Remembering Katrina: Wide racial divide over government’s response
Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Tomorrow marks another, less heralded event in the history of U.S. race relations.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in Louisiana, wreaking a path of devastation and killing 1,577 in the state alone, according to NOAA. From the start, the tragedy had a powerful racial component – images of poor, mostly black, New Orleans residents stranded on rooftops and crowded amid fetid conditions in the Louisiana Superdome.
Initial reactions to the government’s response to the crisis were starkly divided along racial lines. In national a poll conducted Sept. 6-7, 2005, more than three times as many blacks (66%) as whites (17%) said the government’s response would have been faster if most of the storm’s victims had been white.
Blacks and whites also drew very different lessons from the disaster: Most blacks (71%) said it showed that racial inequality remained a major problem in the United States; most whites (56%) said that this was not a particularly important lesson of Katrina.
A year after the storm hit, ABC News surveyed residents of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities. Divisions over the government’s response and the implications of the tragedy were still apparent: 61% of blacks in New Orleans said problems with the post-Katrina relief effort “were an indication of racial inequality in this country.” Just 29% New Orleans whites agreed.
Carroll Doherty is Associate Director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.