APPEL: What’s The Real Lesson Of The “Katrina Kids?”

In a very expensive full page essay in Sunday’s Times-Picayune a group called Voters Organized to Educate sought to blame the rise in crime among urban youth on society’s failure to address the psychological impacts of Katrina and to induce a bit of incrimination of everyone that doesn’t adhere to far-Left ideology by dredging up the long dead vestige of Jim Crow. “Katrina Kids: Forgotten and Condemned” left little to the imagination as they closed with a sharp statement designed to present their opinion on who is at fault for the violence in New Orleans. Their accusatory words, “The New Orleans metro area needs to reckon with its past and own the world our adults have created,” were carefully chosen to divert attention from a city in decline long before Katrina.

In fact, I totally agree with those words, but not in the mea culpa sense that they were intended.

Let’s talk about Katrina and our history.

Perhaps the most salient point to recognize is that the city has been controlled by Democratic leaders since, well since almost forever. Especially of late no reasonable person could ever suggest that these leaders were not at least populist progressives. But that’s democracy and in fairness the voters have gotten the leaders that they wanted

Long before Katrina the school system, like so many others that are dominated by teacher unions, was a disaster. The leaders of the city and of the schools have given lip service to fixing it, but that’s about it. It took the state to attempt reform of what was widely held to be the worst and most corrupt school system in America before Katrina. Local politicians have found cover by blaming everyone and everything so not to reflect on themselves or on, perhaps the most significant reason for bad education outcomes, broken families.

And of broken families, long before Katrina, perhaps dating to the 1930s, liberal national policies have caused the unchecked breakup of the family unit resulting in an almost unbelievable number of children being raised in homes without the presence of a father. One could draw a conclusion from reams of data that this unintended consequence of American liberalism could be the largest contributor to urban poverty and social ills. But I suppose the Voters Organized to Educate folks don’t want to touch that one, their ilk generally clings to the belief that the nuclear family is obsolete.

Perhaps the most important precursor to criminal activity is poverty. So, since perhaps the mid-1970s what has been done to reverse the downward economic spiral and growing poverty in New Orleans? The answer is nothing but social platitudes. In fact, just about every policy and leadership decision that could drive business away is exactly what has been enacted.

Was any of our economic decline a function of Katrina? In the short term perhaps, and some economically obsolete areas will never have the ability to recover. But all of that that was more than made up for citywide by the billions that flowed into our economy for rebuilding after the disaster. That largesse has long dried up, but no effort was made to capitalize on that once in a lifetime infusion of capital. Any hope for a decrease in poverty driven by a growth of opportunities and incomes has been dashed by political sacrifices on the altar of “equity” and “fairness” and by corruption. The first two are catchy words that make liberals feel good and get politicians elected, but they are an anathema to economic growth.

What about infrastructure, wasn’t that destroyed by Katrina? The New Orleans drainage system was once a marvel of the engineering world. Our streets were good, our power system dependable and cheap, our landscape beautiful, our public buildings modern, and our biggest tourist attraction, the French Quarter, was safe and relatively well maintained. Sure, to some extent Katrina accelerated the decline of infrastructure, but the key point is that it only accelerated decline that years of neglect had wrought. Leadership that accepted infrastructure as low priority, not one storm, is the cause of so much of its obsolescence.

And like the incremental boost to the economy, what of the billions that the Federal government poured in after Katrina to repair and upgrade our infrastructure? Well, the Voters Organized to Educate folks just seem to ignore that kind of windfall, but I know of no one who feels that we are better off than we were decades before Katrina.

And what about public safety? No one believes that the slide of the once-proud New Orleans Police Department was caused by anything except leadership decisions that relegated public safety far down the list of its priorities. Under Mitch Landrieu the force was cut by 400, since then there has been no effective effort to change that, resulting in a force that is now estimated to be an understaffed 800 officers since.

And as to the rise in criminal activity, does anyone really believe that criminals are driven to make free-will decisions to violate law because they lived through Katrina? I suppose the Voters Organized to Educate folks do, but they ignore the high levels of urban crime that ravaged our city during the last part of the 20th century, long before Katrina. Crime is linked to poverty, broken families, and bad education, and we suffered under all these scourges long before the storm. Katrina psychological impacts may be a cool scientific sounding explanation, but they are only a small component when taken in the context of these far more powerful drivers.

So, that’s it, an obviously far-Left group, well-funded by un-named out-of-town donors is using a tactic straight out of the national Democratic Party’s playbook. They use selective propaganda to create jealousy and fear in the hope that division will help them secure more funding and political power. The ultimate goal is a world that ignores history and reality, a world that exists only in the mind of naïve political operatives, a world I call La La Land.

No, Katrina was not the source of our city’s decline, nor did it trigger the sharp rise in urban crime. Those started long before that malevolent weather incident. The source of our problems has been misplaced policies and actions by otherwise sincere populist leaders in doing the same things over and over and expecting good outcomes. All the Marxist propaganda in the world flowing from the dark money of far-Left ideologically driven groups like our own Voters Organized to Educate cannot rewrite the post Jim Crow and pre-Katrina history of our city and region, a history of decline, poverty, and social ills. It is a history whose final chapters are far from being written, a history that can redirect toward prosperity or a history that can continue toward irrelevance.

I suppose that it is ironic that I do fervently agree with the Voters’ statement that, “The New Orleans metro area needs to reckon with its past and own the world our adults have created.” It is after all a truism that the adults have for generations set policies and made bad political decisions that have led to the decline of our once great city and state.

It was not Katrina nor the response to Katrina that caused all this malaise, it was us.

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