[News] Danziger Bridge is Just the Beginning: NOPD Corruption and Violence
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 15 16:22:41 EDT 2010
Danziger Bridge is Just the Beginning
Six New Orleans Police Charged in Post-Katrina Killings, Activists
Say Deeper Change is Needed
By Jordan Flaherty, <http://floodlines.org>floodlines.org
This week, federal officials charged six current and former New
Orleans police officers in connection with the killing of civilians
in the days after Hurricane Katrina. The six are not only accused of
murder but also of conspiring to hide their crime through secret
meetings, planting evidence, inventing witnesses, false arrests, and
perjury. Four of the officers may face the death penalty.
While the details of their charges are shocking, much of the media
has missed the real story: corruption and violence are endemic to the
NOPD, and wider systemic change is needed not just in police
personnel, but in the city's overall criminal justice system.
Days of Violence
In the days after the flooding of New Orleans, police officers were
told they were defending a city under siege and were given tacit
permission to use deadly force at their own discretion. At the time,
no one in power seemed to be interested in looking into the details
of who was killed and why.
For more than three years, these post-Katrina murders were ignored by
the city's District Attorney, the Republican U.S. Attorney, and even
the local media. But in late 2008 ProPublica and The Nation published
the results of an 18-month investigation by journalist A.C. Thompson.
Under new leadership, and responding to requests from New Orleans
advocates, the Department of Justice began its own inquiries soon
after Thompson's report.
FBI agents reconstructed crime scenes, interviewed witnesses and
seized officers' computers. Disturbing revelations have continued to
unfold since then, as the mounting evidence against them has forced a
growing number of cops to confess.
Among the most shocking cases:
On September 2, four days after Katrina made landfall, Henry Glover
was shot by one officer, then apparently taken hostage by other
officers who either killed him directly or burned him alive. His
charred remains were found weeks later.
Also on September 2, Danny Brumfield Sr., a 45 year old man stranded
with his family at the New Orleans Convention Center, was
deliberately hit by a patrol car, then shot in the back by police in
front of scores of witnesses as he tried to wave down the officers to
ask for help.
On September 4, 2005, on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge, a group of
police officers drove up to several unarmed civilians who were
fleeing their flooded homes and opened fire. Two people were killed,
including a mentally challenged man named Ronald Madison, and four
were seriously injured. Madison was shot in the back by officer
Robert Faulcon, and officer Kenneth Bowen then rushed up and kicked
and stomped on him, apparently until he was dead.
Faulcon and Bowen were among those charged this week in a 27-count
indictment that lays out the disturbing chain of events on the bridge.
The post-Katrina killings have also led investigators into further
inquiries. The feds have already announced that they are looking into
at least eight cases, including incidents that occurred in the summer
before Katrina and in the years after. And as high-ranking officers
confess to manufacturing evidence, their confessions bring doubt to
scores of other cases they have worked on.
A coalition of criminal justice activists called Community United for
Change (CUC) has asked for federal investigations of dozens of other
police murders committed over the past three decades, which advocates
say have never been properly examined. Activists named a wide range
of cases, from the death of 25-year-old Jenard Thomas, who was shot
by police in front of his father on March 24, 2005; to Sherry
Singleton, shot by police in 1980 while she was naked in a bathtub,
in front of her four year old child.
Several parents and other family members of victims of police
violence have joined in protests and community forums sponsored by
CUC. The parents of Adolph Grimes III, who was shot 14 times by cops
on New Year's day in 2009, are among those who have spoken out. "We
want those officers incarcerated, so they can live with it like we
live with it," said Grimes' father.
"This represents a real opportunity to raise some fundamental
questions about the nature of police and what they do," said Malcolm
Suber, project director with the New Orleans chapter of the American
Friends Service Committee and one of the organizers who formed
Community United for Change.
Civil rights attorney Tracie Washington has been among those leading
the call for federal intervention in the department. "It is time for
the U.S. government, through the Justice Department's Office of Civil
Rights, to step in and step up," she said. "We need a solution that
addresses the systemic nature of the problem."
Justice Department officials have indicated that they agree on the
need for federal assistance. "Criminal prosecutions alone, I have
learned, are not enough to change the culture of a police
department," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also said he agrees on the need for federal
supervision. In a letter to Attorney General Holder, Landrieu wrote,
"It is clear that nothing short of a complete transformation is
necessary and essential to ensure safety for the citizens of New Orleans."
However, many activists fear that Mayor Landrieu is speaking out in
support of reform so he can maintain a level of control over the
changes dictated by the feds. They are critical of Landrieu's choices
so far, such as his selection of an insider - NOPD veteran Ronal
Serpas - for the job of police chief, and have expressed concern that
he will not break with the department's troubled history. "This is
lukewarm reform," says Rosana Cruz, the associate director of
V.O.T.E., an organization that seeks to build power and civic
engagement for formerly incarcerated people. "This is reaching the
lowest possible bar that we could possibly set."
Beyond Bad Apples
While some form of federal supervision of the department seems
likely, Malcolm Suber doesn't think federal oversight is enough.
"I don't think that we can call on a government that murders people
all over the world every day to come and supervise a local police
department," He says. For Suber, federal control will not offer the
wider, more systemic changes needed in other aspects of the system.
While Suber wants more federal investigations of police murders, he
wants these investigations to go hand in hand with community
oversight and control of the department.
While activists may disagree on the role they see for the federal
government, one thing Washington, Suber and Cruz agree on is that the
problem runs deeper than police department corruption. They say any
solution needs to reach beyond the department to other facets of the
system like the city's elected coroner, the District Attorney's
office, the U.S. Attorney and the city's Independent Police Monitor,
who many see as limited by not having the ability to perform its own
"We have a coroner who always finds police were justified," said
Suber, referring to Frank Minyard, an 80-year-old jazz trumpeter who
is trained as a gynecologist. Minyard has been city coroner since
1974, and has been the frequent subject of complaints from activists,
who contend that he has mislabeled police killings. "We've had
independent coroners, forensic doctors come after him," said Suber,
"And we found that basically all of his finding were bogus. Just made up."
Henry Glover, last seen in the custody of police then found burned to
death in a car, was not flagged by the coroner's office as a
potential homicide. In another case now under federal investigation,
witnesses say police beat Raymond Robair to death. The coroner ruled
that he "fell down or was pushed." This "fall" broke four ribs and
caused massive internal injury, including a ruptured spleen.
"If you ask any attorneys who have handled cases of police killings,"
continued Suber, "When they have hired independent doctors to go
after our coroner, nine times out of ten he's wrong."
Activists also complain that the city's District Attorney Leon
Cannizzaro has been slow to pursue cases of police violence. "The
district attorney just does not file charges," Suber said. "When it's
involving police, he finds no crimes committed." Republican US
Attorney Jim Letten has also failed, Suber added. "A number of
community groups have gone and met with him, asked him to investigate
and he didn't do anything."
Organizers have put forward a range of proposals for the reforms they
would like to see, including institutional support for community-led
programs like CopWatch, the incorporation of a system for language
interpretation, and a more powerful Independent Police Monitor. But
they all agree that not just the department, but the entire system
needs fundamental change, and that change needs to come from outside
of city government. "How you gonna get the wolf to watch over the
chicken coop?" asks Adolph Grimes, Jr. "It's the system itself that
An earlier version of this article originally appeared on
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of Left Turn Magazine, and
a staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first
writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a national audience, and
his award-winning reporting from the Gulf Coast has been featured in
a range of outlets including the New York Times, Mother Jones, and
Argentina's Clarin newspaper. He has produced news segments for
Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, and Democracy Now! and appeared as a guest on
CNN Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, and Keep Hope Alive with the
Reverend Jesse Jackson. Haymarket Books has just released his new
book, FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena
Six. He can be reached at
<mailto:neworleans at leftturn.org>neworleans at leftturn.org.
More information about Floodlines can be found at
<http://floodlines.org/>floodlines.org. Floodlines will also be
featured on the Community and Resistance Tour this fall. For more
information on the tour, see
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News