Do you know the feeling when your blood is boiling, your heart is pounding and you want to scream? That’s how I feel now after hearing the latest news out of the devastation gripping Puerto Rico.
Maybe I shouldn’t write under these conditions, but I feel compelled.
In my work with the Florida Justice Association, our member attorneys and others in Florida’s legal community have organized flights delivering food, water and supplies to Puerto Rico and bringing back people in need of medical attention. I’m proud of this effort to help people in distress.
Prior to writing this, I learned of a deeply caring Hispanic attorney in South Florida who has arranged to have 40 pallets of supplies delivered to people suffering in Puerto Ricans.
Sounds good, right? Well, the well-meaning plan hit an iron wall.
The problem? The plane the attorney arranged to deliver the supplies canceled the trip.
As huge American corporations sit with fleets of planes housed at airports like Teterboro and Van Nuys across the country, we have U.S. citizens who are thirsty. They need water so badly that they are reportedly getting it from poisoned toxic waste sites.
According to a report from CNN, the news network “watched workers from the Puerto Rican water utility, Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, or AAA, distribute water from a well at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, which was listed in 2016 as part of the federal Superfund program for hazardous waste cleanup.”
Yes, desperate situations spur desperate action. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Why isn’t there a Dunkirk-like armada of freighters, tankers and rescue vessels heading towards Puerto Rico with water and supplies? Why isn’t there an effort that rivals the Berlin Air Lift in providing assistance to Americans struggling to survive? Is it because we’re too focused on celebrity sex scandals — while outrageous and deplorable — to act?
Is this happening in Tennessee? Arizona? Missouri?
It’s happening in Puerto Rico.
That means it’s happening in America, just like it happened in Florida.
Shortly after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I went to Miami to deliver water and supplies to my in-laws who lived there at the time.
I took the opportunity while I was there to visit the neighborhoods in Kendall, Perrine, Cutler Ridge and Richmond Heights in South Dade. Because I went to high school there, I knew every shortcut and dirt road in the area so I could navigate without the street signs.
Anyone there at the time will remember the sound of Chinook helicopters and huge Air Force cargo planes loudly flying over the devastated homes at low-altitude delivering much-needed supplies and equipment. The Navy docked supply ships. In Homestead, the Red Cross set up an outdoor mobile hospital for people hurt during the storm and the clean-up after the winds died down.
After a shaky start, and an angry Dade County Emergency Management Director Kate Hale famously asked “Where in the hell is the cavalry on this one?” the full force of the United States of America was engaged in that effort after Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago. So, why do people in Puerto Rico need to draw water from toxic waste sites?
If we found ISIS operating out of Puerto Rico there would be a full-fledged multi-force invasion going on there. Puerto Rican-Americans deserve no less than that level of urgent emergency response from our nation.
Doing nothing sends a message to the world that they can’t count on America to be there for them if we’re not going to be there for our own citizens.
The United States has the most powerful Armed Forces in the world. In the 1940s, our nation delivered enough supplies, equipment and personnel to fight wars in Europe and the Pacific simultaneously. Surely our capabilities have grown significantly since the end of World War II, right?
What’s changed? The United States has always been the can-do country.
Though it seems our nation is led by people who only know how to oppose things. Yes, the United States celebrates rugged individualism but there are problems that a representative federal republic like ours is uniquely organized, qualified, and obligated to help. All it takes is will to simply do what’s right.
Unlike the daily gridlock and gamesmanship we witness on the news, Americans are good, kind, and compassionate people who live by the golden rule. Our countrymen always work — and often fight — to help lift others so they have an opportunity to enjoy liberty and success.
Understanding that Amazon.com is capable of having a robot deliver a Korean-made television to my Florida front door, I know we can get clean water to Americans in Puerto Rico.
Living in Florida, it could have easily been my family on the wrong end of Hurricane Maria. I hope my fellow Americans would be all-in for my community in Florida, just as they should be for the people of Puerto Rico.
Ryan Banfill is communications director for the Florida Justice Association. E-mail him at rbanfill@FloridaJusticeAssociation.org or follow him on Twitter @RyBan1001.