Hurricanes and Prejudgments (349)

Since Hurricane Irma has passed and recovery has begun, I thought it was a good time for me to check some of the prejudgments I’ve had during and after previous disasters, which seem to be occurring more frequently these days. I’m not proud that I have these prejudgments, which have slowly turned into prejudices over the years (prejudices are just prejudgments that have gone spiritually lazy), but admit them I must.

The first is this: with so many people evacuating, with law enforcement focused on responding to human safety concerns, and with sin being what sin is, there must be lots of theft and looting going on at such times. I’ve always just assumed that’s happened. Rather than continue to rest on those assumptions, I decided to check the data. It turns out the data show that crime actually goes down during and after disasters. Scott Knowles, a history professor at Drexel University and author of The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America, has studied many disasters. He says the data reveal less crime during and after disasters. He attributes this to people, even folk who have criminal inclinations, wanting to help their neighbors. Disasters apparently bring out the best in us, even those who we might not see as the “best people.” He also reports that misleading stories about potential looting can potentially place people in greater danger. They may choose not to evacuate (when they have the means to do so) out of a fear their home or business would be looted. It turns out such fear isn’t well-founded.

The second prejudice I’ve had is about people who chose not to evacuate and then needed rescue. Bill O’Reilly shared my prejudice. After Hurricane Katrina, he said: “Many, many, many of the poor in New Orleans are in that condition. They weren’t gonna leave no matter what you did. They were drug-addicted. They weren’t gonna get turned off from their source. They were thugs, whatever.” His colleague Shep Smith chimed in: “Despite the warnings, lots of people have said they’re not going anywhere. They’re stocking up supplies, boarding up their homes and hoping, which is moronic.” I don’t feel good about having shared the same ignorant prejudices as those two, but I did.

What I needed to realize (and I now have) is that there are complex reasons for why some people don’t evacuate. Some people are simply physically unable to leave their homes due to disability or illness. Others don’t have cars or access to transportation. Some live so on the edge that they’re afraid to miss work and lose even one day’s paycheck. And many poor people live in a part of town where the land values are less because they’re in flood zones. Like many other people (maybe you, too), I’ve assumed my privileges in life and superimposed them on everyone else and asked myself: “Why won’t those people just do what I would do,” implying “what I would do” is both what everyone else can and should do and, of course, it’s the right thing to do as well.

Responding to hurricanes brings out the best in the us, mostly. Neighbors unselfishly help neighbors. Strangers just pitch in and lend a hand, thanks be to God! But such disasters also bring out our prejudices about others. We shouldn’t be spiritually lazy. We should confront our own prejudices holding them in the light of truth.



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