Something Like the Truth

‘We never lost that sense of humanity’: Col. Ed Bush’s photos of Katrina’s Superdome

By Robert Mann

In the days after Hurricane Katrina in August-September 2005, then-Major Ed Bush of the Louisiana National Guard and a colleague, Sgt. Carlos Sanchez, took dozens of photographs of life inside the Louisiana Superdome, where they and hundreds of National Guard troops from Louisiana and other states lived as they provided security and care for approximately 40,000 New Orleans-area evacuees.

Bush, whose memories of that hellish week are featured in my most recent column for | Times-Picayune, shared with me these photographs, many which have never been published.

Below are several of the photos taken in and around the Dome that week with Bush’s descriptions of them:

National Guard troops unload water and MREs at the Louisiana Superdome

Col. Ed Bush:

Some guy would walk up, “Look, my Auntie, she’s sick, she can’t walk, my dad broke his leg and the way here, he can’t walk so can I get – I’m just getting them for my whole family, I need 10 MREs.” And, then, they send somebody else up, and now they’ve got 20. And I get it, because they’re like, “We better take care of our own.” They’re just taking care of their families. We were absolutely controlling because we knew if we didn’t we’d run out, so we controlled water and we controlled food. But never did anyone miss a meal.

I mean we changed it a lot along the way. When we were in the Dome, we took golf carts and we delivered to the upper levels, to the general populations that could definitely move. We set up several points at gates and they just came and they got their food and we gave them one. Very quickly, you knew wherever the pockets and that some people were probably never going to make or a little scared to leave their spot, so we would try to kind of hit the far reaches. We would send soldiers with a cart-full and just say, “Go feed people.” If somebody came to me and said, “I didn’t get one,” I was going to give them one. I’m not going to call them on it. It’s not worth it.


In most cases, evacuaees were not allowed to bring their pets into the Superdome. National Guard troops did care for many pets at the Dome during the week after Katrina.

Col. Ed Bush:

People were bringing their animals to the dome and we put them in a designated area. They had to leash them, they had to tie them. They could go visit them, but we kept the animals out of general population, for lack of a better term, and then we had a few guardsmen to volunteer just to go walk them, make sure they were doing okay.

We track it now, as a result of this. I give out a daily number that says how many people we’ve saved and how many animals we’ve saved as a lesson learned from Katrina. Our pilots have special training, our crews have special training, on how to deal with animals because then, as that helicopter picked you up, it was literally a matter of, Am I putting this kid on a helicopter or is this dog going on a helicopter? And our pilots absolutely said, “You can’t bring that animal on here.” Because there just wasn’t room and that’s sad, but I can remember saying in a press conference, “I understand that it rubs people the wrong way and I understand that I sounds cold but I’m telling you, people come first and in that situation where literally pilots are flying as fast as they can because he’s got a full load.”

Continue reading “‘We never lost that sense of humanity’: Col. Ed Bush’s photos of Katrina’s Superdome”

Remembering mercy, kindness in Katrina’s Superdome

By Robert Mann

It was unmercifully hot outside the Louisiana Superdome around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005. It was five days into the inhuman ordeal afflicting 40,000 New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina. Huddled in and around the building – surviving on rationed water and MREs and enduring horrendous hygienic conditions – the Dome’s occupants were boiling mad.

Standing before them on a truck bed, trying vainly to calm the sullen crowd, was Major Ed Bush, the deputy public affairs officer for the Louisiana National Guard. Along with hundreds of guardsmen, Bush had lived in the Dome since the night before Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29. “It was just hot,” recalled Bush, now a colonel and the Guard’s public affairs officer. “The people had enough. It was kind of a breaking point kind.”

“Can I talk to them?” an African-American woman asked Bush. “Come on,” Bush replied, as he helped her onto the truck. “She takes the mic,” Bush recalled, “and she’s literally like, ‘Shame on you!’ Just scolding them –10,000 people.” When she was done, the woman led the crowd in a hymn.

An unidentified woman scolds the crowd at the Louisiana Superdome on Sept. 1, 2005, as then Major Ed Bush, left, of the Louisiana National Guard climbs down from a Guard vehicle.

At that moment, Bush recalled, “a little bit of light mist” fell from the sky “and everybody just kind of went, ‘ahh.'””

The crowd’s anger dissipated, he said. Bush told the woman, “If you’ve got any more of that left, you might want to save some because we might need a little bit more.” The woman hugged him and climbed down. “I don’t even believe in miracles and that was a miracle,” Bush said.

During more than an hour of interviewing Bush about the hellacious week in the Superdome, he recounted similar stories. Sure, there was some awful behavior (although reports of widespread deaths and violence in the Dome were false). The remarkable moments, however, were many acts of kindness and the crowd’s refusal, in the face of enormous suffering, to surrender to mayhem or widespread violence.

“It’s very hard to comprehend,” Bush told me in Baton Rouge on Aug. 17 during a break from his duties dealing with the floods that had inundated south Louisiana days before. “I don’t know that any group of people could really hang on, and they did. Everyone in that Dome, they’ve could’ve flipped that place upside.”

Continue reading on at this link.

Note: You can view some of the photos Ed Bush took inside and around the Dome in September 2005 on my blog at this link.

Will the great flood sink Baton Rouge or inspire its rebirth?

By Robert Mann

The news from Baton Rouge last month was a city immersed in crisis and death, divided and virtually at war with itself over the death of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man killed by Baton Rouge police officers in early July. Twelve days later, another tragedy engulfed the city — the  shooting of six police officers, three of whom died.

What a difference a few weeks and 30-plus inches of rain have made. The news is still crisis and death. This time, however, it’s because the city and region were engulfed in deadly floodwaters.

The parish’s streets, once crowded with protestors, became watery thoroughfares for boaters searching for stranded residents. Local churches that last month convened urgent meetings to discuss race relations are collecting relief supplies and launching rebuilding efforts.

Law enforcement officers, lately the targets of some citizens’ anger and resentment, are hailed as heroes and saviors. A month ago, these officers donned riot gear as they waded into the parish’s chaotic streets. Last week, they deployed in waders and airboats.

At every turn this past week, East Baton Rouge Parish set aside animosity, grievance and resentment. There will be ample time to revisit what happened to Sterling. The community still needs answers his death and those of the three brave officers. Whatever the outcome of those investigations, the Baton Rouge Police Department’s conduct in the city’s majority-black neighborhoods also must be thoroughly examined and debated.

With a region on its knees, however, this was not the week for that discussion. Even Sterling’s aunt, Sandra Sterling, seemed to agree. She rode on a boat with firefighters, searching for neighbors who needed rescue. “This is my giving back,”she said, grateful for a community that had helped in her time of grief and need.

I pray the great flood will become something more than a devastating, tragic event that simply postpones the community’s long-overdue conversation about race relations and alleged police misconduct.

Might it be more useful to view this disaster as an opportunity for a reset – a time to turn from anger to understanding, from division to unity, from grievance to mercy? Might our collective anguish prompt us to acknowledge that Baton Rouge – every square mile of it – is populated by good people of sacred worth who deserve our care and respect?

When we resume the fraught debate over race and police-community relations, might we remember that some of those we recently vilified are the same people who were saving us from rooftops and front porches?

Continue reading on at this link.

‘Louisiana is strong. Our hearts are huge, our need is great’

By Robert Mann

Everywhere I’ve been in Baton Rouge the past two days, I’ve witnessed remarkable compassion, grace and optimism. Much of this city and region remained under water on Monday. Tens of thousands are homeless. At least 11 are dead. Life here won’t be normal for months, maybe a year.

Yet, all I see are people who are thankful, hopeful and determined to rebuild. I see an ocean of generosity and compassion. I see people who know they might have lost so much more and who are profoundly grateful for what remains — their lives and loved ones.

On a day when destruction and devastation envelop them, many people I know are not cursing, but giving thanks.

At our house, my wife’s brother is upbeat as he plans to rebuild his flooded home. He lives near Sherwood Forrest Drive and Old Hammond Highway, a hard-hit area. As of Sunday night, his house and his two cars were under at least four feet of water. I haven’t heard him utter a word of pessimism or woe. Like so many, he is hopeful.

On Sunday night, I searched Facebook for updates from local friends. So many lost everything. Those who didn’t were searching for ways to help:

Drake and Jean made me proud they helped rescue over 200 or more people from Belengrath area yesterday.

Baton Rouge peeps, where/how is the best way to help right now? I want to do my part and I want to get the word out to my network.

Baton Rouge: We are dry and have power and wifi. If anyone needs shelter, or just a place to catch your breath, please message me. Our doors are open.

Everyone is looking to be useful. I have friends who spent most of Sunday volunteering at area shelters or who dropped off bedding, food or clothing at those shelters. Every other Facebook post I read, it seems, is a story of someone helping, praying for and reaching out to friends and, often, complete strangers.Screenshot 2016-08-15 11.20.07

My wife and I watched TV for several hours Sunday morning as two local stations, WBRZ and WAFB, showed a virtual parade of heroes launch their boats from I-12 in search of people stranded in their homes. Most notably, there was the dramatic and unforgettable video of three young men on a boat rescuing a woman and her dog as her car quickly sank. That video literally took my breath. God bless those young men and so many like them who performed countless heroic acts the past few days. Continue reading “‘Louisiana is strong. Our hearts are huge, our need is great’”

This is how a suicidal political party behaves

By Robert Mann

If devious Democratic operatives had conspired last year to sabotage the Republican Party by poisoning its already troubled relationship with young voters and Latinos and other minorities, they could not have devised anything nearly so effective as what the GOP came up with on its own.

Trick Republicans into nominating Donald Trump for president? Preposterous!donald-trump-1269282_960_720

Who could have foreseen that Republicans would embrace someone whose demeanor and positions are perfectly designed to destroy the party’s already uneasy relationship with a generation of young voters, most of whom are comfortable with their country’s growing diversity and social liberalism? Who might have predicted the GOP nominee would be a clownish, serially bankrupt real estate developer who branded Mexican immigrants “rapists” and demands a ban on Muslim immigration?

In a flurry of recent polls, the looming disaster is evident. A Fox News poll showed Trump with only 38 percent among those under 30. A McClatchy/Marist survey of the same group showed Trump with 17 percent.

Among younger voters ages 18 to 24, Trump earns 15 percent, according to a pollby Investors Business Daily/TPP. Worse for Trump, when the poll included the nominees of the Libertarian and Green parties, the GOP nominee finished in fourth place among young voters, with 12 percent (the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, beat even Hillary Clinton within this group).

The numbers are more troubling for Trump among blacks and Latinos. In the Fox News poll, the GOP nominee wins the support of 4 percent of black voters. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Trump with 18 percent of non-white voters, virtually the same as in the Investors Business Daily survey. The McClatchy/Marist poll showed that 26 percent of Latinos back Trump.

A party whose policies provoke the enduring estrangement of these groups – and we haven’t mentioned the GOP’s serious troubles with female voters – will not soon win a presidential election. A party that relies disproportionality on older white men is in a demographic death grip.

To survive, it must reinvent itself. I do not mean Republicans should refine their messages or nominate candidates with sunnier dispositions than Trump. The GOP must, instead, evolve and work hard to reestablish its relevance with people whose votes are already decisive in our elections. If not, this ailing party will expire.

To say the GOP is ailing doesn’t do justice to its wretched condition. It’s not that the GOP is suffering from a deadly disease that is easily cured with a Trumpectomy. Rather, for years the party has seemed increasingly determined to commit political suicide.

Continue reading on at this link.

Donald Trump and the cowardice of Louisiana Republican leaders

By Robert Mann

There will come a time, probably after the Nov. 8 presidential election, when prominent Louisiana Republicans will express their disgust with the GOP’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

People like U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and most of the Republicans running for Sen. David Vitter’s Senate seat (except for David Duke) will tell us how much they hated Trump’s repulsive, bigoted rhetoric.

They will acknowledge that their party blew any chance to defeat Hillary Clinton by refusing to nominate someone rational, sane and non-racist, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. They’ll confess how much they agonized over the amateurish race that Trump ran.

All of this and more will likely come spilling out in tortured admissions from these “leaders” and others – all of it after the election is over.

Every week – sometimes every day – a leading Republican denounces Trump. On Monday, it was Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and 50 prominent military and national security experts.

Some Republicans have opposed Trump from the beginning. Others, like Collins, are bailing out near the end. Some, like House Speaker Paul Ryan and senators John McCain and Marco Rubio, appear to be along for the duration, despite early reservations about Trump.

Collins joined a handful of Republican senators who have said for months that they won’t vote for Trump. Dozens of top GOP officials and strategists, including Stuart Stevens, a senior Mitt Romney advisor from the 2012 campaign, have condemned him.

Romney has opposed Trump for months. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush remain on the sidelines, neither endorsing nor condemning Trump.

As the polls continue to suggest that the Trump ship is going down, more Republicans will continue to jump overboard – or tell us they were never on the ship in the first place.

One day very soon, denouncing Trump will no longer be an act of courage or conscience.

Continue reading “Donald Trump and the cowardice of Louisiana Republican leaders”

Sen. Troy Brown must go

By Robert Mann

Remember the bipartisan uproar in the Louisiana Legislature in May when state Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, offered an amendment requiring that female strippers be no older than 28 and weigh less than 160 pounds?

The response to Havard’s repulsive stunt was satisfying. Maybe, I thought, the Legislature has finally entered an era in which misogyny and sexist behavior are out of bounds.

My hope was premature. Judging by the troubling silence in the House and Senate over the recent arrest of state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Geismar, on charges of domestic abuse (his second such arrest since November), lawmakers are still stuck in the dark ages.

Make a joke in the House about the age and weight of strippers (a population at risk for human trafficking) and you might endure a few rebukes for disrespecting women. But get arrested twice on charges of violence against women? Well, except for a few complaints, it’s been mostly crickets.

In May, Havard sensibly pulled his amendment to an anti-sex-trafficking bill, later explaining his language was meant to lampoon a bill he regarded as unnecessary – although why he voted for the legislation is a mystery.

Some of Havard’s colleagues reacted with appropriate horror. “I’ve never been more repulsed to be part of” the House, Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said, who called Havard’s amendment “utterly disrespectful and disgusting.”

Stokes was correct to denounce Havard, as were other critics. If only lawmakers were equally horrified by Brown’s alleged criminal behavior.

Brown has pled not guilty and, in court, he is rightly presumed innocent. His Senate colleagues, however, might wish to take note that Brown acknowledged last November “there was an altercation involving myself and two or three other individuals.”

Specifically, Brown is accused of punching a woman in the eye during an altercation at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency. The woman – she told police she was Brown’s longtime “side friend” – also alleged that Brown would intimidate, threaten and assault her “every few months.”

At the time, he acknowledged he had a problem. “I commit to getting the help I need to resolve the medical issues [he cited ‘brain damage,’ ‘short-term memory loss’ and ‘social alcohol consumption’] which I believe contributed to this incident,” he said in a statement.

After his latest arrest – Brown is charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse for allegedly biting his wife, Toni Brown, on the arm – the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office tried unsuccessfully to increase Brown’s bond on the first charge. In a court filing on Wednesday, prosecutors said Brown poses an “imminent danger to the community,” citing Toni Brown’s allegation of years of domestic violence and abuse by her husband as evidence.

It is not clear if Brown has received the treatment he said he needed after his initial arrest. What Brown should receive, however, is a speedy exit from the Senate. For the good of his constituents and the integrity of the Senate, he should resign. If he won’t, his colleagues should expel him.

Continue reading on at this link.

Why Donald Trump’s rise reminds us of David Duke

By Robert Mann

Former KKK leader David Duke was once an aberration in the Republican Party – an unabashed racist and xenophobe seeking higher office by appealing to voters’ baser instincts.

The novelty of Duke, running again for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana this year, was once enough to earn him a rabid following and the widespread scorn of GOP leaders in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. A generation ago, Duke cleverly leveraged that establishment scorn into 43 percent in his 1990 U.S. Senate campaign against then-incumbent J. Bennett Johnston (full disclosure: I was Johnston’s campaign press secretary at the time) and 39 percent the following year in a wild runoff for governor. 

In both races, Duke won almost a third of Louisiana’s 64 parishes (counties), including several in the suburbs of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In both races, he captured a majority of the state’s white vote.

It’s been 25 years, but memories of those ugly, racism-tinged campaigns are not distant and certainly not forgotten. Duke’s was a prelude for “mainstream” Republicans who would eventually win almost all the state’s major elected offices. However, as more respectable Republicans harvested the corn Duke sowed, the neo-Nazi, white supremacist hero was sitting in a federal prison after prosecutors caught him bilking supporters of contributions, much of which he gambled away at casinos.

Last Friday, however, he strutted into the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office to file for the Senate. “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” Duke said.

Duke’s candidacy has thus far elicited little of the popular excitement and enthusiasm that swept the state’s white precincts in the early 1990s. Many of his erstwhile supporters are still around, for sure. But Duke is largely passé in the Bayou State, a sad, corrupt curiosity from a time when his bigotry wasn’t quite ready for prime time in the GOP.

How appropriate, then, that a Trump acolyte like Duke declared his candidacy the morning after the New York mogul formally accepted the GOP standard in Cleveland. The two men deserve each other. Although Trump wanly disavowed Duke’s endorsement, they draw support from the same fetid well.

Continue reading at The Hill at this link.

Guns are killing, not protecting, us

By Robert Mann

My LSU students had barely unpacked their bags in London in early June before the awful news landed that a shooter had killed 50 and wounded another 53 people in Orlando. What had originally been a trip to learn about Europe’s politics became a running discussion with United Kingdom, French and German acquaintances about the deplorable rate of gun violence in the United States.

The students learned much about Europe but spent too much time discussing the corrosive gun culture of the United States. By the end of the trip, as my family and I toured Scotland, we received knowing nods of sympathy when we told various Scots that we were from Baton Rouge.

Deadly news from the United States followed us wherever we went. By the end of our third day in Edinburgh, the lead story on the BCC and Sky News was the tragic deaths of three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers. Earlier, in Prague, my students and I watched as the Baton Rouge police shooting of Alton Sterling became the major news story on the continent.

Too many conversations with people along the way were some variation of this: “Why do people in the United States need so many guns? We have guns here, but only to hunt. No one needs an assault rifle to hunt.”

Not a single European citizen with whom I discussed current events – college students, hotel clerks, bus drivers, university professors and people in pubs – demonstrated the slightest bit of annoyance at being denied the “freedom” of instantaneous access to high-powered firearms. Rather, to a person, they expressed wonder at our enslavement to and acquiescence of a violent gun culture that claims tens of thousands of innocent lives each year.

Try to explain the notion of the Second Amendment to a UK citizen rightfully confused by American gun worshippers asserting the God-given right to own semi-automatic assault weapons while simultaneously (and hypocritically) praising the “right to life” movement.

People in England, Scotland, France, Germany and other European countries accept sensible laws that restrict gun ownership to those who prove they need them for sport or, in rare cases, for self-protection.

For instance, in the UK, potential gun owners must first obtain a shotgun or firearm certificate from local police. That means demonstrating the ability to safely store the gun and no history of criminal convictions, mental illness, depression or alcohol and drug abuse. As a result, England has had only one mass shooting since beefed-up gun control regulations were enacted in 1997. (As the owner of several shotguns, I would happily submit to such scrutiny.)

Continue reading on at this link.

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