Danziger Bridge is Just the Beginning
Six New Orleans Police Charged in Post-Katrina
Killings, But Activists Say Deeper Change is Needed
By Jordan Flaherty HuffingtonPost: July 15, 2010
This week, federal officials charged six current and
former New Orleans police officers in connection with
the killing of civilians in the days after Hurricane
Katrina. The six are not only accused of murder but
also of conspiring to hide their crime through secret
meetings, planting evidence, inventing witnesses, false
arrests, and perjury. Four of the officers may face the
While the details of their charges are shocking, much
of the media has missed the real story: corruption and
violence are endemic to the NOPD, and wider systemic
change is needed not just in police personnel, but in
the city's overall criminal justice system.
Days of Violence
In the days after the flooding of New Orleans, police
officers were told they were defending a city under
siege and were given tacit permission to use deadly
force at their own discretion. At the time, no one in
power seemed to be interested in looking into the
details of who was killed and why.
For more than three years, these post-Katrina murders
were ignored by the city's District Attorney, the
Republican U.S. Attorney, and even the local media. But
in late 2008 ProPublica and The Nation published the
results of an 18-month investigation by journalist A.C.
Thompson. Under new leadership, the Department of
Justice began its own inquiries soon after Thompson's
FBI agents reconstructed crime scenes, interviewed
witnesses and seized officers' computers. Disturbing
revelations have continued to unfold since then, as the
mounting evidence against them has forced a growing
number of cops to confess.
Among the most shocking cases:
On September 2, four days after Katrina made landfall,
Henry Glover was shot by one officer, then apparently
taken hostage by other officers who either killed him
directly or burned him alive. His charred remains were
found weeks later.
Also on September 2, Danny Brumfield Sr., a 45 year old
man stranded with his family at the New Orleans
Convention Center, was deliberately hit by a patrol
car, then shot in the back by police in front of scores
of witnesses as he tried to wave down the officers to
ask for help.
On September 4, 2005, on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge,
a group of police officers drove up to several unarmed
civilians who were fleeing their flooded homes and
opened fire. Two people were killed, including a
mentally challenged man named Ronald Madison, and four
were seriously injured. Madison was shot in the back by
officer Robert Faulcon, and officer Kenneth Bowen then
rushed up and kicked and stomped on him, apparently
until he was dead.
Faulcon and Bowen were among those charged this week in
a 27-count indictment that lays out the disturbing
chain of events on the bridge.
The post-Katrina killings have also led investigators
into further inquiries. The feds have already announced
that they are looking into at least eight cases,
including incidents that occurred in the summer before
Katrina and in the years after. And as high-ranking
officers confess to manufacturing evidence, their
confessions bring doubt to scores of other cases they
have worked on.
A coalition of criminal justice activists called
Community United for Change (CUC) has asked for federal
investigations of dozens of other police murders
committed over the past three decades, which advocates
say have never been properly examined. Activists named
a wide range of cases, from the death of 25-year-old
Jenard Thomas, who was shot by police in front of his
father on March 24, 2005; to Sherry Singleton, shot by
police in 1980 while she was naked in a bathtub, in
front of her four year old child.
Several parents and other family members of victims of
police violence have joined in protests and community
forums sponsored by CUC. The parents of Adolph Grimes
III, who was shot 14 times by cops on New Year's day in
2009, are among those who have spoken out. "We want
those officers incarcerated, so they can live with it
like we live with it," said Grimes' father.
"This represents a real opportunity to raise some
fundamental questions about the nature of police and
what they do," said Malcolm Suber, project director
with the New Orleans chapter of the American Friends
Service Committee and one of the organizers who formed
Community United for Change.
Civil rights attorney Tracie Washington has been among
those leading the call for federal intervention in the
department. "It is time for the U.S. government,
through the Justice Department's Office of Civil
Rights, to step in and step up," she said. "We need a
solution that addresses the systemic nature of the
Justice Department officials have indicated that they
agree on the need for federal assistance. "Criminal
prosecutions alone, I have learned, are not enough to
change the culture of a police department," said
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also said he agrees on the
need for federal supervision. In a letter to Attorney
General Holder, Landrieu wrote, "It is clear that
nothing short of a complete transformation is necessary
and essential to ensure safety for the citizens of New
However, many activists fear that Mayor Landrieu is
speaking out in support of reform so he can maintain a
level of control over the changes dictated by the feds.
They are critical of Landrieu's choices so far, such as
his selection of NOPD veteran Ronal Serpas for the job
of police chief, and have expressed concern that he
will not break with the department's troubled history.
"This is lukewarm reform," says Rosana Cruz, the
associate director of V.O.T.E., an organization that
seeks to build power and civic engagement for formerly
incarcerated people. "This is reaching the lowest
possible bar that we could possibly set."
Beyond Bad Apples
While some form of federal supervision of the
department seems likely, Malcolm Suber doesn't think
federal oversight is enough.
"I don't think that we can call on a government that
murders people all over the world every day to come and
supervise a local police department," He says. For
Suber, federal control will not offer the wider, more
systemic changes needed in other aspects of the system.
While Suber wants more federal investigations of police
murders, he wants these investigations to go hand in
hand with community oversight and control of the
While activists may disagree on the role they see for
the federal government, one thing Washington, Suber and
Cruz agree on is that the problem runs deeper than
police department corruption. They say any solution
needs to reach beyond the department to other facets of
the system like the city's elected coroner, the
District Attorney's office, the U.S. Attorney and the
city's Independent Police Monitor, who many see as
limited by not having the ability to perform its own
"We have a coroner who always finds police were
justified," said Suber, referring to Frank Minyard, an
80-year-old jazz trumpeter who is trained as a
gynecologist. Minyard has been city coroner since 1974,
and has been the frequent subject of complaints from
activists, who contend that he has mislabeled police
killings. "We've had independent coroners, forensic
doctors come after him," said Suber, "And we found that
basically all of his finding were bogus. Just made up."
Henry Glover, last seen in the custody of police then
found burned to death in a car, was not flagged by the
coroner's office as a potential homicide. In another
case now under federal investigation, witnesses say
police beat Raymond Robair to death. The coroner ruled
that he "fell down or was pushed." This "fall" broke
four ribs and caused massive internal injury, including
a ruptured spleen.
"If you ask any attorneys who have handled cases of
police killings," continued Suber, "When they have
hired independent doctors to go after our coroner, nine
times out of ten he's wrong."
Activists also complain that the city's District
Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has been slow to pursue cases
of police violence. "The district attorney just does
not file charges," Suber said. "When it's involving
police, he finds no crimes committed." Republican US
Attorney Jim Letten has also failed, Suber added. "A
number of community groups have gone and met with him,
asked him to investigate and he didn't do anything."
Organizers have put forward a range of proposals for
the reforms they would like to see, including
institutional support for community-led programs like
CopWatch, the incorporation of a system for language
interpretation, and a more powerful Independent Police
Monitor. But they all agree that not just the
department, but the entire system needs fundamental
change, and that change needs to come from outside of
city government. "How you gonna get the wolf to watch
over the chicken coop?" asks Adolph Grimes, Jr. "It's
the system itself that is corrupted."
An earlier version of this article originally appeared
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of Left Turn
Magazine, and a staffer with the Louisiana Justice
Institute. He was the first writer to bring the story
of the Jena Six to a national audience, and his
award-winning reporting from the Gulf Coast has been
featured in a range of outlets including the New York
Times, Mother Jones, and Argentina's Clarin newspaper.
He has produced news segments for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur,
and Democracy Now! and appeared as a guest on CNN
Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, and Keep Hope Alive with
the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Haymarket Books has just
released his new book, FLOODLINES: Community and
Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be
reached at [log in to unmask]
More information about Floodlines can be found at
floodlines.org. Floodlines will also be featured on the
Community and Resistance Tour this fall. For more
information on the tour, see
Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.
Submit via email: [log in to unmask]
Submit via the Web: portside.org/submit
Frequently asked questions: portside.org/faq
Account assistance: portside.org/contact
Search the archives: portside.org/archive