African-American man walking by his home–even though he knew the man
had no connection to the theft of his vehicle. “I don’t want you passing
by my house!” Pervel says he shouted out.
Apparently thinking they’d caught some looters, the gunmen interrogated
and verbally threatened Collins and Alexander for ten to fifteen
minutes, Alexander says, before one of the armed men issued an
ultimatum: if Alexander and Collins left Algiers Point and told their
friends not to set foot in the area, they’d be allowed to live.
Janak, who was carrying a pistol, says he grabbed one of the suspected
looters and considered killing him, but decided to be merciful. “I
rolled him over in the grass and saw that he’d been hit in the back with
the riot gun,” he tells me. “I thought that was good enough. I said, ‘Go
back to your neighborhood so people will know Algiers Point is not a
place you go for a vacation. We’re not doing tours right now.'”
He’s equally blunt inWelcome to New Orleans, an hourlong
documentary produced by the Danish video team, who captured Janak, beer
in hand, gloating about hunting humans. Surrounded by a crowd of
sunburned white Algiers Point locals at a barbeque held not long after
the hurricane, he smiles and tells the camera, “It was great! It was
like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it.” A
native of Chicago, Janak also boasts of becoming a true Southerner,
saying, “I am no longer a Yankee. I earned my wings.” A white woman
standing next to him adds, “He understands the N-word now.” In this
neighborhood, she continues, “we take care of our own.”
Jackass could have stayed in Chicago and learned the real “meaning” of the N-word just fine. The sentiments expressed in this story could have been expressed by any one of a hundred people I’ve talked to in my years living here. This isn’t about the South. This is about America, as it always has been, as we keep saying here: Our fate is your fate, and it was, and it is. Our own.
I mean it, how often do you hear this? Every day? My house, my block, my neighborhood, I live here and you don’t. Moreover, I BELONG here and you don’t. Our lives are a crazy quilt of safe areas and danger zones, in which we make snap decisions about who “looks” like they belong here and who doesn’t. But for the outright violence, but for the semi-official nature of the “militia,” is there anyplace in this country this couldn’t have happened? Neighborhood Watches and community meetings and everybody on the lookout, all the time, for what’s coming after them. It’s no wonder, no wonder at all.
And I don’t know if it’s our inherent paranoia or a constant drumbeat over 25 years that government is useless and offers you no protection so you’d better go arm yourselves to the teeth and put grates over your windows, I don’t know if it’s a sign of shallow hatred or a sign of feeling abandoned by everybody around you, that we have no responsibility for each other, that makes people feel like they have to create borders and defend them. I don’t know if it’s simple human nature or bullshit wish-fulfillment, make yourself a king in the new world after the old one, in which you were a boring loser, burns down. I don’t know if it’s some of that or all of that or a little of each of the 31 flavors of crazy going on here.
I do know it’s almost Christmas, and the story we’re going to tell on Thursday is about people on the road, seeking hospitality. Seeking that which is most valued, anywhere: a safe place to rest, to make a family, to feel at home. The story is about the Christ Child, yes, but also about the knock at the door, and the innkeepers who turned those travelers away. It’s about the stranger who arrives in the night and needs you. Will you give him a bed, even if it’s in your garage, next to the cat box, surrounded by bikes and basketballs and junk? Or will you aim a shotgun out the window, string a barricade across the street, and scream go away, and you’ll be allowed to live?