Tell CNN to stop hyping fears of violence in Haiti. For shame.
I just checked the front page of CNN. The lead reads:
In the shadow of Haiti’s wrecked presidential palace lie the new homes of the capital’s 500,000 displaced residents. But with 4,000 convicted criminals on the loose, nothing and no one is safe.
They started pushing the violence meme the day after the earthquake. I was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer that evening via Skype. Part way through the interview, they cut to their correspondent for a live chat from the airport.
He spoke briefly with Mario Andreso, the chief of Haiti’s national police, who warned of out-of-control violence from all the prisoners who escaped the penitentiary the day of the quake. The CNN reporter repeated the claims uncritically.
When they came back to me, I began to explain that I had walked through the remains of the jail (here’s the video). That many of the prisoners were reportedly shot dead by police as they tried to escape. And that I had not seen or heard of violence so far.
The prison was a hellish place, with almost no medical facilities. Did it contain some genuine thugs? Yes. But it also contained many political prisoners and people who never received a fair trial from Haiti’s flawed courts. These are simple facts that CNN is too happy to overlook. I was quickly interrupted by Blitzer and they went to commercial break.
Haitians on the streets are not worried about the jail. Food, water, fuel, medicine, and shelter is all I hear. I received five calls yesterday from friends with 200 children here, 300 people there huddled in schools, with nothing to live on. I sent the info on to a few contacts in the aid community.
The linked CNN article describes no violence from eye-witnesses. It quotes the police chief again, warning of possible rape and murder in the tent camps.
To date, since arriving in Haiti in September – including the earthquake’s aftermath – I have not seen a single incidence of violence. The tent camps through the city, whether in Chanmas or near Delmas, are destitute but totally peaceful.
US Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said that while security is a concern he knows of very little ongoing violence, in an interview last night with PBS that I helped arrange. “I think people should be aware that the vast majority of Haitians here are behaving in a calm and peaceful manner.”
The images collected here show what look like scuffles. I’ve seen a few Haitian scuffles – they are not brawls, not like the vicious punches thrown by drunkards every night in the streets of Austin, Texas, my hometown. It’s shoving and grabbing what you can. You’d do the same if you were hungry.
As I ride around the city on a motorbike taxi, camera in hand, everyone is helpful. I exchanged $250 USD on the streets without incident. No Haitian I’ve spoken with has witnessed violence themselves. It may be happening but it is not widespread.
One picture shows a man killed by the National Police, not by an ordinary Haitian. What the captions describe as looting looks to me like the retrieval of life-saving resources going unused.
Tell CNN, the BBC, and other media to stop being alarmist fear-mongers. They are not reporting facts. They are not authentic journalists. They are not with the Haitian people.
Update 1/21: The few times I have checked the CNN front page since then, I have not seen articles hyping security fears. Liza McAlister, a professor at Wesleyan University who is writing essays about Haiti for CNN, said she forwarded this post to her editor. Maybe it had an effect. Thanks to everyone spreading the word, keep it up.