Media

CNN's Plea from Haiti: Send Cops to Contain This Peaceful Crowd!

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Those tales of mass violence in Haiti are looking increasingly dubious by the day. Here's Sasha Kramer, director of the Haitian nonprofit SOIL, describing the conditions she's seen after the quake:

Since we arrived in Port au Prince, everyone has told us that you cannot go into the area around the palace because of violence and insecurity. I was in awe as we walked into downtown, among the flattened buildings, in the shadow of the fallen palace, among the swarms of displaced people there was calm and solidarity.

We wound our way through the camp asking for injured people who needed to get to the hospital. Despite everyone telling us that as soon as we did this we would be mobbed by people, I was amazed as we approached each tent people gently pointed us towards their neighbors, guiding us to those who were suffering the most. We picked up five badly injured people and drove towards an area where Ellie and Berto had passed a woman earlier. When they saw her she was lying on the side of the road with a broken leg screaming for help. They were on foot and could not help her at the time, so we went back to try to find her. Incredibly, we found her relatively quickly at the top of a hill of shattered houses. The sun was setting and the community helped to carry her down the hill on a refrigerator door, tough looking guys smiled in our direction calling out, "Bonswa, Cherie," (Good evening, Dear) and "Kouraj" (Courage)….

Half way through the surgery we heard a clamor outside and ran out to see what it was. A large yellow truck was parked in front of the gate and unloading hundreds of bags of food over our fence. The hungry crowd had already begun to gather and in the dark it was hard to decide how to best distribute the food. Knowing that we could not sleep in the house with all of this food and so many starving people in the neighborhood, our friend Amber (who is experienced in food distribution) snapped into action and began to get everyone in the crowd into a line that stretched down the road. We braced ourselves for the fighting that we had heard would come, but in a miraculous display of restraint and compassion people lined up to get the food and one by one the bags were handed out without a single serious incident.

Such reports have been echoed by other people on the ground, such as The Guardian's Inigo Gilmore. It also matches the usual behavior witnessed after natural and technological disasters, in which mutual aid flowers while violence and theft are almost unheard-of. Even on those rare occasions that rioting does break out, there's much more spontaneous order than disorder.

Unfortunately, in Haiti as in New Orleans, the fear of crazed crowds has fed a centralized, militarized response to the crisis, erecting barriers between the needy and outside assistance. With U.S. troops in control of the Port-au-Prince airport, for example, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders have had flights redirected to the Dominican Republic.

To be clear: I'm not claiming there's no grassroots violence in Haiti. Just that, in another parallel with Katrina, those rumors of unruliness seem to have been grossly exaggerated. That may be because so much of the media report what they expect to see even when a completely different story is unfolding under their nose. Watch this bizarre report on CNN, in which Ivan Watson describes "chaotic crowds" while the camera shows crowds that are calm and patient. At one point Watson announces that we're watching a "chaotic scramble" onto a rescue ship. This is illustrated by a group of people carefully, methodically passing a baby onto the boat. Then, while more refugees peacefully load their luggage in the background, the reporter asks the shipowner his burning question: "Has anybody offered you any help with crowd control of these thousands of desperate people?"

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  1. Reporters are generally upper class American white people. And members of that group tend to get very scared and nervous when they see unrestrained black people.

    1. It’s this all the way. These reporters see large crowds of unwashed non-white people in ragged clothing and they just assume that means they’re incapable of rational, peaceful interaction with each other.

      1. Reporters are generally upper class American white people.

        Reporters are generally liberal upper middle class American white people.

        These reporters see large crowds of unwashed non-white people in ragged clothing and they just assume that means they’re incapable of rational, peaceful interaction with each other.

        These reporters see large crowds of unwashed non-white people in ragged clothing and they just assume that means they’re incapable of rational, peaceful interaction with each other.

        1. +1 LarryA

  2. I seem to remember making the suggestion sveral days ago that the hysterical reports out of Haiti reminded me of the Superdome fiction after Katrina. Can’t the “news” media find some average looking people that will just tell us the truth?

    1. When, after two days without food an entire mob inside the Superdome turned to cannibalism, how can you have expected the media to remain objective?

    2. They always talk about how it was racist that the response wasn’t quicker; as if incompetence is racial. But the real racism was the assumption by nearly everyone in the media that large crowds of black people were going to be immediately and grotesquely violent.

    3. I should have gone straight to where you thought, but I fell for the media reports this time. Glad it is not what they say again.

  3. This is illustrated by a group of people carefully, methodically passing a baby onto the boat.

    It’s a cookboat!

    1. Hey! Don’t bogart that thing! We’re hungry too!

  4. The complaints in the Guardian about the airport “turning away” planes seem kinda flimsy. What gives it away is when they start complaining that the military is “providing security” while they are “providing food”. It’s a turf war, and NGOs don’t like it when the military, esp the US military, does their job better than them.

    1. What gives it away is when they start complaining that the military is “providing security” while they are “providing food”.

      But that’s the problem. If the security problem is being overestimated, food and medicine shouldn’t be diverted for security’s sake.

      1. Except, Jesse, that the military is, in fact, delivering food and water, as well as medical care, in addition to security.

        There is no organization on this earth that can respond to the logistical problems of a disaster better than the US military. Given the vast amount of gear and supplies we lavish on them, they damn well better be the best at this, and they are.

        1. How could anyone doubt that a government agency should be centrally planning a relief effort? After all, it gets so much funding!

          1. Jesse, you are way off the mark here man. This is Haiti’s only airport: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF…..h&z=15

            Explain to me how in the world it’s supposed to run without some kind of ATC?

      2. The impression I got from NPR is that it wasn’t security that was a problem at the airport itwas capacity.

        Not only is it a relatively small airport but a lot of their equipment was damaged.

        The Air Force took over flight operations from the Haitian civil aviation authorities (with the Haitian governments complete agreement) and brought in the kind of portable eqipment they use in landing zones.

        With all that they have not gotten turnaround to the point that every shipment that Doctors without
        Borders wants to get in. I can understand their frustration, but I get the impression that the airport is running at about as peak a capacity as it can.

        1. Of course capacity was the issue. The problem was that the military, seeing those capacity limits, was prioritizing planes carrying troops over planes from independent relief efforts. There’s a number of reasons for that, but security fears played a big role.

          1. If by “planes carrying troops” you mean “planes carrying fresh water, of which Haiti has none” then you would be correct. You have let your anti-military stance go way too far on this one. If you want to see the mob violence people have been predicting, let Doctors Without Borders fly in advanced medical equipment instead of giving potable water the priority. You have no idea what you’re talking about on this one.

            If you want to complain, complain about Hillary Clinton’s visit that shut down the entire airport for three hours.

            1. I’m not against air traffic control, I’m against poor choices. And the poor choices aren’t just being made by the military — while the UN intervened to get the US to stop prioritizing military flights, it’s the UN’s dumb rules that said aid workers couldn’t do their work at night unless they had guys with guns with them, which is just the sort of policy that fuels the decisions it then complained about at the airport.

              But sure, yes, I’m happy to complain about the Clinton nonsense as well.

              1. Fair point. But that article still seems rather one-sided to me. It repeatedly implies that “military planes” and “aid” are mutually exclusive, which just isn’t so. Doctors Without Borders does fine work, but I doubt the have any particular expertise in air-traffic control. I’d like to know what sort of effort these NGOs made to coordinate their incoming flights with the people who have to make it all work in practice. Even at big fully functioning airports planes stack up in holding patterns. You can’t show up above a wrecked airport and expect to land.

            2. -1.75 for continually equating US troops ONLY with fresh water.

          2. Or that Gov. Rendell flew on a plane to pick up uninjured orphans to fly back to Pittsburgh and the use of his name got priority landing rights.

  5. Don’t you get it? People that aren’t under the control of a centralized authority are by definition chaotic and dangerous.

    1. He’s right, you know!

  6. Dude, you’re screwing up the narrative.

    If we can’t convince the world Haiti is a lawless miasma of despair, we won’t be able to fleece the suckers as much.

  7. Color me way unsurprised that our Vanguards of Democracy? can’t even get the basics of a story right before they get the narrative underway.

  8. I have been following these guys . No violence on their blog either.

    BTW, I consider them the “libertarian” approach to disaster relief.

  9. John,

    It’s not just white American reporters trying to play up the chaos and rage. Aljazeera, who has all sorts of reporters of all colors, was trying to run with this angle until they mostly abandoned it with one or two exceptions: the Middle Eastern anchor of the Washington desk has been an absolute prick to anyone who suggests things are not chaotic (and his own hobby horse, “why is the US military fucking everything up????”, previously known as “WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG?????”).

    It’s probably frustrating AJ, because they love to file reports with extremely disturbing images (which is actually a feature, not a bug – more of the actual misery of situations should be reported with minimal filtering). They are making up for it with some really nauseating reports of the mass graves and the unceremonious dumping of human parts out of dump trucks, among other brutal images.

    1. I suggest that we fly all the bodies and body parts out to AJ HQ, and let them deal with it, if they’re so goddam smart.

      1. Huh? They’re not offering any real opinion on it, just the fact that it’s happening. In so doing, they’re showing some pretty ugly images. Take your phaser off “stun”, man.

      2. I should say that they’re not offering any opinion on the dumping and mass graves, and that Shihab Rattansi is the only anchor that I have noticed that has been playing the “Anderson Cooper is outraged in New Orleans” role.

  10. I don’t think the NGOs have any problem whatsoever with centralized command-and-control for the “orderly” disbursement of aid. They just don’t like not being in charge.

    And they really don’t want anybody to get the crazy idea that they (the NGOs) are not absolutely necessary.

  11. There is no organization on this earth that can respond to the logistical problems of a disaster better than the US military WalMart.

  12. “Bonswa, Cherie,”

    Remember when white girls in America used to take French in high school? “Bonswa”? Seriously?

    -jcr

    1. Dude, it’s Creole.

      And strangely enough, also Maltese.

    2. Bon Soir = “Good Evening” in French… If followed by a vowel sound such as in “bon appetite” (good meal) is often pronounced with a bit of cross between “bun and bone” nasal “un”, with a soft-ish “n” sound. And spoken, the sound runs together. bonappetite

      Same with “bon soir”, run together “bonswa’..!

      You’re welcome. Avec plaisir.

  13. “…such as The Guardian’s Inigo Gilmore…”

    I get to use the Princess Bride TWICE today!!!

    You killed my father. Prepare to DIE!

  14. The other day I was walking down a busy, slow street during rush hour when I saw a guy standing on the edge of the street, holding a coffee can out, wearing a sandwich board with various Haiti disaster pictures on it, and “AID FOR HAITI” written in large friendly letters.

    And people were actually putting money in the coffee can.

  15. Drama sells.

  16. use the Princess Bride TWICE today

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