Saturday, August 06, 2011
In a case out of the stuff of nightmare, five New Orleans cops were convicted in the killing of unarmed civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One of the most amazing parts of the story is that the shooting spree, that left two unarmed victims dead and four others wounded (one of whom ultimate lost her arm), took place six days after city flooded. Six days! What does that say about the conditions in the area and the authorities? Law and order were clearly on the run, the cops were told that they were responding to a radio call of officers down and under fire at the Danziger Bridge.
Another detail that tells one just how far off of the civic rails things were at that moment in Louisiana, the 5-0 was rolling to the call in a Budget Rental truck. Literally. One of the officers was riding in the back of the box truck carrying his personal AK-47.1 They jumped from the truck firing. According to reports, a family walking in search of food and supplies, the Bartholomews, ended up on the bridge that September day heading to a supermarket on the other side of the Industrial Canal that bifurcates the 9th Ward. The hail of New Orleans Police Department bullets killed seventeen year-old family friend James Brissette and wounded four other family members.2
Moments later, the cops open fire on two brothers, Lance and Ronald Madison, according to a Justice Department summary, one officer shot the mentally disabled Ronald Madison in the back as he ran away, another cop stomped and kicked him as he was lying on the ground before he died.
This is the small "c" conservative's nightmare, the state, who has its constituent citizens massively outgunned with its governmental arsenal, incidentally, paid for with tax dollars, turns its guns on the people in a climate of fear. This is the case for repealing the Patriot Act and eliminating the Department of Homeland Security. Guns in the hands of the state, while scary, is likely inevitable in a globalized society. Impunity to open fire on the citizenry, the presumption of guilt, is what must be fought at all costs.
In this federal courtroom, the officers ultimately lost when their fellow cops started to go state's evidence on them. As is so often the case, it was the cover-up that got them. Initially, it was not at all clear that the policemen were going to pay for this heinous incident. State of Louisiana murder and attempted murder charges were thrown out against the cops when the Criminal District Court ruled that the state had misused grand jury testimony. In a racially charged case and city, they were greeted by a cheering throng of supporters when they beat the rap.
The Clarion Content does not have enough information to make a definitive stand on one side or the other of this case on the basis of the facts. In a federal court, in front of juror of their peers these men were found guilty. We can only say that we are heartened that justice did not automatically pardon the powerful and armed against the dispossessed and unarmed. The presumption so often goes the other way.
1Brady Bill anyone?
2After an initial cover-up, in later testimony it was revealed that the officers kept firing at the unarmed family as they cowered behind a bridge abutment. "The police just kept shooting and I just kept feeling myself being hit," testified Susan Bartholomew who lost her right arm.