Research Paper On Police Brutality During Katrina

The idea of closure has never occurred to Mr. Madison, not since Sept. 4, 2005, when a police officer shot his developmentally disabled brother in the back beside him as they were walking across the Danziger Bridge in the flooded city. Mr. Madison was arrested on the scene, charged with attempted murder and jailed for weeks. When he got out and the true story of what had happened that day was slowly revealed, justice remained agonizingly elusive. It still is, he said.

“I guess the only thing that ends is we don’t go back to court anymore,” he said. “It may be closure for them, but it will probably never be closure for me.”

The plaintiffs include family members of Raymond Robair, a 48-year-old handyman who was beaten to death by a police officer in the Tremé neighborhood less than a month before Hurricane Katrina.

They also include relatives of Henry Glover, who was shot on Sept. 2, 2005, by a rookie police officer guarding a strip mall. A flagged-down passer-by drove the dying Mr. Glover to a makeshift police outpost, where officers allegedly detained and beat the driver and two members of Mr. Glover’s family. They then burned the car with the body inside.

Two days later, across the city, several unarmed people, including the Madison brothers, were walking across the Danziger Bridge when officers responding to a report of police under fire showed up in a rented truck and began firing, killing two and badly wounding four. A wide-ranging cover-up then began on the spot.

The cases brought intense federal scrutiny. Almost immediately after taking office in 2010, Mr. Landrieu invited the Justice Department to conduct a top-down civil investigation of the New Orleans police. The findings, broad and devastating, led to a federal consent decree, a judicially enforced reform plan that is still in place.

“I just hope and pray that it continues,” said LaShonda Enclade, 39, a daughter of Mr. Robair. She said the storm had uncovered, rather than caused, this level of police brutality.

The routes of the individual cases were not nearly as straightforward. They all went to trial in federal court from November 2010 to August 2011. Three of the five officers on trial in the Glover case were convicted. Two officers were convicted in connection with Mr. Robair’s death, and five in the killings on the Danziger Bridge and the cover-up.

But the setbacks began almost immediately. The officer who shot Mr. Glover at the strip mall had his conviction tossed by an appeals court and was acquitted in a 2013 retrial. Another officer in that case, convicted of taking part in a cover-up, had his conviction overturned as well and was never retried.

A federal judge, citing prosecutorial misconduct, ordered a new trial for the five officers convicted in connection with the Danziger Bridge killings. Those officers ultimately pleaded guilty and received significantly reduced sentences.

The criminal cases, drawn-out as they were, are now closed, with some having been resolved just this year. This opened the way for the longstanding civil claims against the city, filed in federal court by relatives of victims as well as victims themselves, including some of those permanently wounded on the bridge.

The city’s apology on Monday opened something else for Sherell Johnson, the mother of James Brissette, 17, who was killed on the Danziger Bridge. She now, after 11 years of waiting, felt she could finally bury his ashes.

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In the last few years studies by African Americans examining police service have become an integral part of the historical narrative. Marvin Delaney, Dwight Watson, and now Leonard Moore all address African Americans in institutional studies of policing. Moore’s Black Rage in New Orleans is an important work on blacks and police brutality. His work argues that police brutality in New Orleans fueled African American activism in the city post WWII. The strength of Moore’s work is his analysis of the growth of African Americans’ activism and their reaction to the police impropriety in New Orleans.

Historically, New Orleans was a city full of racial anomalies in which the police viewed all nonwhites as suspect agents and used brutality and repressive measures to control the community. Moore shows that New Orleans had no blacks on the police force prior to World War II. Following World War II, African American activism led to lawsuits challenging institutional inequities in the city. The presence of blacks on the police force was due to the Carlton Pecot lawsuit filed in 1949 by A. P Tureaud. The case forced Mayor Morrison to discuss the issue of black police applicants, largely due to Morrison’s hope of reelection with the help of the black vote.

Police training embraced brutality as an accepted, expected, and relied upon tactic by police to ensure hegemonic control of minority communities. Moore documents that the scandal and corruption-plagued NOPD relied on violence rather than negotiation and respect when it came to the city’s African American community. The first black police officer was hired in 1950 with the expressed purpose of policing the black community. In 1960 Police Chief Joseph Giarousso attempted to provide protection for black students entering white schools, but NOPD was unable to stop hundreds of white teenagers from rioting in the central business district of New Orleans in retaliation for school integration. Instead of looking for whites NOPD increased its presence in the black community. Also in 1960 New Orleans police committed a series of homicides against black citizens, fostering mistrust and protests. The Internal Affairs Division of NOPD, rather than investigating police brutality complaints, pushed for charging defendants who reported police abuses with various charges, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The NOPD also employed increased surveillance, infiltration, and extreme measures to control suspected black radicals. Their tactics led to the infamous January 7, 1973, Howard Johnson’s sniper shootings by Mark Essex. The governor of Louisiana and the NOPD chief called the shooting “a black nationalist conspiracy to kill white police.” In reality blacks were responding to the Police Department’s aggressive policing techniques within their communities. Here Moore succeeds [End Page 100] in clearly articulating the level and degree of violence in New Orleans following the shooting of the black power activist and how activist politics in the city were emboldened by the police action rather than stymied by it. The crowning jewel of collective community activism was the Office of Municipal Investigations established in 1981 after the Algiers Motel incident and police shootings. Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial appointed Warren Woodfork as the first African American to head the New Orleans Police Department. Police violence, then, became a galvanizing force for the unification of the black community.

Moore successfully creates a narrative based on primary source research and extensive newspaper archives that highlights how police brutality, and black rage, black activism, and demand for institutional services changed the Crescent City in the last half of the twentieth century.

Dwight Watson

Texas State University-San Marcos

Copyright © 2011 The Texas State Historical Association


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