lost his means of making a living, his independence, and his inheritance from his father. Seeing the looters jailed would be satisfying, but sure, I'd rather they'd be made to help restore his loss. But I doubt they'd ever have the means. It would be largely symbolic. That being said, I agree overall that 15 years is harsh.

But that example is largely wishful thinking. There weren't many post-storm looters arrested. That's why these folks are being made to represent the whole corps of looters. I would bet we'd find that this is historically common, where a new law, or a new opportunity to apply a law, emerges, those first convicted under it face its worst consequences.

Buddy Larsen said...

Elizabeth, was your nephew under-insured, or (*gasp*) worse? I ask because the building I lost was--I thought--well enough insured, until the replacement costs came in about three times my insurance proceeds. Hadn't been keeping up with commodity prices the last couple years, alas (sigh).

Elizabeth said...

Buddy, a whole lotta people found out they had unrealistic ideas about their insurance. I'm sorry to hear you lost so much.

I believe my nephew's problem had to do with what he was insured for. The flooding was covered, but the looting destroyed his inventory and his equipment. There are Small Business Administration loans he'd qualify for, but I think it also destroyed his sense of security, and he doesn't want to fight to rebuild in a neighborhood where that could have happened. I think that explains why right now, local judges and juries are willing to mete out heavy sentences. Looting makes us all feel at the mercy of fellow citizens who have no respect for the social fabric. I'd never support a conviction for someone who looted food, water and dry clothes after the storm. They didn't set out to victimize or harm their local businesses.

Elizabeth said...

Here's an anecdote on the complexities of the looting thing. There was a group of young black males riding around in a U.S. Postal van they'd boosted after the storm, a step van that rides high. They made rounds in their neighborhood for a week or so after the storm, distributing food, water, whatever they could "loot." The person who related this story to the news was the abbess of a group of nuns that also ran an old folks' home. These young fellows came by and asked what she needed, and came back the next day with adult diapers, some of those cans of nutritious formula that babies and old folks can drink, and other stuff she'd hoped for. Those kids did loot, but I can't argue with them. They acted to help folks survive. (Sadly, the Guard believed the home was okay, and didn't evacuate them immediately, and several elderly people died due to the harsh conditions.) If I saw Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise do the same thing in a disaster flick, he'd be the resourceful hero.

Elizabeth said...

If anyone is interested in hearing some stories from New Orleanians about their experiences on returning to the city after the storm, my friend Simon Dorfmann has been videotaping short interviews. They're available at his blog, People of New Orleans.

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