I was not prepared for how shocking Zeitoun by Dave Eggers would be. It is a story about Hurricane Katrina, but it is not shocking in graphic depictions of misery and squalor and death. Instead, it is the story of a Muslim family where the husband stays behind during the storm to take care of the house. He takes a canoe through flooded streets, helping stranded people and handing out bottles of water. He feeds dogs who have been abandoned. Yet, he ends up being arrested and held in a prison without due process. Later, we find out he was charged with looting. Why? Because he was standing in a house near some stereo equipment. During his arrest, he was told nothing about what was happening, and was denied a phone call to his wife, arraignment, or medical care. Conditions at the prison are appalling. Eventually, he was let out on bail, but not until he has lost weight and his hair has turned gray. I am outraged that this sort of Guantanamo could happen in the United States.
Todd Gambino had $2,400 confiscated from him when he was arrested in New Orleans. He spent FIVE MONTHS at the maximum security prison. The money was never recovered.
Eggers looked into the makeshift construction of this prison at a Greyhound and Amtrak stations, and found that the prison, a complicated project, was erected and run “while residents of New Orleans were trapped in attics and begging for rescue from rooftops and highway overpasses.”
The prison, Eggers noted, had toilets and water and MREs, while the shelters at the Superdome did not.
How on earth could the focus of the disaster have been on arresting people for looting, rather than helping them survive? My head is still reeling from this book. I don’t think I will ever be the same.