Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Katrina's Hidden Race War: "Victims and Vigilantes"

Hat tip to Ruth Baldwin, from The Nation Books, for this one:

In an 18-month investigation supported by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, reporter A.C. Thompson weaves together stories of both innocent victims and unrepentant vigilantes, painting a terryifying and never before told picture of a hidden race war in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Most of the incidents took place in Algiers Point, a middle-class neighborhood on New Orleans' west bank, which stood between the inundated Lower Ninth Ward and a National Guard rescue point. As black residents from the Lower Ninth tried to flee New Orleans, white residents in Algiers Point took up arms and opened fire, shooting with impunity. Thompson, in Katrina's Hidden Race War and a companion piece, Body of Evidence, interviews witnesses on all sides of the gunfire, including shooters from Algiers Point, gunshot survivors, forensic pathologists, doctors, historians, private citizens, and law enforcement officials. Thompson reviewed over 800 autopsies and state death records, and reveals a city fractured across racial lines and evidence of brutal crimes:

* According to eye witnesses, at least 11 people were shot by vigilantes in Algiers Point. In each case the targets were African-American men, while the shooters all were white. It's unclear who all 11 victims were or how many may have died, because none of the shootings have ever been investigated.

* One shooting victim, Henry Glover (his shooter remains unknown), was found charred and burned in a scorched sedan. Glover's death is particularly suspicious, with eyewitnesses reporting that New Orleans police allowed Glover to bleed to death while savagely beating the man who tried to save him, then covered up and destroyed evidence. The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute had to sue for Glover's autopsy records.

* In a companion video, residents of Algiers Point admit to forming a "mini-militia," at one point saying that shooting blacks "was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it."

*As one militiaman told Thompson, “The police said, ‘If they’re breaking in your property do what you gotta do and leave them [the bodies] on the side of the road.’

In spite of overwhelming evidence supporting all of these allegations, the New Orleans Police Department and public officials have refused comment, beyond a curt two-sentence email, for over eight months. To date there is no evidence a single investigation was ever opened, and law enforcement at every level was completely uncooperative with the investigation. As Thompson, an award winning journalist now on staff at ProPublica, wrote in the piece, "As a reporter who has spent more than a decade covering crime, I was startled to meet so many people with so much detailed information about potentially serious offenses, none of whom have ever been interviewed by police." An accompanying Editorial in the January 5, 2009 issue of The Nation magazine calls for a full and complete investigation. "Katrina still stands as a symbol of our elected officials brutal indifference to the lives of poor African-Americans," the Editors write. "It's not too late for accountability." The Editors of The Nation, America's oldest weekly news magazine, implore Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to lead a multiagency task force to get to the bottom of these crimes; Representative John Conyers and Senator Patrick Leahy to compel law enforcement to testify before congress; and incoming Attorney General Eric Holder to begin an investigation at the Department of Justice. "If we as a nation are ever truly to transcend race," they write, "tolerance for racist violence in our midst must come to an end."

Alerted by The Nation to the A.C. Thompson story, the advocacy group Color of Change launched a campaign moments after the story went to press echoing the calls for an investigation. Color of Change, a national organization that "exists to strengthen black America's political voice," played a critical role in raising public outcry around the Jena 6 case and in demanding accountability immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The organization will be launching a petition drive and an online campaign targeting Jindal, Holder and others to demand an investigation. "It's unconscionable that three years would pass without any investigation into these crimes," said James Rucker, co-Founder and Executive Director of ColorofChange.org.

Color of Change has set up a petition at http://www.colorofchange.org/nation/

"This is yet another tragic example of Louisiana officials not taking seriously their responsibility to protect Louisiana's black citizens. We hope that Thompson's article and The Nation will help shame officials into action."

A.C. Thompson's reporting on New Orleans was directed and underwritten by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Thompson is an award-winning journalist on the staff at ProPublica, which provided additional support as did the Center for Investigative Reporting and New American Media. Anyone interested in interviewing reporter A.C. Thompson may contact Ben Wyskida at 212-209-5426 or ben@thenation.com.


uglyblackjohn said...

NOLA was pretty effed up from the bottom up. It seems that no one knew how to respond.

Debo Blue said...

Never heard of this before.

Shaking my ead and feeling disgusted and very angry.

I'm passing this little piece on to friends and family.

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