state violence

When Your State Attacks You

On February 8, 2021, meteorologists warned that there would be a polar vortex that caused freezing temperatures throughout the middle of the country. Additionally, people were told there would be snow and ice that might eclipse previous levels seen, especially in the South. There were several people on social media who were posting about power outages, but they always announced when they returned to power. Throughout the state of Texas, people were warned that there would be rolling blackouts, meaning that communities would all take turns losing power for short periods of time. Vulnerable people were concerned, but the populace was told that areas with critical infrastructure would be spared rolling blackouts, assuring that hospitals, retirement communities, and the like would not be affected. Reality showed a far darker picture than anyone in Texas could imagine: the state was willing to sacrifice citizens to earn money and avoid being responsible.

Being trapped occurred on multiple levels, and was centered around three different commodities: power, water, and internet service. The digital divide was already centered on the premise that if people were unable to pay, they deserved to lack internet service, an element of existence in the modern era. Water futures were recently placed on the stock market, condemning the majority of humanity while allowing those with resources to increase inequity and their profit margins. Most of the country became aware that Texas maintained an independent power grid, as lawmakers were confident in the incentivized oil industry’s capabilities to provide power. Thus, the true culprit in citizen imprisonment was the belief that poor people deserve to be punished for being poor, by the state no less. Unsurprisingly, this created a recipe for disaster.

Before the storm, many people with disposable income stocked up in grocery stores, and most of these people had cars and housing. Such people were well aware that Texas roads and vehicles are in no way equipped to handle severe snow, and any efforts would take a while to be utilized. Power was lost for short periods of time, water sputtered for a few moments, and internet service was occasionally spotty, but they were mostly trapped in their homes due to road conditions, which continued to cause problems until the real thaw. Fortunately, many of these people used their resources to assist others, with the exception of the upper echelons, on whom no one depended.

The next level of being trapped involved those who had homes, but no cars. Most people on this level lived in multifamily housing, went longer without power and water, and lost internet access. Wisely, public transportation was shut down so that transit workers would not further be harmed during the storm. Unfortunately, without internet access, there was no way to receive updates on utilities, and without power, there was no way to charge a phone. Car access meant that one could potentially charge a portable electronic device, but without a car, this level involved being stuck in a home without any information about when the situation would change. Many households scrounged for firewood and charcoal, hoping to at least be able to have hot meals at their disposal, but many were left hoping to stay warm under blankets and extra clothing layers.

Having to live in a car is already stressful, but having to use gas to stay warm meant that people were subject to carbon monoxide poisoning due to limited spaces at shelters. In this circumstance, yes, people could use their cars to charge their phones, but unsafe road conditions meant a possibility of being trapped in one place. Gas shortages meant that people had to choose between communication and heat versus traveling to better conditions on dangerous roads. Emergency services were swamped, so many people who might have been able to travel to better circumstances risked entrapment for hours, betting against vehicle shutdown in harsh weather.

Life for people without homes or vehicles was the most demeaning of all. This group had to choose between abandoning their encampments to survive, potentially losing what few possessions they had, or trying to sleep without freezing to death. Frequently, the stores nearby had neither power nor resources, and there were no cars or people on the roads for panhandling. With limited access to transit, there was no way to get to warming centers or shelters, and firewood–or wood in general–was scarce. Internet updates were impossible without the ability to charge portable electronic devices. Abject horror still falls short to describe living under these conditions, while government officials callously disregarded such feelings from positions of authority and safety.

Everyone in Texas was sincerely hurt by one fact: all of this destruction was preventable. In 2011, there was another historic storm that placed people at a disadvantage, so the state knew that such a catastrophe was possible. The 2011 event even took place in February. Texas was warned by federal researchers that there would be problems without system preparation for winter. In a politically immature move, Texas told itself that it was doing a good job, and nothing needed to change. Consequently, no one knows how many victims have yet to be tallied, though money was made at their expense. Even though fake ruggedness killed people, there are still those who follow such ideology; sadly, those people are in positions of power.

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