Conviction Overturned for New Orleans Cops Who Killed Two After Katrina
Glen Ford: Black leadership class failed to hold convicted police officers accountable when they are both the perpetrators and enforcers of racist policing
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered a retrial for five New Orleans police officers who were convicted of civil rights violations in the shooting of six unarmed civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The judge said grotesque prosecutorial misconduct during the trial necessitated a retrial.
Joining us to discuss all this is Glen Ford. Glen is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report.
Thanks for being with us, Glen.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you for the invitation.
DESVARIEUX: So, Glen, let’s talk about the significance of this court order and what this means for communities of color, who have a history of being policed aggressively in the past.
FORD: Well, for the black people of New Orleans, the Danziger Bridge case was one of the very few cases in which someone was being called to account for the killing of at least some black folks during the Katrina catastrophe. One criminologist at Southern University–that’s a black institution near New Orleans–said that we may never know how many black people were shot and killed and whose bodies may never be found in the wake of Katrina. There was white organized violence, much of it police violence, against blacks going on all over the city, and the vast majority of it was unacknowledged, much less punished. And so the Danziger Bridge case, in which these five policemen were finally brought to what appeared to be justice, was very, very significant for the morale of the community that had found no justice from this great catastrophe.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And the U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, he wrote that, quote, “retrying this case is a very small price to pay in order to protect the validity of the verdict in this case, the institutional integrity of this court, and the criminal justice system as a whole.” Isn’t this a valid justification for a retrial?
FORD: I’m ambivalent about this. I’m sure that lots of people in New Orleans are not ambivalent. They’re outraged. But, of course, it is in the interests of black folks, who seldom get justice from the criminal justice system, who see the system warped and contorted to get convictions of us on trumped-up charges often, it’s in our interests that there be integrity in the court system.
What is, of course, strange here is that prosecutors are being punished for clearly stating their belief that the defendants were guilty and that the system was corrupt. Well, prosecutors abuse their power in that way every day, and to the extent that most Americans don’t understand, don’t know that the prosecutor’s duty is not to get convictions but to find the truth in a case. So it is interesting that this pristine handling of the law would occur in a case like this when we know it doesn’t happen in the normal course of life, especially when there are black defendants.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s switch gears a little bit, Glen, and talk about the role of leadership, particularly black leadership, in what transpired. In an article you wrote for Black Agenda Report, you said, quote, not one black-led major city can claim that it has substantially eradicated institutionally racist policing. Apparently that’s not a priority of the black misleadership class. First of all, can you just define for us the black misleadership class? And what role do you think they play in enabling discriminatory policing?
FORD: Well, when I wrote about that, I particularly had in mind Newark, New Jersey, which has been black-led since 1970. And yet it is a cesspool of police brutality, not just white police brutality against blacks, but black police brutality. And New Orleans was one such city. And New Orleans, until, I believe, in the last couple of years, has been black-led for decades and a notoriously brutal police force, including the black police who served on that force, some of whom were engaged in blatant criminal activity and even assassinations of civilians. So there is no doubt, of course, in any of our cities that institutional racism reigns, an institutional racism that is so pervasive that it affects the black police as well.
Regarding the black misleadership class–and within that grouping I include most black elected officials and most or many of the traditional civil rights organizations–there is a class character to this leadership, and it is a class that desires as much to separate itself from the lower, poorer classes of blacks as to make common cause with them. So we see, for example, in the mid ’80s that half of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for that clearly patently racist crack cocaine 100-to-1 penalty bill that was before the Congress. And it was–the math was racist. But they were just as easily or nearly just as easily stampeded into enacting racist legislation that could–that it was predictable would lead to the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of black people for draconian lengths of time as white legislators.
Regarding that class and New Orleans, I remember very well the case in New Orleans in the 1880s in which an organization that looked very much like a precursor to the NAACP filed a petition with the white mayor of New Orleans. They were complaining because black female prisoners in the city during daylight hours were wielding brooms and such and cleaning out the streets. Their petition was not concerned about whether these prisoners wanted to be on the streets cleaning them up rather than in the dungeons or the prisons of that day, but they thought that having these women, many of whom had been arrested for prostitution in broad daylight, performing such labor made the rest of what they called the colored race look bad. So their concern was not for the conditions of these poor women who were prisoners of the New Orleans criminal justice system, but for the image of the better class of colored folk in that city. And I think that the same attitude prevails among much of the black misleadership class today.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, we’ll certainly be keeping track of this story and the retrial.
Thank you so much for joining us, Glen.
FORD: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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