Post Hurricane Katrina: State of Emergency

Post Hurricane Katrina is a great example of State of Exception. After the hurricane occurred in 2005, there was in a state of emergency and New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass ordered the local police, U.S Army National Guards, and Deputy U.S Marshals to go into homes and take away fire arms because they did not want anyone to be armed. After the hurricane, the residents of where New Orleans were vulnerable and it was decided that people being armed during the state of vulnerability would not be the greatest idea. There was controversy over confiscating the weapons because many people used their weapons as protection for life and property whereas the people that had their weapons confiscated were left to defend themselves. It was thought that taking away the legally owned weapons would reduce the “near anarchy” in the city and proposed the policy of “only law enforcement are allowed to carry weapons” (Liberman, 2007). It was thought that confiscating the weapons would decrease violence and civil disobedience. The seizures of the weapons were done without a warrant and in some cases with excessive force. The Louisiana legislator Steve Scalise introduced the Louisiana House Bill 760 which prohibited confiscation of firearms in a state of emergency unless the seizure is pursuant to the investigation of a crime, or if the seizure is necessary to prevent immediate harm to the officer or another individual. President Bush signed the Bill into law on October 9, 2006.

Post Hurricane Katrina relates to the State of Exception because as the German theorist Carl Schmitt proposed that “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” by which he means that sovereign is able to decide the case of exception and here the exception of confiscating weapons without a warrant is due to the state of emergency. In terms of “the state of exception is normalized”, Hurricane Katrina relates to Agamben’s policy of it being “normal” because the “modern governments claim – and exercise – the power to displace the rule of law in order to resolve certain problems, generally security” (Larsen, 2010) because the purpose of confiscating the firearms without a warrant was for the security of other individuals (perhaps the people who didn’t have firearms) because under those conditions, some people may have been emotionally unstable and/or could have been paranoid, for example, if someone were to come to their house they could have gotten scared and mistakenly shot. Hurricane Katrina result of confiscating weapons to reduce violence and civil disobedience is also an example of Ericson’s policy of how counter-laws involve the enactment of new laws “to erode or eliminate traditional principles, standards, and procedures of criminal law that get in the way of pre-empting imagined sources of harm” (Pavlich, 2007: 24). This applies in terms of the Louisiana House Bill-760 being signed after the controversy occurring because people felt that they could not protect themselves and their were being violated. The controversy caused quite a ruckus which resulted in the U.S District Courts order to return all the seized arms.

The exercise of sovereign power is justified by the officials while they state that it is not something they want to be doing, walking the streets of the U.S and confiscating weapons without a warrant, but it is something that has to be done in order to keep everyone safe. The following short link shows officials having to confiscate the weapons of the neighbourhoods that haven’t even been flooded because of the safety of the ones that are vulnerable to go to those areas; even wealthy neighbourhoods that weren’t flooded had their guns confiscated that he had to protect themselves for the same reasons. In the second video that I have attached shows Superintendent Eddie Compass explaining that the police department is under extreme stress, many officers have died, quit, and/or have not been accounted for yet, but the ones that have been accounted for are considered to be heroes because they have “secured” the areas [by taking away the firearms]. Superintendent Compass also justifies the actions by explaining how they don’t have the necessities to do the things they are expected to do in quick manners. For example, they didn’t have food, water, electricity, they didn’t even have working radio system to communicate with each other. So really, not only was confiscating the firearms a good thing for the residents that were affected but it was also a reasonable thing to do for the officials because, as talked about in the second video, even with firearms confiscated, there were still shooting wars happening which put the public in danger. If the guns weren’t confiscated it is possible that there would have been more gun wars and more deaths occurring.



Larsen, Mike. (2013). Handout “Agamben: Bare Life, The Camp, and States of Exception”.

Class of November 27, 2013.

Liberman, David. (2007). “Big Sandys Comin’- Lessons from Katrina”. Retrieved on December

4, 2013 from

Pavlich, G. (2007). Law and Society. Don Millis, ON: Oxford University Press.



Filed under Uncategorized

2 responses to “Post Hurricane Katrina: State of Emergency

  1. This is an interesting analysis. There is no doubt that the area affected by the hurricane entered into a state of emergency (and exception). The confiscation of firearms was part of this (and common practice in a disaster zone). Others who have studied sovereign power and biopolitics in the context of Hurricane Katrina have focused on the abandonment of people in need of aid.

    Henry Giroux, for example, has written about Katrina and the ‘biopolitics of disposability’:,%20Katrina,%20and%20the%20biopolitics%20of%20disposability.pdf

    “For Agamben, the coupling of the state of exception with the metaphor of bare life points to a biopolitics in which ‘all subjects are at least potentially if not actually abandoned by the law and exposed to violence as a constitutive condition of political existence’ (Mills, 2004: 47). Nicholas Mirzoeff has observed that all over the world there is a growing resentment of immigrants and refugees, matched by the emergence of detain- and-deport strategies coupled with the rise of the camp as the key institution and social model of the new millennium. The ‘empire of camps’, accord- ing to Mirzoeff, has become the ‘exemplary insti- tution of a system of global capitalism that supports the West in its high consumption, low- price consumer lifestyle’ (Mirzoeff, 2005: 145). Zygmunt Bauman calls such camps ‘garrisons of extraterritoriality’ and argues that they have become ‘the dumping grounds for the indisposed of and as yet unrecycled waste of the global frontier-land’ (Bauman, 2003: 136). The regime of the camp has increasingly become a key index of modernity and the new world order. The politics of disposability not only generates widespread violence and ever-expanding ‘garrisons of extrater- ritoriality’ but also has taken on a powerful new significance as a foundation for political sover- eignty. Biopolitical commitments to ‘let die’ by abandoning citizens appear increasingly credible in light of the growing authoritarianism in the United States under the Bush administration.”


    “Katrina reveals that we are living in dark times. The shadow of authoritarianism remains after the storm clouds and hurricane winds have passed, offering a glimpse of its wreckage and terror. The politics of a disaster that affected Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi is about more than government incompetence, militarization, socio- economic polarization, environmental disaster, and political scandal. Hurricane Katrina broke through the visual blackout of poverty and the pernicious ideology of color-blindness to reveal the govern- ment’s role in fostering the dire living conditions of largely poor African-Americans, who were bearing the hardships incurred by the full wrath of the indifference and violence at work in the racist, neoliberal state. Global neoliberalism and its victims now occupy a space shaped by authoritar- ian politics, the terrors inflicted by a police state, and a logic of disposability that removes them from government social provisions and the discourse and privileges of citizenship. One of the most obvious lessons of Katrina – that race and racism still matter in America – is fully operational through a biopolitics in which ‘sovereignty resides in the power and capacity to dictate who may live and who may die’ (Mbembe, 2003: 11–12). Those poor minorities of color and class, unable to contribute to the prevailing consumerist ethic, are vanishing into the sinkhole of poverty in desolate and abandoned enclaves of decaying cities, neigh- borhoods, and rural spaces, or in America’s ever- expanding prison empire.
    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the biopolitical calculus of massive power differentials and iniquitous market relations put the scourge of poverty and racism on full display. But any viable notion of biopolitics has to be about more than subjection, crisis, abjection and apocalypse. The politics of exclusion only yields a partial under- standing of how power works. To confront the biopolitics of disposability, we need to recognize the dark times in which we live and offer up a vision of hope that creates the conditions for multiple collective and global struggles that refuse to use politics as an act of war and markets as the measure of democracy. Making human beings superfluous is the essence of totalitarianism, and democracy is the antidote in urgent need of being reclaimed. Katrina should keep the hope of such a struggle alive for quite some time because for many of us the images of those floating bodies serve as a desperate reminder of what it means when justice, as the lifeblood of democracy, becomes cold and indifferent in the face of death.

    • As a follow-up question: How would you describe or characterize the article by Lieberman? What kind of a source is this? I ask this without criticism – I would be interested in your opinion.