Wednesday, January 19, 2011

8 Killed in Fire in Abandoned Ninth Ward Building

I decided to start this blog, following years of hand wringing about how terrible the comments were are (while did very little to address the problem), after reading some of the vile comments to stories about the eight homeless kids who, along with their dogs, died in a warehouse fire on December 28. This was the deadliest fire in New Orleans in decades, taking the lives of eight people in their teens and twenties, and yet the comments to the articles about the fire mocked the victims of this tragedy, calling them "criminals," "dysfunctionals," "middle class white kids playing dress-up as vagrants," "loser white kids," "beyond stupid and hope," "shiftless bums," "crusties, or gutter punks, or angry mid western kids who are mad at their parents." One commenter suggested that they smelled so badly that they would be kicked out of homeless shelters:
Please don't bother trying to get them to go to the homeless shelters. The legitimately homeless crowd wouldn't tolerate the smell. The best thing to do is to run them out of the city, and KEEP them out.
I recall another comment, now removed, that said that the real tragedy was that the dogs died.

But the overall thrust of the comments was the the kids were trash who somehow deserved to die.

In the same comments section, there were posts from grieving family and friends, many of whom confronted the comments directly and tried to defend the basic humanity of the victims of this terrible fire, a task required of them in a time of grief because of the lack of effective moderation, combined with a general policy that requires constant and aggressive moderation, on

An article on the website Coilhouse summed up some of my feelings after reading the comments:
What’s really fucking with me is the response of “concerned citizens” who callously voiced their opinions about the kids who died with nasty comments on a local news site. I should know better than to ever read that shit, because it’s usually horrifying, and makes me feel very sad for humanity. It got under my skin, though – these people basically saying “good riddance to gutterpunks” and that they got what they deserved for choosing to live the way they lived. Unbelievable, and so sad, that people would respond to the accidental deaths of eight young people with such vitriol. . . . Here’s a couple comments from the thread which address it better than I can:
“You just assume that because they were squatting they don’t have jobs, but a lot of these kids do work. They do bike delivery in the quarter or wash dishes or tend bar. They travel a lot, so often they don’t tie themselves down to a lease. They sleep on the couches of friends or in abandoned buildings. It may not be your choice of lifestyle, but it’s not malicious and it’s not lazy. It’s just different. Their lives matter just as much as yours or mine. Grow a heart and some perspective.”
“Every human deserves a warm place to sleep and healthy food. I didn’t know those kids well, but I knew that they were working on that building, that they had built lofts and had made more improvements to that structure then who ever owned had in years. They weren’t homeless – that was their home and it burned down and its a goddamn tragedy anyway you write it down, and if you think otherwise you are a cruel person who needs to go back to whatever godforsaken suburb you crawled out of and stay there.”
Goddamn right.
The bold was not in the original but instead is highlighted to reflect the sense of civic disgust that many comments evoke.

I posted a comment to one of the stories, exasperated at the heartlessness of the posters:
I find it stunning that people post on stories on as if the friends and parents of the victims of tragedies like this fire will not read them.
To anyone reading this who cares about these poor kids who died in our city yesterday, know that the city's heart goes out to you, that the nasty comments here do not reflect the views of people who live here but instead embittered, craggy old men and women who abandoned the city decades ago, and that these kids fit right in here - a city that has always embraced people who saw the world in their own way and wanted to live differently - and are mourned.
I can see no reason why, when the comments section on a story become overwhelmingly offensive and out of control, doesn't just exercise good judgment and shut the comments down?


I found a couple of comments, from a user with the name apperception, who knew one of the victims, Nicole Pack, (who was identified in this story) that I thought I would add to this post, if only to reflect the depth of the pain that he suffered in viewing the slander of his dead friend that he read on
KenvonT, up until now, it's just been too hard to even review the comments, let alone reply. It barely seems worth it. Nikki's family and friends have warned me against even reading them. Because on some level, sure, these people have no idea: I can't wrap my head around anyone who would belittle the death of another human being, so I'm so tempted to just write them off as pathetic detritus and reach for people with the capacity for love in their heart.
The thing is, I know Nikki wouldn't give a crap about people talking smack on her behind her back. If they wanted to say anything, they could say it to her face, and I know damned well that half the folks talking ill of the dead here would quake in fear at the prospect of doing so.
These are sad and lonely people, for all of their money and social privilege, who speak ill here. Nikki would pity them. I try so hard to not let them get to me. We're all suffering, friend. Not all of us take as a point to take time away from loving people around us to speak ill of the departed, faceless, on a message board. I'm sorry for your losses, too. I'm sorry for the losses this town, this world, has experienced... I'm even sorrier for those who don't see it.

This second one seems to be a pretty clear invitation to a beat down, which I suspect the anonymous commenter did not take him up on, but which I suspect was justified:
Hey, friend.
I'm in NOLA right now.
So is Nikki's family. Nikki is a veteran, and her mother's deployment to Afghanistan was delayed to to the DEATH OF HER DAUGHTER.
But if you'd like to air your grievances in person, or your petty parenting critiques, we'd both like to speak to you, I'm sure. It would maybe allow you to get things off your chest so they won't appear anonymously on an internet forum.
My personal email is
My phone number is 412-849-7023: Please, feel free to send me a text so we can talk about this in person. It seems your opinions matter very much to you, more than the lives of other people, even, so I'm welcoming this opportunity to talk it out.
Take care,
A loved one of many of the victims.

I like that he posted his email address and phone number. It breaks through the anonymity of the forum and confronts the comments as a human being, not just an internet avatar. If everyone was required to post with their real telephone number or email address (or any identifying information), I am sure that the amount of offensive and hateful comments would drop by 95%.


  1. There are a number of interesting comments from Nicole Pack's mother,, where she tries to rise above all the "heartless" comments that appeared on the article about her daughter.

  2. "If everyone was required to post with their real telephone number or email address (or any identifying information), I am sure that the amount of offensive and hateful comments would drop by 95%."

    It's true. The Offbeat forums used to be an anonymous, admittedly vicariously delightful pit of local scene gossip and mudslinging till they started requiring more real personal info a few years ago...

  3. Hateful comment sections are not unique to city papers, and are even the norm online.

    I've seen some forums restrict comment privileges to people who pay a $5 fee. token, but it limits those who would type something to those who are willing to go above and beyond simply registering.