The Violence of Injustice and Its Waste of Time

The quote,” violence is the performance of waste,” by Joseph Roach was a quote that I struggle to interpret. Roach himself contributed three possible meanings to this quote. One of the three contributions were “that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point.” The second being, “that all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things—material objects, blood, environments—in acts of Bataillian “unproductive expenditure” (or Veblenian “conspicuous consumption”).” Lastly, “and third, that all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience—even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God.” Although I agree with the second and third definition, I wasn’t sure what it exactly meant to me, but I believe I’ve come to a satisfactory interpretation. To me the way the people in power in 2005 treated the people of New Orleans before, during, and after the disaster that was hurricane Katrina is a horrible violence that contributed to the waste of valuable time and resources that led to the loss of people’s lives and homes. 

During the summer of 2005, a category 3 hurricane named Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana, specifically impacting the city of New Orleans. While the situation wasn’t great things took a turn for the worse when the Levees broke, causing the lower 9th district to be completely flooded. Some people who remained were trapped there for days with no fresh water or food, in blistering heat, just waiting for help to arrive. The first act of violence against the people of New Orleans was the delay of the rebuilding of the levees after they broke for the first time in 1995. Not only were the levees not finished, but they also weren’t even being built to handle so much pressure that it wouldn’t have mattered if they were finished. In the documentary,” When the Levees Broke,” a man named Garland Robinette clearly stated,” My understanding is that the lake backed up a category one into our levees, and they failed.” This brings into question why the state even bothered putting in time to build the levees anyway. Not only was it a waste of time and resources, but it also prompted the end of some people’s lives because the job wasn’t done right. 

When the weather subsided the government’s response was more than just lackluster. Instead of the government sending out people to save the people left in New Orleans, the coast guard, regular civilians, and even organizations from other countries stepped in days before the government and FEMA did anything to help the people. FEMA who was supposed to oversee getting people food during this time didn’t seem like they were bothering to do anything, naturally the people in this situation took matters into their own hands and started taking food from stores to feed themselves and their loved ones. This leads to another act of violence inflicted onto the people of Luisiana, when people started taking things from stores depending on their race, they would be labeled differently in news reporting’s. People with fairer complexions would have headline written as,” Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from local grocery store,” (Associated Press) while people of much darker skin tones received headlines saying,” Young man walks through chest deep water after looting local grocery store” (AFP). These people were branded criminals when trying to feed themselves, and the police didn’t help. In the documentary a reporter made the following comment,” Here we have a refugee camp with thousands of people waiting for some sort of help. Medical, food, water, you name it. And then over there the police, scores of police officers. All concerned about one looter who’s in that supermarket.” From point to point in this whole situation resources that could have been used to help these people is just that they waste valuable time on doing the wrong thing. 

After Hurricane Katrina many people were displaced. Some people were in centers, other people were in hotels, wherever the government or FEMA could find to place them. Some people were promised trailers to live in since their houses were destroyed but were unable to obtain them because they had no place of residence. Every step of the way, the people in charge of taking care of New Orleans kept slipping up and making mistakes. When touring one of the many refugees’ centers Barba Bush said something very insulting and insensitive,” Almost everyone I’ve talked to says, ‘We’re going to move to Houston.’ What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.” The former first lady does not seem to recognize that many of those people have nothing left to go back to. The people in charge failed them every step of the way and it would just be easier to start new where they are then start again where they were. When the president finally came to New Orleans after days, after weeks, of never even checking the situation out, he gave a speech, one where they had to turn the power back on for. The people of New Orleans hadn’t had power in days, so when their power turned back on that gave them hope but that hope was quickly torn away when the power was shut back off when the president was done with his speech. During one of our class discussions my professor Beth McCoy had informed us that during George H.W. Bush’s speech his back was drenched in sweat because that’s how hot it was in New Orleans. This was an excellent example of a quote from,” Echos in the Bones,” by Joseph Roach where he wrote,” In certain respects the tribal customs of the French and the English, including the British policy of early recall of colonial civil servants so that the locals would never see their European governors falling into illness or decrepitude.” While I can understand this in most situations, during this time frame keeping appearances is nothing but a waste of time.  

This thought process of mine has brought me to the conclusion that the quote,” violence is the performance of waste,” symbolizes the idea of injustice being inflicted onto people which results in the waste of time that may later negatively impact said people. It is ashamed to see how let down the people of New Orleans were and how this unwillingness to act will sow deep distrust in the government within these people for generations to come. 

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