Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Hurricane Katrina evacuees brought to Utah arrived bearing drugs and guns and immediately proceeded to sell drugs, attempt rapes, and rebuild street gangs.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2005]
Origins: This account first arrived in our inbox in mid-September 2005. Variously titled "Another perspective," "The New Orleans Evacuees In Utah," "The rest of the story," "Unnatural Disaster," "From a relief worker in Utah," "A Utah Relief Worker's Perspective," "Utah Relief Efforts," and "Post Katrina facts from Salt Lake City," the item has been sped from inbox to inbox. At this time, its author is unknown to us, although some of the forwards did bear the attribution "Matthew Anderson, Salt Lake City,
As gripping as the revelatory tale is, there doesn't appear to be much (if anything) to it. The first group of Katrina evacuees arrived in Utah on
Only 42 of the 582 evacuees brought to Utah had criminal records, including eight for murder. Yet stories about drug sales, gangs
Derek Jensen, a Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman, said of the rumors, "They are just not true. The evacuees have been cooperative and behaved themselves pretty well while they were here." He told the Deseret Morning News the evacuees comported themselves so well that police issued no criminal citations during their stay of more than three weeks.
The Governor of Utah affirmed the lack of crime among evacuees in a statement dated
Rumors of the type that have attached to the Katrina evacuees dispatched to Utah have dogged those sent to other locales. In Tennessee, similar whispers about rapes, robberies, and murders resulted in hundreds of alarmed local residents rushing to purchase guns for their protection. Police in that region assert the crime rate has not jumped since the arrival of the evacuees.
Oklahoma, which has also opened its arms to thousands of those displaced by the hurricane, has also experienced the rumors of rapes and violence. While a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol did admit there had been a few fistfights at Camp Gruber (an evacuation center in that state), he also said life at the camp had been relatively quiet.
Towards the end of September 2005, some of the forwards we collected bore a preamble that spelled out the story's underlying message for the benefit of those who might otherwise have experienced difficulty grasping it:
Unfortunately, this is probably just a microcosm of a scene played around the country. Perhaps it is well that this cesspool of people is being thinned out. Hopefully, they do not infect the areas that they end up establishing residence. Perhaps in smaller numbers they can be controlled, but obviously the majority have lived too long in welfare dependency to become contributing citizens to a society.The later-appended preamble gives a sense of why this and other dubious "Katrina evacuees behave badly" tales (e.g., they acted horribly on the flights out of New Orleans then mistreated volunteers in Houston, they trashed a rest stop in Waskom, Texas, their resettlement to other parts of the country led to increases in the incidence of carjackings in those communities) cause those who receive them to sit up and take notice. Warring with compassion for the victims of Hurricane Katrina is anxiety over one's safe haven being invaded by outsiders, but because the latter is not a nice emotion to admit to experiencing, it needs be reframed as justifiable concern in light of the odious nature of the folks elbowing their way in. By presenting the evacuees as rude or ungrateful or as the crime-riddled worst dregs of society, garden variety xenophobia is cloaked in the more respectable mantle of entirely defensible fear for one's safety and/or distaste for objectionable behavior. In such fashion, the internal tug of war between the selfless ("My heart goes out to these people; what can I do to help?") and the self-centered ("I like my town just the way it is; I hope the refugees don't come here") is quelled.
Barbara "the secret of NIMBY" Mikkelson
Last updated: 8 October 2005
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