By now, we’ve all formed our own impressions about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
One of my friends was flabbergasted by the flood victims who looted stores and took potshots at rescuers. I, on the other hand, was more stunned by the slowness of the “official” response.
Our different reactions quickly devolved into one of those circular, chicken-or-egg discussions. Were people looting because they felt desperate and abandoned? Or were they abandoned because police had to dodge bullets while making rescues?
The answer is probably some of both. But more importantly, it’s a reminder how each of us can view the exact same set of circumstances differently, depending on our point of view, or sometimes, our view of human nature itself.
That’s true whether we’re talking about apartment residents in Lake Highlands or flood victims in New Orleans. Yes, there are predators and criminals in both places. But acting like the apartment complexes are full of criminals seems as wrong-headed as focusing only on the looters in New Orleans. To do so is to overlook all those law-abiding residents stranded on rooftops, waiting for help.
Let’s look at who’s on the roof, so to speak. Most people seem to agree that there was nothing random about who was still at home when the hurricane hit. According to a national poll by the Pew Center, blacks (77 percent) and whites (58 percent) agreed that those who failed to heed evacuation warnings did so because they didn’t have a way to leave the city, not because they wanted to stay. They were poor.
That simple fact is perhaps eye opening for those of us lucky enough to have something in the bank and someone to call who has a stable household elsewhere in the country. But a lot of folks don’t.
Some folks live where they live because they can’t afford anything better. Moving itself is expensive and coming up with a security deposit for a new apartment can be prohibitive. So generations of poor people tend to get stuck in the worst corners of any city. Around here, that could be a smelting plant in West Dallas. Or a flood plain in Rochester Park.
Sometimes it takes a court order – or the threat of one – to make a city stop concentrating its poorest residents in ghettos. That’s what happened in Dallas and that’s one reason that people of different races and income brackets started leaving segregated public housing developments in the most dangerous neighborhoods.
Wouldn’t you? Given the chance, what right thinking person wouldn’t move north in pursuit of jobs and better schools?
Maybe the apartment stock in Lake Highlands is overbuilt and maybe a few complexes will give way to new retail areas. I’m all for that.
But most of the apartments are here to stay. So are the people in them who, after all, are only trying to reach higher ground.