Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Hunger games and high stakes

17th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

No one should have been surprised by last week’s arrest of a white gentleman in St. John the Baptist Parish who decided to exact a little revenge after allegedly being told that he was ineligible to receive food stamp assistance. To add insult to injury, he was handed a banana by a Black female DHH employee as he left the facility. Talk about a last straw.

He headed directly to his truck where he retrieved a gun. Fortunately, he didn’t get a chance to get even with those who turned him down thanks to the eagle eye and quick thinking of a state employee who alerted authorities about the man and his arsenal of weapons.

After he was arrested, the suspect was charged with terrorism and aggravated assault. Those charges were later changed to attempted second-degree murder.

Police later found more weapons, including a loaded shotgun, at the suspect’s home along with a suicide note and several dozen snakes — including boa constrictors.

Let’s just say that it was a good day for law and order, especially in a town like LaPlace where several law enforcement officers already lost their lives this summer and two others were injured in a gun battle with white supremacists.

The Hunger Games are afoot and it’s “mad real” out here.

It’s not just poor people and undereducated people who are flying off the deep end into chaos these days. People from all walks of life are losing it as they grapple with the negative stress associated with an economic downturn and the games politicians are playing with their lives.

For the record, let me say that I understand why some folks who lost everything they had in their refrigerators and deep freezers would be incensed about being told they were ineligible for any kind of assistance to replace that food from the government. As has been already reported, many middle-class families are struggling to make ends meet while paying mortgages, utility bills, college tuition and a host of other expenses with some of them just a hiccup or two away from losing everything. It makes no difference that many middle-class folks get up early every morning and work all day to support their families, make difficult decisions all the time about where to trim their family budgets and pay their taxes faithfully. None of that matters to the rich and powerful who only support candidates who share their views and do everything they can to prevent the government from providing safety nets for tax-paying citizens.

That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Then there’s the issue of the “deserving poor.”

Exactly who are the deserving poor? Those who are forced to live below the poverty line by circumstances beyond their control, not because they are lazy, irresponsible, shiftless or, ahem, Black? Those who are not “genetically predisposed” to poverty? Those who are not poor because they choose to be poor?

Mainstream media coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath left enduring images of poverty-stricken Blacks in New Orleans that was anything but fair or balanced. While whites struggling to survive after the Great Flood of 2005 were shown foraging for supplies needed to help their families were shown compassion, Blacks who did the same thing were described as predatory scavengers, bottom-feeders and looters. There were without a doubt Blacks who took advantage of the storm to do some looting, but there was also looting on the Northshore associated with Hurricane Isaac that received very little in the way of media fanfare.

There were many news stories about Black Katrina survivors who bamboozled the system to receive several FEMA checks and other forms of financial assistance from nonprofit groups. “We” were the New Orleans version of the “welfare queens” former President Ronald Reagan talked about often in speeches about poor women who see making babies as a profit-earning scheme.

In reality, many Blacks are still reeling from Katrina. Tens of thousands still haven’t made it home for good and many who live here find themselves struggling to adjust to life in a city that is a much more expensive place to live. While many white families were able to rebuild their homes and move on, many Black homeowners were shortchanged by the Road Home program, which routinely used a formula that did not favor poor or working-class families with homes in economically depressed areas of the city.

As it turns out, most of the robbing, stealing and getting over in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was done by appointed and elected public officials who abused their decision-making power to line their own pockets and those of their friends and political allies. Out-of-state contractors also did their fair share of pilfering.

The campaign to portray Black Katrina survivors as con artists and marauders was so successful that FEMA announced several years later that it would only give survivors of natural disasters $500 as opposed to the $2,000 check many Katrina survivors received.

There are still too many unemployed, underemployed, undereducated, illiterate, hungry and homeless people living in the United States. That’s not solely the fault of the GOP or Democrats. It’s more the result of there being no consistent, long-term commitment by those elected to serve locally, statewide or nationally to securing justice, democracy and equal protection under the law for all segments of the population. Individuals from both major parties and every nook and cranny of the U.S. have taken oaths of office and made conscious decisions at some point in their political careers to do as little as possible for some of their constituents who are the most vulnerable and least likely to vote in future elections.

The latter attitude was epitomized by Minnesota State Rep. Mary Franson who compared Minnesota’s food stamp recipients to wild animals earlier this year, prompting many Tea Party supporters to begin using the slogan “Please Don’t Feed The Animals.”

The comparison of poor Black people to wild animals is made even though anyone who can read knows that there are considerably more white bellies than Black ones depending on food stamps to survive and is applauded and supported by some of those same white people who routinely get food stamps.

I am told that some whites feel comfortable doing that because “we” are not like them. “We” were never supposed to be here as whites’ equals enjoying the blessings of liberty and equal protection under the law. “We” cannot expect to be treated with respect and dignity because “we” have worn out our welcome in this republic and are no longer needed as human chattel. Therefore, what “we” want, need, feel, think or desire doesn’t matter to the powers that be, even as white Americans, already a minority group in the global village, inch closer towards becoming a racial minority in the United States.

So much for the Great American Experiment.

I have a few parting questions for the unfortunate gentleman from St. John the Baptist Parish who found himself up the creek without a paddle or a food stamp card after Hurricane Isaac.

Did you vote for Louisiana Gov. Piyush Jindal? Do you support the goals and objectives of the Tea Party? Have you laughed and applauded when white conservatives have repeatedly called President Barack Obama “the food stamp president”? Are you a card-carrying member of the Republican Party? Do you agree with the Republican Party’s plan to slash spending for aid and services to the poor, like food stamps and health care? Are you planning to vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan this November?

Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games, my friend.

This article was originally published in the September 17, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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