Letters: Katrina and Race, Belief in Uncertainty

Many listeners wrote in this week about race and class issues left in Hurricane Katrina's wake. Commenting on our weekly segment "This I Believe", a listener said she appreciated a commentary on the benefits of not believing — of being open to ideas from all sides.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time now for your comments. Many of you wrote this week about the race and class issues left in Hurricane Katrina's wake. In a story about volunteers helping evacuate people from New Orleans, our reporter noted that at one location, there was only one African-American volunteer among hundreds of white volunteers. He was a local resident and he complained that dead bodies in the flooded streets were not being treated with respect.

Unidentified Man: They're not picking them up as fast as they should pick them up. I often think of how they would treat their own. It's unfortunate that people of color is not given the same reverence of people that are fair skinned.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some listeners were angry that this comment was included in the report. Barbara Pruett(ph) of Hartford, Connecticut, wrote us to say, `NPR made it sound as if the rescue efforts are affected by race. If that's so,' she writes, `why are so many white people volunteering their time to be in such terrible conditions? And why wouldn't we rescue the living before dealing with the dead?'

MONTAGNE: Many of you responded angrily to another story about the Greyhound station in New Orleans that's been converted into a jail for looters. In that report, jail warden Burl Cain says one of his prisoners inadvertently put himself in the slammer.

Warden BURL CAIN (Louisiana State Penitentiary): The first guy we caught here come driving up to buy a bus ticket in a stolen car and he bought a ticket, all right, right back here to that screened area.

MONTAGNE: The story of that apparently stolen car prompted Carla Salter(ph) of Seattle to write, `Pardon me, but the last time I checked New Orleans was in a state of emergency. I have heard numerous stories of, quote, "upstanding citizens" escaping by borrowing abandoned vehicles. I'm interested to know the economic and ethnic background of the jailed man, who was immediately branded a criminal.'

INSKEEP: Turning now to the confirmation hearings of John Roberts, we have a correction this morning. In an interview, NPR's Nina Totenberg told us that it's typical for a chief justice to be appointed from outside the Supreme Court. That part's true. Nina added that only six chief justices in history formerly served as associate justice. In fact, there were only five. Justice Abe Fortas was nominated to be chief in 1968 but he was not confirmed and later resigned from the court amid a financial scandal.

MONTAGNE: And we'd like to update a story now. Last month we told you about Issa Touma, a man who owns a photo gallery in Aleppo, Syria. We reported that he's trying to crowbar open Syrian cultural life with his honest and sometimes explicit photos. His work has followers around the world, but yesterday we heard that for the third time, his gallery has been shut down by the authorities. We called Touma yesterday to find out what he's doing now.

Mr. ISSA TOUMA: I'm using my time in the Internet cafe to inform everybody about the gallery and--because they cannot see it anymore. They lock it with a government lock and I don't know what can happen tomorrow, you know.

INSKEEP: That's Issa Touma.

We also received a letter from Margaret Aldrich of Windsor, Connecticut, thanking us for our weekly segment, This I Believe, in which writer Ted Gup talked about the benefits of not believing, of being open to ideas from all sides. Aldrich writes, `As a competitive debater, I spend hours every week arguing in support of other people's beliefs. However, no matter how much I learn, I always think there's more to learn before I can have an opinion. It's refreshing,' she writes, `to hear someone is equally intelligently undecided as I am.'

MONTAGNE: If you should decide to write, go to npr.org and click on Contact Us.

INSKEEP: And by the way, you can now receive NPR's most e-mailed stories as a downloadable podcast. That's an audio file delivered every week to your computer. To learn more, go to our Web site and click on NPR Podcasts.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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