I went to a financial assistance center today to dig into a rumor about a bunch of people from Louisiana being forcibly escorted from line for being ineligibe for financial assistance because of their zip code. After police removed the group from the line, the center shut down for a time, leaving literally hundreds of eligible people standing in the hot sun and with no clue as to what was going on.
So here I come, all smiles and compliments, trying to dispell some of the nastier rumors which were floating into our paper about what had actually happened and who (namely what race and socio-economic class) the people who were escorted away were.
All the officials I managed to find played dumb or stand-offish.
So, I ask simple questions, like, "How many people work here?" "How many people do you see a day?" "What exactly do you do here?" And they refuse to answer me.
I call a PR person for the Red Cross and she says she does not know the answer to my questions but would need to talk to the manager of the center, who happened to be standing right next to me and who demanded I call the PR person in the first place. So I say this, ask her to give this woman permission to tell me the basic things about the center, and everyone refuses everything.
Then they go into a huddle to decide what to do about me.
Five minutes pass.
So I pull out my camera and start taking pictures of anything from the belly level without ever looking through my viewfinder.
Next thing I know this old man with a security badge grabs me firmly on the arm and starts yelling, "You can't take pictures. You're a troublemaker and I know you're taking pictures."
I say, "Sir, I'm sorry, please calm down. I was just fiddling with the camera."
"No you weren't," he screams. "I know you're here to cause trouble. I know you took pictures. We need to repsect the privacy of our clients. You can't do that here. You need to give me that camera."
While ignoring that last comment and before I have a chance to say, "Okay, let me walk around the room and ask everyone's permission," (which I was more than willing to do) some older peroxide-blond woman appears and, quite literally, starts screaming at me, "Who do you think you are? Does your publisher know you're here? Do you want me to call him on you?"
To which I respond, "Sure. Would you like the phone number, ma'am?"
At which point, she explodes.
Next thing I know security personnel are escorting me out while yelling at me and grabbing for my camera. I stop, hold up the display and delete the photos I had in there (don't worry, I downloaded all photos from earlier in the day already). I then walk away quickly, but not before turning to the group causing the ruckus and say, "I was here to dispell some ugly rumors about what happened earlier. You just made them worse. Congratulations. Sorry."
I have always been wary of the American Red Cross. They do not share donations with the International Red Cross. The usually act like an arrogant, closed-off and uncooperative organization in times of disaster. When I worked in a soup kitchen, they demanded that we close on Thanksgiving day (they didn't bother with Christmas) so they would have enough people to feed.
And they were late when the disaster hit, showing up over a week later in most places.
That said, they are a necessary evil. They have the best resources and experience. I just frickin' can't stand the way they do business.