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Cops, fire fighters join in the looting

It’s all completely unraveling. This reminds me of the terrifying 1977 blackout in NYC, though obviously without the life-threatening floods. I remember that well. I was 14 and living in Queens and we all huddled in the candle-lit house as we listened to glass breaking, screaming, footsteps of people running, and if you went outside, you could see masses of people (mostly young men) running down the street with a lot of stuff that wasn’t theirs — TVs, stereos, certainly not necessities. Much of that turned up as hot merchandise (it was NY, of course).

It was complete chaos then, so the situations in New Orleans and Biloxi must be ten times worse, these people are hungry, hot, desperate, and need access to clean water. The out-for-profit looters are going to soon find, based on the devastation there, that having crap is meaningless if you don’t have basic resources. (

Law enforcement efforts to contain the emergency left by Katrina slipped into chaos in parts of New Orleans Tuesday with some police officers and firefighters joining looters in picking stores clean.

At the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, an initial effort to hand out provisions to stranded citizens quickly disintegrated into mass looting. Authorities at the scene said bedlam erupted after the giveaway was announced over the radio. While many people carried out food and essential supplies, others cleared out jewelry racks and carted out computers, TVs and appliances on handtrucks. Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat screen television.

Officers claimed there was nothing they could do to contain the anarchy, saying their radio communications have broken down and they had no direction from commanders. “We don’t have enough cops to stop it,” an officer said. “A mass riot would break out if you tried.” Inside the store, the scene alternated between celebration and frightening bedlam. A shirtless man straddled a broken jewelry case, yelling, “Free samples, free samples over here.”

…Throughout the store and parking lot, looters pushed carts and loaded trucks and vans alongside officers. One man said police directed him to Wal-Mart from Robert’s Grocery, where a similar scene was taking place. A crowd in the electronics section said one officer broke the glass DVD case so people wouldn’t cut themselves.

“The police got all the best stuff. They’re crookeder than us,” one man said. Most officers, though, simply stood by powerless against the tide of law breakers. One veteran officer said, “It’s like this everywhere in the city. This tiny number of cops can’t do anything about this. It’s wide open.”

At least one officer tried futilely to control a looter through shame. “When they say take what you need, that doesn’t mean an f-ing TV,” the officer shouted to a looter. “This is a hurricane, not a free-for-all.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding