Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conviction in New Orleans no reason to rejoice

(Hat tip to Scott Horton at Harper's)

For those of you who missed it, in Dec 2008 the Nation published an in-depth report on events in Algiers, a part of New Orleans just across the Mississippi River, in the days after Katrina hit. A warning to the faint-hearted: it's not an easy read. But it is apparently all true -- except, that is, for this one sentence by a staff member at Tulane University:

I can't see a white person being convicted of any kind of crime against an African-American during that period.

As a Horton reports, on Friday a white man was indeed found guilty of killing a black man during those days. To make things worse, the white man was a police officer at the time. (A total of five police officers were indicted.)

I visited Algiers and spoke with some of the people in the Nation article in late December 2005 myself. I was only in New Orleans for around 10 days and only in Algiers for one, so I was not able to do this kind of in-depth reporting. I certainly heard a lot of stories about white vigilantes patrolling the streets, but a number of things that some of the (black and white) locals claimed were simply not true, as I pointed out a few months later in this article (unfortunately only in German).

What I did not do, but the Nation journalist did, is try to speak to white vigilantes in the community, which seems to be fairly easy to do -- they certainly do not seem to have much of a problem speaking to the Nation journalist, and also see this Danish documentary. Had I spoken to these gun-toting white wackos, I probably would have believed more of the stories I had been hearing.

Overall, it seems that a group -- or perhaps a number of separate groups -- of white vigilantes responded to a quite small number of crimes in the wake of Katrina by setting up their own militia-driven state. They then proceeded to harass, threatened to kill, and in some cases murder law-abiding black citizens from the community. It's quite frightening, especially when we think about the implications of all of the gun-toting that still goes on right out in the open -- or, as blogger Tim Wise recently put it:

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters - the black protesters - spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic?

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