Thursday, August 11, 2011

A bad thing gets better

Photo credit: Matthew Hinton, Times-Picayune
I generally try to reserve this blog for good news. Most of the time, there is some. This week, however, a great injustice was set right in federal court and that is good news. The damage could not be undone, unfortunately, but at least the guilty will be punished.

After Hurricane Katrina when no help arrived from anywhere - not FEMA, not the Red Cross, not the White House - New Orleans residents without transportation or out-of-state relatives, realized they were going to have to fend for themselves. Help was not on the way.

One group walked over the bridge from the lower 9th Ward to Gentilly looking for a place to buy groceries. An overly excited truckload of police arrived, having received a distress call that there was shooting on the bridge. There may (or may not) have been gunfire, but those people were unarmed. Jumping out of the vehicle, police let loose a barrage of gunfire. Unarmed civilians were not shot once, but multiple times, some in the back while attempting to flee. Later, a supervisor planted a weapon, so the assault could appear to be justified. There was a massive police coverup.

Granted, those were scary times, but police are trained to operate under stress with their main duty to protect innocent civilians. One woman who testified had been shot so many times, her arm had to be amputated. Two people were killed and four others wounded. The families waited all this time for justice. Did I mention all the victims were African-American?

In 2007, a state case fell apart for procedural reasons and was dismissed by the judge. Cops slapped one another on the backs, congratulating themselves for cleverly evading prosecution.

U.S. Atty. Jim Letten
But at that point, the feds came in to do their own investigation and a few police officers cooperated. The jury convicted the others. Five police officers will serve lengthy prison sentences. This was the third trial accusing police officers of misconduct in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Many reporters and editorial writers have written far more eloquently than I on this topic. It is a great day for New Orleans when the police are held accountable and excuses of fatigue and fear won't fly.

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