Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Mystery of Danzinger Bridge

On Treme , the popular HBO original series that is a fictional account of the residents of Post Katrina New Orleans...There is a story line ,or rather I should say there was a storyline about two young men, one black, one white who may or may not have been murdered by rogue cops during the Katrina storm. The show concluded it's second season last night without the mystery being cleared up...

A quick check of the recent news has me seeing that there was in fact a real life murder mystery unfolding on the Danzinger Bridge in New Orleans that is coming to head in a courtoom right now that involves some New Orleans policemen.

Witnesses testimony began last week in a trial that has already shocked and polarized the people of New Orleans and brought some very urgent calls for reform of the city's entire criminal-justice system.

The incident, which occurred on Sept. 4, 2005, just days after the storm, police officers are accused of raining a hail of bullets on two African-American families as they were fleeing Katrina's floodwaters. Ronald Madison, a mentally challenged man, was shot at least six times, while James Brissette, a high school student, was shot seven times. Both men died at the scene. Four other people were wounded, including a woman whose arm was shot completely off and a young man who needed a colostomy bag after the shootings.Incredible!!!

The cops on trial are accused of engaging in an elaborate effort to cover up what happened by arresting innocent civilians, falsifying reports, conspiring in secret meetings, inventing witnesses and planting evidence. Three officers who were involved in the shooting and two officers who aided in the conspiracy have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against their fellow officers. This is eerily close to the storyline on HBO's Treme...They are hinting at this, but their storyline hasn't gotten this far advanced yet.

The trial is expected to last eight weeks. The officers involved in the shooting -- Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon -- could receive life sentences if convicted. Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was not on the bridge, is charged only in the cover-up and could receive a maximum of 120 years. Sgt. Gerard Dugue, who is also implicated only in the cover-up, will be tried separately, in September. He faces 70 years.

Defense attorneys for the accused officers have said that the officers were shot at before they began firing. The attorneys have also pointed to the chaos and confusion of post-Katrina New Orleans as a contributing factor. NOPD spokespeople and officials in the Police Association of New Orleans have distanced themselves from the accused officers while refusing to comment in depth. "We have faith in our legal system," said New Orleans Police Union spokeswoman Remi Braden. She added-
"And we are confident that those who are found guilty of committing crimes will be sanctioned accordingly."Let's hope so...but I can't honestly say that I haven't heard this tune before..only to see no justice served at all. Still, I'm going to give the authorities of New Orleans, the benefit of the doubt.

The story is devastating. For more than three years, every check and balance in the city's criminal-justice system failed. Activists complain of judges who are too close to prosecutors; a city coroner who sides with the police version of events; and an entire system that seems focused on locking up people for misdemeanors instead of stopping violent crime. Welcome to my world....Are we talking about Philadelphia PA. or New Orleans ,Louisiana? I don't see the difference...or is it Baltimore,MD, St. Louis ,Missouri or Atlanta GA. or Washington D.C.?? What's the difference??

The shootings on Danziger Bridge are the most notorious of at least nine separate incidents -- most of which occurred in the days just after Katrina -- that are being examined by federal agents. "This trial is going to show the country and the world that we have a serious problem with our police department," says Eddie Jordan, the city's former district attorney. "This department is engaged in horrendous acts against its citizens."

In a wide-ranging 158-page report released this March, the U.S. Justice Department declared that the NOPD has deep structural problems, noting, "Basic elements of effective policing -- clear policies, training, accountability and confidence of the citizenry -- have been absent for years." The report criticized the department for "use of excessive force; unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; racial and ethnic profiling and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) discrimination; a systemic failure to provide effective policing services to persons with limited English proficiency; and a systemic failure to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence."

Eddie Jordan feels that investigators should pursue charges up to the very top of the department, including Warren Riley, who was promoted to police chief shortly after Hurricane Katrina and served in that role until 2010. "Warren Riley, by his own admission, never even read the report on Danziger,"Eddie Jordan points out. "It's so outrageous, it's unspeakable. It's one of the worst things that anyone can do. It's hard to understand why he's not on trial as well .I concur.

"Fish starts rotting at the head," adds Eddie Jordan. "This was all done in the backdrop of police opposition at the very top. It's not surprising that there was a cover-up. You just have to wonder how far that cover-up went." That we may never know...but it will still do the city of New Orleans good to weed out as many bad eggs as possible.

Warren Riley, who resigned in 2010, has said that any officers involved in a cover-up should go to jail. He has also defended his response to NOPD corruption, saying that he inherited a deeply troubled department and a civil service system that protects bad officers. "I've fired 178 police officers in 4 1/2 years," he told radio host Gerod Stevens shortly before he retired. "I've suspended over 600."

Once Again, I say, welcome to my world...Urban America...I'll be watching this trial. You should too....Anybody that has any questions about race , due process of law ,et al..Should keep an eye on New Orleans these next few weeks and not just for Essence Fest.


Mizrepresent said...

Hey Keith, I'm doing fine! And although i don't watch Treme (no HBO) i have followed this story from it's very beginning. I am hoping that justice is done, but justice seems to be a weeping willow these days.

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