Hurricane Katrina and the Hyper-Policing and Criminalization of Black Bodies


I wanted to make this post partly in response to Atarah’s post on the political cartoon of the Flint water crisis because, in the comments, there were some links drawn to Hurricane Katrina, which I see and understand as well. As a short introduction to those who are not familiar with Hurricane Katrina: this hurricane struck New Orleans, as well as other parts of Louisiana, the Bahamas, Florida, South Florida, Cuba, Mississippi, Alabama, Panhandle, and most of Eastern North America, in 2005 and dealt around $108 billion worth of damage. New Orleans has never fully recovered from the hurricane, with poor black communities suffering the most from the damage. A source that I recommend in learning more about Hurricane Katrina, specifically about the ways in which racism and classism fuse together in order to continually marginalize poor black communities in New Orleans after the disaster, is the documentary Trouble the Water directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

In the photographs above that are from news outlets that covered the damage the hurricane did in New Orleans and how people were dealing with it, we can see how racism is perpetuated in the media, and how marginalized communities experience hyper-policing and criminalization in the face of disasters because of the identities that they possess and the backgrounds that they come from, or, as Professor Khanmalek put it in her comment to Atarah’s post, the “carceral aspects of living laboratories.” The fact that these news outlets labeled black individuals looking for food in the face of the disaster as “looters,” while they labeled white individuals doing the same as residents simply “finding bread and soda from a local grocery store,” shows how Hurricane Katrina and the ways in which people had to deal with its aftermath created a living laboratory in which poor black communities were hyper-policed and criminalized, even though the disaster not only struck and devastated the homes of white individuals as well, but also caused these individuals to engage in the very acts of “looting” that the media prescribed black people were doing. From this, we can show how the aftermaths of the disaster were exacerbated for poor black communities because of the ways in which institutionalize racism worked in order to maintain and even augment the state of oppression that they were in even before the hurricane.

Some questions that I have in light of this conversation: How do we, as consumers of media, go about ensuring that we catch the ways in which the media is perpetuating intersectional systems of oppression? Additionally, how do we go about effectively calling out these oppressive forces present in the media so that others could see how they exist as well?

One thought on “Hurricane Katrina and the Hyper-Policing and Criminalization of Black Bodies”

  1. I think something else that is important to highlight in the image you shared is how the Black boy on the left hand side is referred to as a “young man” by the news outlet even though he is clearly a child. This image is a perfect illustration of how the media constantly robs Black children of their innocence and youth by depicting them as adults. the article took me back to the murders of Tamir Rice and Travyon Martin where media outlets described the both of them as men and utilized pictures where they looked older than they really were. Their murders also speak to the larger point you raise in your post as to how some of the simplest acts, such as playing with a toy or walking around with a hoodie, are criminalized in black communities.

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