Posted 9 months ago on Feb. 12, 2014, 3:05 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Federal Prosecutions Fail to Bring Justice in New Orleans
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 09:09 By Jordan Flaherty, Truthout | News Analysis
In 2010 and 2011, the US Department of Justice won several high-profile convictions against New Orleans police who had killed unarmed civilians in the days of crisis after Hurricane Katrina, but now those convictions are falling apart. Some community members in New Orleans say the lesson is that true justice will not come from the state. Or, in the words of Audre Lorde, "The master's tools will not dismantle the master's house."
In the days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans, as the levees failed, water rushed into the city. Images of desperate survivors played on television, and people around the world felt sympathy for the people of New Orleans who had been abandoned by the government. But soon images of families trapped on rooftops were replaced by stories of armed gangs and criminals roaming the streets. Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced she had sent in troops with orders to shoot to kill, and Warren Riley, second in charge of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), reportedly told officers to fire at will on looters.
The NOPD acted on those instructions. On September 2, a black man named Henry Glover was shot by a police sniper as he walked through a parking lot. When a Samaritan tried to help Glover get medical attention, he was beaten by officers, who burnt Glover's body and left it behind a levee. The next day, a 45-year-old named Danny Brumfield Sr. was killed in front of scores of witnesses outside the New Orleans Convention Center when he ran after a police car to demand that the officers stop and provide aid.
The following morning, two families were crossing New Orleans' Danziger Bridge - which connects Gentilly and New Orleans East, two mostly middle- to upper-class African-American neighborhoods. Suddenly, a Budget rental truck pulled up and cops jumped out and began firing before their vehicle had even stopped.
James Brisette, a 17-year-old called studious and nerdy by his friends, was shot nearly a dozen times and died at the scene. Farther up the bridge, Ronald Madison, a mentally challenged man, was shot in the back by one officer and stomped and kicked by another until he died. Four other people were wounded, including Susan Bartholomew, a 38-year-old mother who had her arm shot off, and her 17-year-old daughter, Lesha, who was shot while crawling on top of her mother, trying to shield her from bullets.
At the time, it was reported that cops "sent up a cheer" when word came over police radios that suspects had been shot and killed. Officers had heard a radio call about shots fired in the area and apparently were seeking to "take their city back."
A cursory investigation by the NOPD justified the shooting, and it appeared that the matter was closed. No one was even looking into the Brumfield and Glover killings. Other elected officials, including the city coroner, went along with the police version of events. The coroner's office, for example, never flagged Henry Glover's body, found burned in a car and missing his head, as a potential homicide.
The city's then-daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune, failed at its job. Alex Brandon, a photographer for the paper who later went on to work for The Associated Press, testified years later that he knew details about the police killings that he hadn't revealed.
There was a flash of hope: Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan, the city's first black DA, pursued charges in the Danizger killings in late 2006. When the Danziger officers went to turn themselves in, hundreds of cops came out to protest. The unruly crowd cheered and called the accused killers heroes. Before the case could be tried, it was dismissed by a judge with close ties to the defense lawyers and police union. Soon after, Jordan was forced to resign. His successor, Leon Cannizzaro, seemed to have little interest in pursuing police officers. Jim Letten, the US attorney at that time, was more focused on pursuing charges against black politicians than pursuing police corruption.
But the families victimized by police refused to be silent. They spoke out at press conferences, rallies and directly to reporters. They worked with organizations like Safe Streets Strong Communities, which was founded by criminal justice reform activists and advocates in the days after Katrina, and Community United for Change, formed by police brutality opponents a few years later. Monique Harden, co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, helped to bring testimony about these issues to the United Nations. Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund, an organization dedicated to justice in reconstruction, held a tribunal in 2006 that presented testimony about police violence, among other charges, to a panel of international judges, including parliamentarians from seven countries. Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, two photographers based in the Lower Ninth Ward, did a post-Katrina series honoring "First Responders" that very pointedly focused on community members, not police.
As time went on, others began to tell this story. Spike Lee's post-Katrina documentaries When The Levees Broke (2006) and If God Is Willing And The Creek Don't Rise (2010) told of police violence and white vigilante violence after Katrina. In late 2008, a journalist named A.C. Thompson did what the local media had failed to do. He investigated these stories in detail and published an investigation in The Nation magazine and Propublica. Dave Eggers, in his book Zeitoun (2009), told of police harassing survivors and locking them up without evidence. Later, the HBO series "Treme" dramatized the investigations of the Danziger and Glover killings, and showed a hopelessly corrupt NOPD.