Why would one snipe a medical convoy?
September 1, 2005 2:09 PM   Subscribe

KatrinaFilter: I don't understand most kinds of violence, but seldom am I as baffled as in this case: why would one fire at a medical convoy performing rescue work, as has reportedly happened in New Orleans?

The report gets copied everywhere, but I haven't seen any news source offer some kind of background as to the motivation of the shooter(s). Discussion is fine, links are welcome too.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane to Human Relations (43 answers total)
Most news reports I've read state that they were shooting at the helicopters to get their attention so the rescuers would save their family. The logic doesn't seem to work for you and me, but the situation is that shitty people don't know what else to do (not an excuse for the behavior but an explanation).
posted by geoff. at 2:12 PM on September 1, 2005

desperate people can do desperate things
posted by flyby22 at 2:13 PM on September 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

"There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, `You better come get my family.'"

from the NYT. It seems like they are just trying to get some attention. The police getting them off that roof would be as good as anything. At least the prisoners are getting a little food and are on an overpass rather than on a building that may fall down at any moment.

Just my guess - not that I'm condoning it, but I understand.
posted by jmgorman at 2:14 PM on September 1, 2005

The 92 LA riots had more firefighters shot at than police.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:15 PM on September 1, 2005

That and they may be saying, "Where the fuck were you with your buses and helicopters and help getting out of town Friday, when you thought this was going to be worse!?!"
posted by jmgorman at 2:16 PM on September 1, 2005

My guess is that some people have that kind of anti-social mean-and-nasty bent, and this is a rare occasion when they can get away with acting it out.
posted by trevyn at 2:17 PM on September 1, 2005

On a related note, I've read (apparently unconfirmed) reports of women and children being raped in the Superdome, while people just stood and watched out of fear/shock/whatever. I've been assuming that it's just a fevered rumor that's gotten around -- I mean seriously, with 20,000 people, you mean to tell me there's not more people who are willing to pull someone off a child than just stand and watch? -- but given the horror of what's unfolding in NO, I really don't know what to think.
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on September 1, 2005

That and they may be saying, "Where the fuck were you with your buses and helicopters and help getting out of town Friday, when you thought this was going to be worse!?!"

Really? Because you know, it's been several days of this and with all the helicopters and buses they still haven't got everyone out. I'm sure they would have been able to get everyone out during the traffic jams on Sunday. In fact most of the violence has been occuring with the few buses and trucks that do manage to get into the Superdome as people clamor to get on. It's not as if they're dragging their feet, this is a major logistical problem that does not have an easy solution.
posted by geoff. at 2:23 PM on September 1, 2005

It's not a rumour:

4:15 P.M. - (AP): Police say storm victims are being raped and beaten inside the New Orleans Convention Center.

About 15,200 people who had taken shelter at the convention center to await buses grew increasingly hostile.

Police Chief Eddie Compass says he sent in 88 officers to quell the situation at the building, but they were quickly beaten back by an angry mob.

Compass says, "We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten."

He says tourists are walking in that direction and they are getting preyed upon.

posted by cmonkey at 2:24 PM on September 1, 2005

This may seem like an oblique answer, but I mean it sincerely: I recently read Richard Wright's Native Son. I think it does a fantastic job of explaining why a person might commit a horrific act, and I think the explanation is perfectly applicable to these circumstances. There's no way I can boil Wright's thesis down into just a few words without damaging it, but...essentially he argues that certain violent acts might be attributal to a lack of choice, a lack of control, etc. I think there might be some of that here.

Or the snipers just might be bastards.
posted by jdroth at 2:32 PM on September 1, 2005

note, that report is from the convention center, not the superdome. the convention center is over by the river.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 2:36 PM on September 1, 2005

I'm sory with my second comment I brought Metafilter into the green. I won't do it again.
posted by geoff. at 3:41 PM on September 1, 2005

sorry, geeze I'm off today.
posted by geoff. at 3:41 PM on September 1, 2005

Jdroth, if I remember native son correctly (haven't read the book since '97). The main character didn't commit the original crime he was accused of.
posted by drezdn at 3:49 PM on September 1, 2005

When an entitlement culture is armed and desperate this is what happens.
posted by sciurus at 3:56 PM on September 1, 2005

Crowd psychology takes on its own personality. I have enclosed and article you may be interested in reading:
Personalities change when engulf by the crowd psychology. What one would NOT do individually they will do in a crowd. The 1968 political riots in Chicago is a perfect example.

In the investment world, this crowd behavior can work to your advantage. About three months ago, Warren Buffett publicly announced that he thought the British Pound was about to rise. The "crowd" immediately began purchasing commodity Pound contracts only to be financially slaughter by the Pros three days later.
posted by Mckoan1 at 4:06 PM on September 1, 2005

I'm not condoning it, in fact I find it appalling and horrible, but it's not inexplicable to me why some people would react this way (with fury at the "authorities").

Imagine how you would feel as you realized that your de facto abandonment in the city was part of the disaster planning process -- that when the government issued evacuation orders, they knew full well that some percentage of the population would in fact not be able to evacuate, and by not accounting and providing for those people, they basically were saying that portion of the population didn't matter. Getting people with means out of the city was "enough." Arguing otherwise is arguing that there was no way to foresee that poor people with no insurance, no free cash, and no transportation would suffer horribly if this happened. It was foreseeable, and it was obviously considered acceptable.

So now that you've got the message loud and clear from society that you're not really a part of it, do you have any interest in maintaining that order? Or will you act out of anger, frustration, and (the looting) extreme self-interest?

In my view this disaster is going to have an impact on race relations in this country at least equal to the Rodney King/OJ stuff and possibly on a level we haven't seen since Selma, Watts, and Detroit. Even if it's more about class than race.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:10 PM on September 1, 2005

I've been wondering about this too. Shooting at a rescue helicopter in flight seems like a pointless act of agression, and I'm not sure there can be a rational explanation. Shooting at a land/water vehicle might be more plausible, if the attacker hopes its occupants might be motivated to abandon it to him.
posted by blue mustard at 4:30 PM on September 1, 2005

What stupidsexyFlanders said. But also...

If my family were holed up in our attic, no food, no water for days and days, no formula for my baby, who was crying nonstop with hunger, raw sewage and dead bodies floating around us...If I thought shooting at a helicopter might get some police over, might save my family's life, even if I went to jail...Then hell YES, I'd fire at a rescue helicopter. I'd try to miss, probably, although if I were pissed off enough...
posted by PlusDistance at 5:30 PM on September 1, 2005

trevyn has it. The idea that you shoot at people because you want them to come help you is so batshit demented it makes Pat Robertson look like Bertrand Russell.
posted by Decani at 7:19 PM on September 1, 2005

When an entitlement culture is armed and desperate this is what happens.

Yes. YES. That too. That too.
posted by Decani at 7:21 PM on September 1, 2005

I have only heard reference to one incident of shooting at a helicopter, and apparently it was not hit. I'm wondering if what happened was someone (inadvisedly) shooting into the air to get attention. (If it happened at all, that is. This fits so neatly into the standard rumor template of crisis situations that skepticism is justified. And yes, cops and journalists often repeat things in such situations that are not true.)
posted by words1 at 7:30 PM on September 1, 2005

Probably some of the shooters are indeed just trying to attract attention. But I think some are probably looters who got the guns from Wal-Mart this morning and are damn high on whatever they stole from the Wal-Mart pharmacy or even the local liquor store.
posted by Jaie at 7:45 PM on September 1, 2005

It's also worth mentioning that the kind of person/thug who benefits from lawlessness is also the kind of person/thug who'd have no problem doing everything possible to maintain and continue the time of lawlessness. That would include shooting at *anyone* who was trying to restore order, including rescue and medical personnel.
posted by mediareport at 7:56 PM on September 1, 2005

Oh, totally, POVERTY STRICKEN BLACK PEOPLE in America sure are entitled, aren't they? -jesus-

There's still a culture of entitlement here, society-wide. It's the prevalent, default attitude: I am [rich/poor/white/black/male/female/smart/dumb/a parent/a child/old/young/alive] therefore I deserve ________. Couple that with anger, hunger, thirst and weapons and extreme short-sightedness and you get assholes on rooftops shooting at their rescuers and scaring them away.

That said, apparently a 10 year old girl was raped at the Convention Center and her ankles were broken to keep her from getting away. There are, in fact, some people whose complete abandonment in the swamp which was NOLA is, in fact, entirely acceptable.
posted by Dreama at 7:57 PM on September 1, 2005

Another option might be that, by shooting at the helicopter, they hoped to bring it down -- thereby drawing the attention of additional rescuers to your neighborhood.

...after all, practically everyone has heard of the lengths the military will go to in order to rescue downed pilots, so under certain circumstances it might seem reasonable to figure that if you shot down a pilot, people would be swarming all over the crash site, and might therefore rescue the people you care about as a side-benefit.

Alternatively, some folks might be thinking that "if my family can't be rescued, then nobody is going to be rescued."
posted by aramaic at 8:10 PM on September 1, 2005

I have no idea if this has anything to do with what's currently happening in NOLA, however, I offer my experience:
I was an EMT in this 5th ward of Houston (sketchy part of town where I had to where a vest all the time), and we were shot at on a regular basis. The theories we had were:
1) Our uniforms looked enough like the cops that we were targets for anyone who might have been nervous about the police.
2) We represented some kind of organized effort that made people nervous, so they would take potshots at us.

At this point in the game, anyone who seemed to be in uniform night be someone who wanted to stop the looting, etc (however justified), so they included EMS in the "Top Enemies" list. This is just conjecture, though. At this point, I am way over on the West Coast and a total armchair quarterback.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:19 PM on September 1, 2005

I can only guess at what you mean by 'entitlement culture'. Are you talking about poor people or black people or people with guns? Care to elaborate? Are you one of the lucky (ha!) ones who was able to drive out of New Orleans in your own vehicle or are you somewhere else in the world, warm and safe with enough food, access to medicine and clean drinking water? (Gosh, imagine that they think they're 'entitled' to clean water!) Don't you think that everyone is entitled to clean water?

Have you completely written off the social contract? How about compassion? It's shameful, all of the misery that is being suffered, but don't even begin to blame the violence on an 'entitlement culture'. Who knows, maybe the gun that was fired had been legally purchased and registered... the right to bear arms is one of the great American 'entitlements' according to many.

Consider, perhaps, how the feds knew that this debacle had been predicted years ago and turned their backs, cutting 44% of the funding that might have saved a levee or two. Do you also attribute the food riots in famine ravaged countries to entitlement? How about this: but for the politics of food distribution, hunger could be eradicated on the planet. It's corrupt politics and politicians, not desperation, that causes so much misery.
posted by lois1950 at 8:22 PM on September 1, 2005

"... apparently a 10 year old girl was raped at the Convention Center and her ankles were broken to keep her from getting away."

Cite? I have no doubt that rapes have been taking place in the chaos, but this has Snopes-fodder written all over it.
posted by words1 at 9:14 PM on September 1, 2005

People are entitled to clean drinking water and food.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 PM on September 1, 2005

The story about the 10 year old girl being raped at the Convention Center was reported to CNN (Paula Zahn) by a women on the telephone in the Convention Center, if I recall correctly.
posted by numble at 11:48 PM on September 1, 2005

lois1950 : "I can only guess at what you mean by 'entitlement culture'. Are you talking about poor people or black people or people with guns? Care to elaborate?"

My guess is what Dreama said, a culture of poor people, rich people, black people, white people, people with guns, and people without guns.

numble : "The story about the 10 year old girl being raped at the Convention Center was reported to CNN (Paula Zahn) by a women on the telephone in the Convention Center, if I recall correctly."

Sounds even more Snopesy.
posted by Bugbread at 2:56 AM on September 2, 2005

Also, in the stunning (local?) radio interview that gets aired in its entirety on CNN today, mayor Nagin explains how junkies might, in their desperation for a fix, first try to break into hospital, pharmacies etc. and failing that, find a gun and just try to get *something*. A simple explanation, but I hadn't thought of it - difficult for me to imagine how different kinds of people might act in such a crisis. That interview, by the way, is legendary. Someone should FPP it.

Thanks for the discussion, all.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:01 AM on September 2, 2005

There was a pretty high profile reminder in the UK a few weeks ago (Menezes shooting) that in the melee of big news events, "facts" get so twisted out of shape that utter nonsense from "eye-witnesses" is reported as fact, and because it comes from a reputable source (BBC/CCN/Whatever) it just gets repeated over and over until it is accepted as cast iron fact. I think the lesson from that episode was that we all have a responsibility to not add to the rumour mill, until some of the dust has settled.
posted by chill at 5:01 AM on September 2, 2005

I do wonder how much having so many National Guardsmen out of the country at the moment has been throwing a wrench into the rescue efforts. Seeing as this sort of thing is their JOB, it might have been nice if *somebody* had had the foresight to keep them around to do it.
posted by catesbie at 8:16 AM on September 2, 2005

How do people make the assumption that someone is shooting at a helicopter? Obviously if it was automatic weapons or RPGs, it wouldn't take too long to see the bullet holes. But generally a helicopter is too noisy for people on board to hear gunfire, isn't it? And even if they heard shots, why would they assume it was aimed at them. Unless, someone actually saw someone aiming and firing at a chopper, it has to be circumspect.
posted by JJ86 at 9:35 AM on September 2, 2005

catesbie, of course it is...the very units needed in LA and MI are the ones in Iraq.--... The problem for Louisiana and Mississippi isn't how many troops are in Iraq, but rather the kind of soldiers who are there, said Dave McGinnis, a military analyst who specializes in National Guard personnel issues.

"It's combat brigades, which are the types of units you need in these situations," he said. Combat brigades — large, self-sustaining units of about 3,000 troops — have the vehicles, communications equipment and structure to cope best with a natural disaster. In Louisiana, communications and mobility are especially critical because most of New Orleans is without water, power and telephone service.

Among the Guard troops headed to the region from 13 states are truck drivers, communications experts and soldiers trained in purifying water, a critical need. ...
--USA Today
posted by amberglow at 10:51 AM on September 2, 2005

I thought that it was because that part of the country had a higher than normal level of criminal activity, with more than a normal level of corruption.

Then, the middle class evacuated.
posted by ewkpates at 11:11 AM on September 2, 2005

Let's say you're thirsty, starving, and stuck on the roof of your submerged house where you're suffering from exposure and sunburn for alternating 12 hour periods. You have the rifle you brought with you to defend yourself from looters, and you have a magazine of ammunition. You see aid trucks coming into the city, but they don't seem to be doing a damn thing to help you personally. You can see the people they're helping, but they, for reasons that you cannot determine, refuse to come help you.

So, you do the most extreme thing you can do to get their attention: you start shooting at them. One of three things will happen: 1) you'll kill a few of them and run out of ammunition, thus punishing them for ignoring you before you starve/thirst/burn/freeze to death; 2) they'll notice you, send the police, and rescue arrest you; 3) they shoot you.

In none of those three cases are you significantly worse off than you started. Even if they kill you, well, you're already damn near dead anyway, so what's the big deal?

It may not be an optimum strategy, but if you really feel that there's literally nothing else you can do, you might start shooting anyway.

It could also be simple anger. If you're angry enough, desperate enough, uncomfortable enough, and close enough to dying, you might take the chance to lash out against anybody and everybody within range.

(Note: I don't mean to offer a defense of their actions. Humans should have enough self-control not to give into such urges. But, I do mean to offer an explanation of why a person might have such an urge, and conclude that it might work out positively for them.)

A more charitable hypothesis is that they're not shooting at anybody, but are simply shooting to get their attention. I don't know: has anybody been hit?
posted by Netzapper at 12:52 PM on September 2, 2005

yup, netzapper--i've seen multiple accounts that it's people trying to get the rescuers' attentions. There are still many people trapped in their houses, on roofs, etc.
posted by amberglow at 3:02 PM on September 2, 2005

"there's a flow of progress...gonna require immediate action now...makin' good progress...contribute cash to Salvation Army and Red Cross--they're on the front lines"--Bush right now on TV.

How is this any different than what the FEMA guy's been saying, etc? And why aren't the Guard and FEMA on the front lines?
posted by amberglow at 3:06 PM on September 2, 2005

I can only guess at what you mean by 'entitlement culture'.

Really? I would have thought it was perfectly obvious what it means: a selfish culture. A culture built on acquisition and the expectation of acquisition. A materialist culture fuelled by aggressive capitalism. A culture which shoves images of beautiful people, beautiful property and big fat cars down its people's gaping, eager necks. A culture where many people genuinely think tooth whitening strips are not a jaw-droppingly absurd product. A vain culture. A greed culture. A fast food culture. A culture which raises vapid celebrity to the highest pedestal. A culture which consumes and excretes and pollutes more per capita than any other culture in the world and damned well expects to be able to continue to do so as if it were some sort of natural right. A culture which can frame a truly irresponsible concept like "The American Dream" - basically the notion that everyone should strive to acquire and to equate success with that acquisition - and still push this as if it were a good idea in today's world. A culture which is so vain and precious it will sue at the drop of a hat - because it has a widespread attitude that if something bad happens it must be someone else's responsibility and they should somehow be made to pay for it.

That sort of thing. You know.
posted by Decani at 10:57 AM on September 6, 2005

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