Gangs of armed men, fresh from looting the gun section in a New Orleans Wal-Mart, are roaming the streets of the Crescent City. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., gas prices are spiraling upward, in some cases jumping 5 cents an hour.
It’s a lot to take in at once: the televised images of apocalyptic-like destruction in the Gulf. A man with a thick Cajun accent crying that he couldn’t hold on to his wife, while another rejoices that even though his home is literally gone, somehow his guitar survived.
Doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans huddling with sick patients as a mob tried to tear down the front doors; a 75-year-old woman scuffling down an elevated interstate highway, her eyes blank, mumbling to a television reporter that, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
It is at once tragic, yet inspiring.
Yet, at the same time I begrudgingly paid $2.98/gallon to put gas in my car, there are plenty of people here in the capital who feel the increase in gas prices, grocery prices, and clothing and school supplies for their kids are pushing them to the breaking point. But what happens when you’re teetering on the edge, as so many people are, and then something like Hurricane Katrina comes along. Forget whether or not you should have evacuated; one of my co-workers reminded me that many people couldn’t leave, for whatever reason.
So there you are: Your house is underwater or destroyed and you’ve lost every possession. Or, if you house is still standing, you’re broiling under the heat without electricity, clean water or even a way to call for help. You don’t even know how you and your family are going to eat. So what do you do?
Should you resort to destroying public property and shooting your neighbor over a pack of ramen noodles and a bag of diapers from the recently looted Rite Aid? Absolutely not, but as I see the images of chaos on television, I have to constantly remind myself that the people involved have likely been pushed beyond their limits.
(That statement does NOT apply to anyone seen hauling a television or computer down a water-logged street, but something that I’ve noticed is that many of the wire stories about the looting are talking about people stealing food, ice, water, and diapers.)
I feel compassion for the hundreds of people who have died and their families, and I felt an intense sense of sadness watching as people marauded through New Orleans in search of food, guns, merchandise and money (many of the casinos in Mississippi are now being looted, and people are cracking open the slot machines, according to Reuters). But perhaps those people need the world’s compassion more than the dead, because they are still here and are capable of inflicting a great amount of harm on the people around them, all in the name of survival and, to some extent, greed.