Killer cops indicted for post-Katrina fatal shootings
Imagine losing everything you’ve ever owned, including your personal documents, your most valuable and cherished possessions. In addition, there is suffering the personal loss through death, disappearance or displacement of family, loved ones and friends. This was the plight of most survivors of 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the ensuing flood from broken levees, especially in the Ninth Ward.
The majority of the victims were Black and poor citizens who were unable to evacuate the affected areas prior to the storm. Responses to their immediate cries for help were largely ignored by all levels of government. And the indifference and unnecessary delays in rescuing them resulted in prolonged suffering in the hurricane’s aftermath.
To add insult to injury, the racist mainstream media depicted many of the survivors as “looters” and “wild criminals,” instead of as victims, and initially referred to them as “refugees.” Their trauma and devastating situation were overshadowed by this exaggerated, skewed reporting.
Right after the hurricane, some white New Orleans residents in their unaffected areas formed armed vigilante groups to prevent Black survivors from entering their neighborhoods via the Danziger Bridge. Some went hunting for “n ... ..s” and bragged about shooting them. Even the U.S. military prevented Black survivors from seeking refuge and shelter on abandoned government property. In addition, the U.S. government-contracted mercenary force Blackwater made its presence known in the area.
Armed racist white residents weren’t alone in preventing Black survivors from seeking help and relief. In late 2008 an investigative journalist, A.C. Thompson, succeeded in getting published in the The Nation magazine results of his 18-month-long investigation of police shootings on the Danziger Bridge.
The journalist uncovered the Sept. 4, 2005, incidents where white cops shot innocent, unarmed Black survivors who were seeking safe haven, food and water. Two Black men were killed and a family of four was wounded by the cops on the bridge.
The men killed were James Brisette, age 17, and Ronald Madison, who was severely mentally challenged. Both Brisette and Madison were unarmed. Former Officer Robert Faulcon shot Madison in the back as he tried to flee, and he was then kicked and stomped to death by Sgt. Kenneth Bowen.
The journalist’s investigation also revealed the Sept. 2 killing of a Black man, Danny Brumfield, stranded with his family at the Convention Center. The man reportedly tried to flag down a cop car for help. But he was deliberately hit by the cop car and then shot in the back in front of many witnesses.
Another Black victim, Henry Glover, was taken hostage by police on Sept. 4, shot, then his body was either burned while he was still alive or burned after he died.
Following the release of the journalist’s report, and under pressure by activists, the U.S. Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation, which included visiting the crime scenes, interviewing witnesses and seizing police computers.
This July 14, as the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that four New Orleans police officers had been charged with “civil rights violations” in the Sept. 4 shootings. Sergeants Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius, Officer Anthony Villavaso and former Officer Robert Faulcon were indicted on 27 counts for killing Madison and Brisette. A total of 11 cops have been charged with conspiring to cover up the shootings, and several have confessed to perjury. Six have been charged with false arrests.
Shortly after the shootings, then-police chief Warren Riley claimed in a press conference that the officers in question “approached the subjects who were several feet away, who fired on the police officers. The officers returned fire.” (NY Amsterdam News, July 22). The Justice Department asserted that Riley’s statement and other lies were part of the police department’s cover-up, which included falsifying police reports, manufacturing witnesses and planting a gun at the scene.
There were also many other reported incidents of police brutality in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Police Department has a history of corruption, violence and killings. And for three years after the murders, the city’s district attorney, its federal attorney and local media ignored the killings until the 2008 report.
Hurricane Katrina survivors, five years later, are still fighting for the right to return home to New Orleans. The city, state, federal governments and private developers readily found money to rebuild the Superdome stadium, the French Quarter tourist area and other enterprises. But schools, medical facilities, day care and senior centers are still closed. Many small businesses have not been able to reopen. Adequate, affordable housing and homelessness are still a problem. And the rebuilding of the blighted Ninth Ward continues at a snail’s pace.