Thursday, December 17, 2009

If not for the FBI. . . .

Among the great tragedies of Louisiana is the sad fact that its moral compass is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That is why this story -- which first came to light one year ago today in The Nation, more than three years after the fact -- is getting another of its sporadic moments of traction in New Orleans. And why is that? Because it's the focus of an FBI investigation.

What happened on Algiers Point in the days following Hurricane Katrina -- bands of white vigilantes shooting black "looters" at will and cops allegedly carrying out executions -- got some small local attention when The Nation and Pro Publica broke the story. More likely, though, you'd find far more attention paid in places like this.

TO BE FAIR, the story of Algiers Point and other instances of alleged police misconduct pops up in the Times-Picayune (most notably in a recent series) or on one TV station or another when there are fresh developments in the federal investigation.

The latest is a report on WWL-TV:
“King was yelling out the window, my brother got shot, my brother got shot,” Tanner said.

Suddenly nine or 10 officers pointed guns at them, Tanner said. He said the police immediately handcuffed all three of them, leaving Glover still bleeding in the back seat.

“We handcuffed, his brother yelling, ‘help, my brother,’ – this and that and that. He still acting hysterical,” Tanner said. “A black cop came through the ranks and slapped him so hard I felt the slap, and knocked him out.”

Tanner said the police might have assumed they were looters, but swears he had done nothing wrong and there was no evidence he had done anything wrong.
But he said they accused them of all kinds of things.

"You niggers come out there and beat up, you know, tourists and everything like that, mugging them and everything like that," Tanner said.

He said they then began beating them.

“The cop kicked me two times in the stomach around my ribs and hit me with an m-16 rifle with a laser sight, right on my cheek right here,” Tanner said. “So I was hurting.”

He said the officers threw the three of them into the back of a squad car and kept them there for hours. He said they took his toolbox, jumper cables and a gas can out of his car. Then the officer who had beat him drove off in his car, he said.

Tanner said he was afraid for his life. Then a policewoman he had met previously appeared to intervene for them, and the police released them.

“If she hadn’t did what she did, they probably would a shot us or killed us,” Tanner said.

Just days later, private investigator Michael Orsini and his partner found Tanner's charred car with human remains inside.

BUT THE POINT IS, and the fact remains, that Louisiana is perfectly happy to keep all the ugliness under wraps -- far away from both disinfecting sunlight and the judicial process -- until the national press and the FBI force its hand.

This says nothing good about the state's press corps or about the prospects for any semblance of a civic society taking root there after three centuries of entropy.

One only can hope the FBI also is investigating this as well. It's important.

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