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#BlackLivesMatter and the Democrats: How Disruption Can Lead to Collaboration August 17, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Hillary Clinton, Race, Racism, Revolution.
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by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The #Black Lives Matter organization may believe that it is confronting, rather than collaborating with, the Democratic Party, by disrupting candidates’ speeches. However, the tactic inevitably leads to “either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s).” In the absence of radical #BLM demands, “all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats.” That’s not movement politics.

If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed.”

A year after the police murder of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, an incipient mass movement struggles to congeal and define itself. The emergent movement is rooted in resistance to systemic state violence and repression in Black America, yet its trajectory wobbles under the push and pull of the contending forces that have been set in motion, and is further distorted by relentless pressures from a power structure that pursues simultaneous strategies of both cooptation and annihilation.

Physical annihilation is a constant threat to the “street” component of the movement, such as the young people of Ferguson whose defiance of the armed occupation inspired a national mobilization, and whose urban guerilla language resonates in all the inner cities of the nation. They are the cohort whose social existence has been shaped and defined by a mass Black incarceration regime inaugurated two generations ago as the national response to the Black movements of the Sixties. The clearly visible fact that many of the cops that occupied Ferguson during this week’s anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder were physically afraid – and that the “street” brothers and sisters were demonstrably not – is all the proof we need that Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.

Physical annihilation, or a lifetime of social death through imprisonment, is also only a presidential executive order away for the “above ground” activists of the movement, whose comings, goings and communications are carefully tracked by the First Black President’s secret police, as reported byIntercept. The various components of what is collectively called the Black Lives Matter movement are on the domestic enemies list of Homeland Security, overseen by Jeh Johnson, a Black man, and the FBI, under the overall direction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a Black woman.

“Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.”

Lynch, like her predecessor, Eric Holder, believes her race entitles her to play both Lord High Prosecutor and Black role model. Thus, as a Black “elder” and “credit to her race,” Lynch purports to have the moral authority to define what the movement should be doing to commemorate Michael Brown’s murder. “The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” she said – as if people should reconcile themselves to a system that kills a Black person roughly every day, has resulted in one out of every eight prison inmates in the world being an African American; a system that cannot possibly be healed. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night,” Lynch warns, switching to her Lord High Prosecutor persona, “are contrary to both that message, along with everything [we] have worked to achieve over the past year.”

What the Obama administration has spent the year trying to do, is co-opt the same activists they are building dossiers on, in preparation for possible future detention. There are clear limits, however, to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that, like all Democratic and Republican governments in the United States for the past 45 years, is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime – albeit with some tinkering at the margins.

The greatest asset of the movement cooptation project is the Democratic Party, itself, an institution that thoroughly dominates Black politics at every level of community life. Not only are Black elected officials overwhelmingly Democrats, but virtually all of the established Black civic organizations – the NAACP, the National Urban League, most politically active Black churches, fraternities and sororities – act as annexes of the Democratic Party. Two generations after the disbanding of the Black grassroots movement and the independent politics that grew out of that movement, the Democratic Party permeates political discourse in Black America. And the Democratic Party is where progressive movements go to die.

“There are clear limits to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime.”

If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed. Yet, the #BlackLivesMatter organization, a structured group with a highly visible leadership and chapters in 26 cities, is now circling the event-horizon of the Democratic Black Hole. To the extent that it, and other movement organizations, have gotten money from labor unions, they are accepting Democratic Party cash, since organized labor in the U.S. is also an extension of – and a cash cow to – the Democrats. Indeed, labor union money in a presidential election year is far more dangerous to the independence of the movement than grants from outfits like the Ford Foundation. Labor wants measureable results for its dollars, and will make its money talk at the ballot box.

#BlackLivesMatter activists may convince themselves that they are confronting the ruling class electoral duopoly by disrupting presidential candidates’ speeches, but the tactic leads straight to cooptation. What is the purpose? If #BLM’s goal is to push the candidates to adopt better positions on criminal justice reform, what happens afterwards? The logic of the tactic leads to either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s). Otherwise, why should #BLM – or the candidates – go through the exercise?

Former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor Martin OMalley, whose draconian street-sweeps resulted in the arrest of 750,000 people in one year – more than the total population of the city – submitted a full-blown criminal justice system proposal after being confronted by #BLM. Will it be graded? Is #BLM in the business of rating candidates? If so, then the group is inevitably acting as a Democratic Party lobby/constituency, and is wedded to certain electoral outcomes. At that point, it ceases being an independent movement, or an example of independent Black politics. It’s just another brand of Democrat.

If the goal is to pressure candidates to put forward “better” positions on criminal justice or other issues, then what #BLM is actually doing is nudging Democrats towards incremental reform. In the absence of radical #BLM demands, all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats. (None of this works with the Republican White Man’s Party.)

The #BLM tactic avoids formulation and aggressive agitation of core movement demands. But, a movement is defined by its demands – which is one reason that the current mobilization is best described as an “incipient” movement; a mobilization with great promise.

“Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced Democratic president and sometimes ally Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War, in 1967, and rejected even the appearance of collaboration with the ruling class duopoly. King understood that his job was to move masses of people towards their own empowerment, not to act as an interest group or lobby in the corridors of the system. (Malcolm X, and later, the Black Panther Party, would have pilloried King if he had.) Half a century later, the Democratic Party is full of Black officials, but, in light of their performance in office, this is more evidence of defeat than victory. Two months before Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, 80 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus – four out of five full-voting members – supported continued Pentagon transfers of military weapons and gear to local police departments, including the Black congressman representing Ferguson, William “Lacy” Clay.

The Democratic Party, like its Republican duopoly cousin, is a criminal enterprise, polluting the politics of Black America. Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes. They are the enemies, within, the people who have facilitated the mass Black incarceration regime for two generations. “Lacy” Clay and his CBC colleagues have killed thousands of Michael Browns.

People’s core demands ring out in every demonstration. When Black protesters shout, “Killer cops out of our neighborhood,” they aren’t referring to a couple of especially bad apples; they’re talking about the whole damn occupation army. That’s why the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, which holds its national conference in Philadelphia,August 22 and 23, believes “Black Community Control of the Police” is a righteous, self-determinationist demand. Other groups may feel strongly about other demands, and that’s fine. Movements are lively places. But, a movement cannot congeal without core demands.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted atGlen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
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Ferguson and Ayotzinapa December 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Police.
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The Ties that Bind

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by ENRIQUE C. OCHOA and GILDA L. OCHOA

Mourning and outrage are shaking parts of the United States and Mexico. As U.S. families grieve and demonstrators denounce the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many more at the hands of the police, people are also protesting state violence and police impunity throughout Mexico. Just this past week, the body of Alexander Mora was identified as one of the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa Guerrero who were disappeared after being confronted by police.

In recent interviews, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry critiqued the crimes happening in Mexico as having “no place in civilized society.” They offered U.S. assistance “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened [to the missing students in Mexico].” Such a response is part of a long practice of demonizing Mexico as a corrupt nation in need of the assumed superior support of the U.S.

U.S. officials would do well to heed their own words and get to the root causes of what is happening in both the U.S. and Mexico. These struggles in Ferguson and Ayotzinapa are tied. The state violence against Black and poor indigenous young people must be seen in the context of rabid class inequality and racism where the working poor and people of color are criminalized and treated as disposable.

Corporate-driven economic transformations and policies such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) have ravaged communities in the U.S. and in Mexico. Once industrial hubs, U.S. urban areas have been gutted of industry leaving a crumbling infrastructure and few living-wage jobs in their wake. Many of these neighborhoods are now being “revitalized” by pushing the Black and Brown urban poor out through gentrification. In the Mexican countryside, imports of subsidized U.S. grain, the growth of industrial farms, and the expansion of foreign companies combine to expel families from their livelihoods and communities. As a result, inequality has grown in both countries, and is among the worst of all developed economies.

According to a 2013 study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, of its 34 member countries the United States has the 4th highest level of income inequality, and Mexico the second. When controlling for inflation, the income of those in U.S. households in the top ten percent of the economic ladder – those making over $150,000 per year – has increased over 30% since the 1970s. In contrast, the income of those in the bottom half of the economy has basically stagnated, or slightly decreased. And, the minimum wage in both countries is far from a livable wage. The working poor often have to work several jobs to try to make ends meet.

Wealth and power disparities are closely correlated with race. Both countries have witnessed a boom in the number of millionaires and billionaires, including producing the two wealthiest people in the world Carlos Slim and Bill Gates who according to Forbes have a combined net worth of over $150 billion.  In contrast, researchers with Mexico’s national evaluation agency, find that 46% of the total population lives below the poverty line, and 20% reside in extreme poverty. Throughout the county, the rate of extreme poverty is five times higher for indigenous peoples than for the general population. In the southern states, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations live, poverty rates are between 15 and 30 points higher and in the state of Guerrero (the home of the disappeared students) 70% of the population lives in poverty. In the U.S., the compounding generations of racism and class inequality are such that Latina/o and Black households have a median net worth of less than $7,000 compared to over $110,000 for White households.

Since the 1980s, as a result of neoliberal reforms, both countries have slashed public programs in education, health care, transportation, social security, and public housing. Privatization and the ideology of free trade seeks to eliminate most state social programs leaving the poor to fend for themselves in an economy that looks to bargain down wages to maximize profits. While these support systems were not as strong as they could have been, they were important reforms that were won through popular struggle, and their erosion has hurt the working poor and the historically marginalized most.  For the youth of working poor there are diminishing opportunities.

As the U.S. and Mexico disinvest in social programs, they divert funds to police poor communities through the war on drugs and other tough on crime policies. In the U.S., according to a Justice Policy Report, since the early 1980s spending on police protection has skyrocketed over 400% — from about $40 billion to nearly $200 billion. The number of state and local sworn officers has also increased over 50% during this period.

The war on drugs has been a war on poor people of color. Although multiple studies suggest that the majority of drug users are White, Blacks have been the most impacted by drug prosecutions and punitive polices such as mandatory minimums. As Law Professor Michelle Alexander reports, there are more Black men in the prison industrial complex than were enslaved in 1850 – devastating families and fueling the prison industrial complex where private prisons and immigration detention centers are big business.

The power elite in Mexico has increasingly militarized the state in an attempt to maintain order for foreign investors and domestic capitalists to expand their markets.  Under the guise of the war on drugs and Plan Mérida, the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into military and police assistance in Mexico. Critics argue that the training and weaponry has been used against social movements and human rights activists. Collusion between criminal operations, military, government, and police officials occurs making it difficult to distinguish who is perpetrating the violence. Over the past decade, approximately 100,000 Mexicans have been killed in the failed “War on Drugs.” According to the UK newspaper The Telegraph, since 2007 nearly 23,000 Mexicans have been disappeared (over 5,000 this year alone!) through cartel and police violence, the two often working together.

The recent killings and grand jury verdicts in communities from Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Ayotzinapa must also be placed in the context of a legacy of racism. The roots of racism in both the U.S. and Mexico are as deep as the economic fissures. They are embedded in society’s laws, institutions, and government structures. In the U.S., they are apparent in police profiling and the unequal application of zero tolerance and stop and frisk policies, the mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, the deportation and destruction of immigrant families, and the impunity by which members of the police force can kill primarily Black boys and men and have those atrocities supported by state policies — such as the Supreme Court’s 1980s rulings justifying the use of deadly force by officers. In Mexico, similar disregard for the lives of poor and indigenous people is rampant. Mexican journalist Fernando Camacho Servín reporting in La Jornada finds that the “effects of racism include the criminalizing of certain groups by their physical appearance, to blame them for their poverty, to displace them from their lands, or simply depriving them of their basic rights.”

In the wake of massive dissent against state violence, Presidents Barak Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto have suggested new policies. These focus on policing, impunity, and corruption. While they are small step, none of these changes will go very far unless the foundations of such atrocities are addressed head-on.

Enrique C. Ochoa is professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles.

Gilda L. Ochoa is professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College

 

Voices of Grief and Struggle: Mothers Come to Washington DC to Demand Police Accountability December 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police, Racism.
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Hosted by Mothers Against Police Brutality, CODEPINK, National Congress of Black Women and Hands Up DC Coalition, mothers who have lost their children to police brutality will travel to Washington DC from December 9-11 to call for police accountability, policy reform and justice for victims’ families.
Come show support for ten mothers who have lost their children to police brutality. They will be Washington DC this week to call for police accountability, policy reform and justice for victims’ families!

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Roger’s note: There would not be hundreds of thousands protesting in cities across America if the recent racist police killings of unarmed Black youth (Ferguson, New York, Cleveland) that go unpunished were isolated events.  In reality they are the tip of the iceberg.  At the event to take place this week in Washington DC, mothers who have lost loved ones are among the delegates.  These are their stories:

 

VALERIE BELL is the mother of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old unarmed man killed on his wedding day, November 25, 2006, in a barrage of 50 shots fired into his car by New York plainclothes police officers. The officers thought his friend had a gun. The detectives involved in the shooting were eventually acquitted. Valerie Bell is the founder of Mothers of Never Again (MONA), and after 8 years she has finally recorded her thoughts in a book coming out in 2015 called Just 23 (Thoughts from a mother in spoken word by Kisha Walker).

JERALYNN BLUEFORD from Oakland, California started the Justice4AlanBlueford Coalition on May 6, 2012 after her 18 year-old son Alan Blueford was shot and killed by a police officer in East Oakland. From there The Alan Blueford Center 4 Justice was established in Oakland, California, as a place to help heal the community. They offer our resources to help restore the community as they struggle against police brutality. She also organized Helping Heart 2 Heal, a conference to inspire, empower, and restore healing for mothers that are suffering with the pain of losing their children and loved ones.

DARLENE CAIN is a mother from from Baltimore, Maryland. On October 28, 2008, her 29-year-old son Dale Graham was killed by a Baltimore City police officer. Since then she has been dedicated to lifting the voices of those who have had a family member killed by the police but were never given true justice and closure. She is is President and founder of MOTHERS ON THE MOVE.

DANETTE CHAVIS from New York, New York, lost her 19-year-old son in October 2004. After being shot in a gunfire exchange (not with police), Gregory Chavis died just a block from Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx when police prevented him from receiving any medical treatment. Chavis has been active at demonstrations and is the head of National Action Against Police Brutality. She has launched a petition, now with over 18,430 signatures, that demands national action against police brutality and murder, for all families that have been brutalized and lost loved ones at the hands of the police.

COLLETTE FLANAGAN from Dallas, Texas, lost her only son when he was 25 years old on March 10, 2013. Clinton Allen was unarmed and shot 7 times by a Dallas policeman (once in the back), who has since been on administrative leave from the police force, without a gun or badge. Flanagan is founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, which lobbies for change in police enforcement practices and accountability measures.

MARCELLA HOLLOMAN’s son Maurice Donald Johnson was murdered by Baltimore police on May 19, 2012. She called an ambulance when her mentally ill son began to exhibit erratic behavior at a children’s gathering. Since Johnson’s episodic illness was registered in the police data base, Holloman expected they would take him to the hospital for treatment. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, the two responding officers entered Holloman’s home where Johnson was sequestered and shot him three times. Since then, his mother has been active and outspoken against police brutality.

WANDA JOHNSON’s son Oscar Grant was shot in the back and killed by transit Police Officer Johannes Mehserle at a train station in Oakland, California on January 1, 2009. Initially charged with second-degree murder, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Since the death of her son, Johnson has been active on the Board of Directors of the Oscar Grant Foundation, a resource for at-risk youth of all races who wish to turn their lives around in a positive way. A gospel minister and nation speaker, Johnson has made guest appearances on nationally syndicated television programs, universities and public forums to bring attention to injustices in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

CONSTANCE MALCOLM is the mother of Ramarley Graham, who was 18 years old in 2012 when a New York police officer shot and killed him in his own home. Graham was suspected of carrying a gun in public, but no gun was found on him, in the bathroom he was shot in, or anywhere else in the house. Graham’s 6-year-old brother and his grandmother witnessed the shooting. Constance Malcolm has since been a vocal advocate against police brutality and has been seeking justice for her son.

TRESSA SHERROD is the mother of John Crawford III, a 22 year old who was shot and killed on August 5, 2014 by police in a Walmart in Ohio. A caller phoned police, accusing Crawford of brandishing a gun, when it was really an unloaded BB air rifle on a shelf, an item that is sold in the store. Surveillance footage shows major discrepancies between a 911 caller’s account and what really happened. An Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the officer who was responsible for Crawford’s death, and since then his mother has been pursuing justice.

 
Schedule: http://code-codepink.nationbuilder.com/event
——————————————————————————–

Tuesday, December 9
Public forum with the mothers at

First Trinity Lutheran Church, 7:30-9pm
309 E Street NW (Judiciary Square Metro)
More information and RSVP on the webpage for the event!

Wednesday, December 10
Congressional briefing from 9:30am-12:30pm: In House Building Rayburn 2226 co-sponsored by Representative Conyers, Ellison, Johnson, Jackson Lee, and Rangel.

Seating is limited and press and Congressional staffers will be given preference – thank you for understanding!
*Candlelight vigil at Justice Department, 5pm. Corner of Pennsylvania and 9th St, NW. followed by a march.

UN Condemns U.S. Police Brutality, Calls For ‘Stand Your Ground’ Review August 31, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police, Race, Racism.
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Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples and much of its enormous wealth was derived from the forced labor of African slaves.  Racism is as American as apple pie.  This is not leftist ranting, it is historical fact.  Sadly, under the “leadership” of the country’s first African American president, the situation is only getting worse.  Obama’s immigration extradition policies, his orientation towards Wall Street and away from Main Street, the federal government’s militarization of urban police forces — all this contributes to the discrimination and impoverization mostly of peoples of color.  The Republican Party may be more overtly racist in its ideological bias, but it is a Democratic president that is implementing racist policies.  God help America.

 

Posted: 08/30/2014 8:31 am EDT Updated: 08/30/2014 9:59 am EDT
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* Panel issues recommendations after review of U.S. record

* Says killing of Michael Brown “not an isolated event”

* Decries racial bias of police, pervasive discrimination

* ACLU calls for addressing racial inequality in America

 

GENEVA, Aug 29 (Reuters) – The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.

“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson – a St. Louis suburb – and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.

“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Amir, an expert from Algeria.

“This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”

The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.

Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

“STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS

In its conclusions issued on Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense”.

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.

The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.

“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations.

The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.

Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.

“When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad,” he said.

Why Cops in Ferguson Look Like Soldiers: The Insane Militarization of America’s Police August 14, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police.
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Roger’s note: I find myself using this phrase too often nowadays: This is truly frightening.  I read that residents of Gaza have sent messages to the protesters in Ferguson with advice on how to deal with tear gas.  The chickens have truly come home to roost.

http://www.nymag.com

Army fatigues, armored vehicles, tear gas, AR-15s — it’s the war-ready imagery not just of Gaza and Iraq but Ferguson, Missouri, a town of 21,000 with zero murders on the books in 2014. Unless, of course, you count 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The response to protests against the teen’s death at the hands of police turned even more authoritarian when darkness fell on Wednesday, asjournalist and citizens alike were targeted with undue force. In night vision, tanks rolling through smoky suburban streets recalled an occupation. But however misguided the show of brute force against the mostly peaceful demonstrators was, it’s a chest-out, guns-up posturing small-time police departments across the country have been preparing for.

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Photo: Jeff Roberson

Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker described the scene from last night:

What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind a municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.

The instruments of that intimidation have been funneled to local police beginning with the drug war, as laid out by journalist Radley Balko in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop, and a Cato Institute paper on the subject from 2006:

Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.

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Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The trend only increased as a response to terror after September 11, and more so as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. From Adam Serwer at MSNBC:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.” […]

Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.

 

Images & reports out of are frightening. Is this a war zone or a US city? Gov’t escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics.

 

Ferguson specifically was a part of such a program, USA Today reports, having “received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014”:

Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, confirms that the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033 that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the United States. The materials range from small items, such as pistols and automatic rifles, to heavy armored vehicles such as the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.

As Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times described presciently in June, the broader trend includes sending equipment to towns with no use for it. (The state of Missouri has received seven armored vehicles since 2006.) And much of that gear is provided in a “use it or lose it” arrangement:

Between 2011 and 2012, sixty-three agencies polled by the A.C.L.U. reported that they had received “a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment”; some five hundred agencies had received “vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.” In many instances, the receipt of these military-grade weapons is contingent on their use within a calendar year.

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How necessary is any of this? Well, in February, local Sergeant Matthew Pleviak of St. Louis County’s Tactical Operations Unit SWAT team told theRiver Front Times, “If you go to any subdivison, there’s grass and trees and bushes.”

But writing for the Daily Beast, a military veteran argued, “The net effect is a Ferguson police department in name only. In terms of its equipment, organization, and deployment methods, the Ferguson force looks more like an infantry or military police company in Iraq … this military gear transforms the police department into an occupying army, and enables the police to act with such speed and violence so as to destroy any meaningful right to peaceably assemble or address grievances towards government.”

Balkey put it this way in a Reddit AMA before Ferguson: “I think that as bad as the weapons and tactics are, the uniforms might be more pernicious, at least in terms of fostering a militaristic mindset.”

“When you dress like a soldier,” he wrote, “you’re predisposing yourself to start thinking like one. And of course, there’s really no strategic value, unless you’re raiding a forest.”

 

 

The 43 Who Helped Make Bush The Worst Ever January 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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The Progress Report

January 16, 2009

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, Pat Garofalo, Igor Volsky, Matt Duss, Brad Johnson, and Matt Yglesias

Next week, “change is coming to America,” as President George W. Bush wraps up his tenure as one of the worst American presidents ever. He wasn’t able to accomplish such an ignominious feat all by himself, however; he had a great deal of help along the way. The Progress Report heralds the conclusion of the Bush 43 presidency by bringing you our list of the top 43 worst Bush appointees. Did we miss anyone? Who should have been ranked higher? Let us know what you think.

1. Dick Cheney — The worst Dick since Nixon. The man who shot his friend while in office. The “most powerful and controversial vice president.” Until he got the job, people used to actually think it was a bad thing that the vice presidency has historically been a do-nothing position. Asked by PBS’s Jim Lehrer about why people hate him, Cheney rejected the premise, saying, “I don’t buy that.” His top placement in our survey says otherwise.

2. Karl Rove — There wasn’t a scandal in the Bush administration that Rove didn’t have his fingerprints all over — see Plame, Iraq war deception, Gov. Don Siegelman, U.S. Attorney firings, missing e-mails, and more. As senior political adviser and later as deputy chief of staff, “The Architect” was responsible for politicizing nearly every agency of the federal government.

3. Alberto Gonzales — Fundamentally dishonest and woefully incompetent, Gonzales was involved in a series of scandals, first as White House counsel and then as Attorney General. Some of the most notable: pressuring a “feeble” and “barely articulate” Attorney General Ashcroft at his hospital bedside to sign off on Bush’s illegal wiretapping program; approving waterboarding and other torture techniques to be used against detainees; and leading the firing of U.S. Attorneys deemed not sufficiently loyal to Bush.

4. Donald Rumsfeld — After winning praise for leading the U.S. effort in ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001, the former Defense Secretary strongly advocated for the invasion of Iraq and then grossly misjudged and mishandled its aftermath. Rumsfeld is also responsible for authorizing the use of torture against terror detainees in U.S. custody; according to a bipartisan Senate report, Rumsfeld “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.”

5. Michael Brown — This former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association was appointed by Bush to head FEMA in 2003. After Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, Brownie promptly did a “heck of a jobbungling the government’s relief efforts, and was sent back to Washington a few days later. He was forced to resign shortly thereafter.

6. Paul Wolfowitz — As Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2005, Wolfowitz was one of the primary architects of the Iraq war, arguing for the invasion as early as Sept. 15, 2001. Testifying before Congress in February 2003, Wolfowitz said that it was “hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself.” Wolfowitz eventually admitted that “for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction,” as a justification for war, “because it was the one reason everyone [in the administration] could agree on.”

7. David Addington — “Cheney’s Cheney” was the “most powerful man you’ve never heard of.” As the leader of Bush’s legal team and Cheney’s chief of staff, Addington was the biggest proponent of some of Bush’s most notorious legal abuses, such as torture and warrantless surveillance, and is a loyal follower of the so-called unitary executive theory.

8. Stephen Johnson
— The “Alberto Gonzales of the environment,” EPA Administrator Johnson subverted the agency’s mission at the behest of the White House and corporate interests, suppressing staff recommendations on pesticides, mercury, lead paint, smog, and global warming.

9. Douglas Feith — Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2001-2005, Feith headed up the notorious Office of Special Plans, an in-house Pentagon intelligence shop devised by Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to produce intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. A subsequent investigation by the Pentagon’s Inspector General found the OSP’s work produced “conclusions that were not fully supported by the available intelligence.”

10. John Bolton — As Undersecretary of State, Bolton offered a strong voice in favor of invading Iraq and pushed for the U.S. to disengage from the International Criminal Court and key international arms control agreements. A recess appointment landed Bolton the job of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, despite his stringent animosity toward the world body. Today, he spends his time calling for war with Iran.

11. John Yoo — As a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo authored a series of legal memos giving military interrogators authority to use torture and coercive techniques when interviewing terrorist suspects. Yoo said that only those techniques that inflict pain equivalent to “death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body functions” constitute torture. Last year, he refused to answer whether or not the president could order a detainee to be buried alive.

12. Ari Fleischer — Bush’s first press secretary helped redefine the role as that of liar-in-chief rather than informer of the public, earning a reputation as “the world’s most dishonest flack.” Whereas his successors sometimes looked uncomfortable lying, Fleischer was having fun, spinning a cowed and gullible press corps through two massive tax cuts and the initiation of a war undertaken on false pretenses.

13. John Ashcroft — In 2003, as Bush’s first Attorney General, Ashcroft approved waterboarding and other torture techniques on detainees. Ashcroft’s nomination was controversial, as he had a history of opposing school desegregation. The chief architect of the invasive Patriot Act, Ashcroft maintains to this day that Bush is “among the most respectful of all leaders ever” of civil liberties.

14. Henry Paulson — Even as the financial system was crashing down around him, Treasury Secretary Paulson insisted for months that the banking system was “safe and sound.” Once he decided that the economy needed saving, Paulson requested nearly unfettered authority to send billions of taxpayer dollars to banks with no oversight.

15. L. Paul Bremer — This Presidential Medal of Freedom winner took over the Coalition Provisional Authority in May 2003. Under his mismanagement, the insurgency exploded in Iraq. Bremer claimed he had all the troops he needed to secure the country, overestimated the strength of the new U.S.-trained Iraqi army, disbanded the Iraqi army leaving thousands of Iraqi soldiers with no income and no occupation, and enacted a de-Baathification law that barred many experienced Iraqis from government positions.

16. Bradley Schlozman — As a recent DOJ Inspector General report demonstrates, Schlozman was a central figure in Bush’s politicization of the Justice Department. Violating civil service laws, Schlozman used political and ideological considerations to ensure that only “right-thinking Americans” received jobs. He eventually lied to Congress about his efforts.

17. J. Steven Griles — A former energy lobbyist and no. 2 official in the Interior Department, Griles went to jail for lying to Congress about illegal favors he did for corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Griles also abused his position “to unlock nearly every legal barrier to exploitation” of our nation’s oil and mineral reserves. Before his conviction, Griles left the White House to become a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips.

18. Condoleezza Rice — As Bush’s national security adviser, Rice was another strong advocate for invading Iraq, once famously warning that the U.S. should attack Iraq and not wait for solid proof of its WMD because “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”  Rice also ignored an urgent warning from the CIA before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that a strike inside the U.S. was imminent.

19. Scooter Libby — Cheney’s former chief of staff was a key player in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of the Bush administration’s quest to punish Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for publishing an op-ed debunking one of the White House’s main justifications for invading Iraq. Libby was ultimately convicted of perjury and obstructing justice in a federal investigation into Plame’s outing but later had his 30-month prison sentence commuted by Bush.

20. Monica Goodling
— Goodling was the most notorious graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University during her tenure in the Justice Department. As the White House liaison at the DOJ, she based the department’s hiring of candidates on their sexual preference, GOP loyalty, and adherence to conservative ideology.

21. Alphonso Jackson
— As Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Jackson let the U.S. housing market crumble while he was busy giving lucrative contracts to his golfing buddies, retaliating against Bush critics, and erecting giant photo homages to himself.

22. Michael Hayden — As director of the National Security Agency, Hayden ran Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and misled Congress about the program’s legality. After moving to the CIA, he dismissed the destruction of evidence implicating the CIA in torture as “in line with the law.”

23. Lurita Doan —  The former head of the General Services Administration (GSA)who doled out a no-bid contract to a friend, Doan famously hosted a meeting of White House political operatives where she asked how GSA employees could “help ‘our candidates’ in the next election.” After the Office of Special Counsel called for her firing, she was forced to resign at the request of the White House.

24. Gale Norton — A former industry lobbyist and Bush’s first Secretary of the Interior, Norton pushed a radical ideological agenda “through regulatory rollbacks, suppression of science, preferential treatment, and collusion with industry” — including doctoring scientific findings on the impacts of oil drilling on caribou. After resigning under the cloud of ties to Jack Abramoff, she joined  Shell Oil.

25. Lester Crawford — After promising to act on the morning-after contraceptive pill during his confirmation hearings, the former FDA Commissioner “indefinitely postponed nonprescription sales of emergency contraception over the objections of staff scientists who had declared the pill safe.” Crawford resigned after just two months on the job and later pleaded guilty “to charges that he hid his ownership of stock in food and drug companies that his agency regulated.”

26. Harriet Miers — Well-known for being Bush’s failed Supreme Court nominee, Miers also thought it was “important” to her as White House Counsel that Rove protege Tim Griffin was installed as a U.S. Attorney, making her a central figure in the U.S. Attorney scandal. She is said to have called Bush “the most brilliant man she had ever met.”

27. Hans Von Spakovsky — Originally a political appointee in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, Spakovsky “injected partisan political factors into decision-making” and used every opportunity “to make it difficult for voters — poor, minority and Democratic — to go to the polls.” In 2008, Spakovsky withdrew his name from consideration for the FEC, following months of opposition from lawmakers and civil rights groups.

28. Tommy Franks — As head of U.S. Central Command from 2000 to 2003, Franks oversaw Osama bin Laden’s great escape from Afghanistan, gave orders for the stabilization of Iraq via PowerPoint, assumed that the U.S. would draw down to 25,000 troops by the end of 2004, and had American soldiers stand idly by as chaos and lawlessness took hold after the invasion.

29. Thomas Scully — As chief administrator for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Scully was the White House’s head negotiator on the Medicare prescription drug bill. Scully threatened to fire chief actuary Richard Foster if he revealed that Bush’s Medicare Part D legislation “would cost 25% to 50% more than the Bush administration’s public estimates.”

30. Julie MacDonald — A top Interior Department appointee, MacDonald “interjected herself personally and profoundly” and “tainted nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species” over a five-year period, intimidating the staff with “abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive” tactics. MacDonald also leaked government documents to a young acquaintance whom she met while playing “internet role-playing games.”

31. William Haynes — As the former general counsel at the Defense Department, he was part of a five-person team of high-level administration lawyers, dubbed the “War Council,” that tossed the Geneva Conventions aside and hatched out the legal framework for torture in secret meetings.

32. David Safavian — Safavian was (twice) tried and convicted for his role in the jack Abramoff scandal. Safavian was found guilty of “lying and obstructing justice” in an attempt to cover-up “his many efforts to assist Abramoff in acquiring two properties controlled by the GSA.”

33. James Connaughton — As chairman of the White House Council of Environmental Quality, Connaughton wrote EPA press releases downplaying the danger of the air quality in lower Manhattan following 9/11. “A former lobbyist for utilities, mining, chemical, and other industrial polluters,” Connaughton insisted “there’s a lot of disagreement” about humans’ impact on global warming, and he touted a bogus study purporting to show that the 20th century was not unusually warm.

34. William Luti — A former Navy officer and Cheney aide, Luti was dispatched to the Pentagon in 2001 to work underneath Feith to find “evidence” to support his boss’s belief in conspiracy theories linking Saddam to al Qaeda. Luti was an integral component of Cheney’s campaign to pressure intelligence professionals to conform their judgments to administration policy rather than reality.

35. Susan Orr — As Assistant Deputy Secretary for Population Affairs, this former Family Research Council official oversaw funding for the only federal program that provided contraceptive services to low-income Americans. Orr cheered Bush’s anti-contraception record, saying, “Fertility is not a disease. It’s not a medical necessity that you have [contraception].”

36. Christopher Cox — Under Chairman Cox, the Securities and Exchange Commission censored internal reports showing that it ignored critical signs pointing to Wall Street’s meltdown. Cox’s SEC also failed to detect Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme, despite a decade of warnings.

37. Elliott Abrams — An Iran-Contra convict pardoned by Bush 41, Abrams was named by Bush 43 as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations. As a founding Project for a New American Century signatory and a staunchly pro-Israel neoconservative, Abrams supported expanding Israel’s 2006 bombing of Lebanon into Syria and advocated a Fatah coup after Hamas won the February 2006 Palestinian elections.

38. Philip Cooney — A former oil lobbyist who served as chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Cooney doctored climate reports to “soften” words and phrases linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming. After his political interference was revealed, Cooney left the White House to become a lobbyist for Exxon.

39. Colin Powell — Though Bush called him “an American hero” when he appointed him to be the first African-American Secretary of State, Powell placed an ugly “blot” on his record when he pushed the Bush administration’s faulty case for the Iraq war in a speech to the U.N. on Feb.5, 2003, using inaccurate information. Liberal hawks and the media rallied around Powell’s false case, calling it the “winning hand” for war.

40. Elaine Chao — The Labor Secretary made it through all eight years of the Bush administration, driving morale at the Labor Department so low that staffers threw a “good-riddance party” to cheer her departure. She leaves behind a “deeply troubled department” that “spent eight years attacking workers’ rights, strong workplace health and safety rules, and unions while they carried the water for Big Business.”

41. Julie Myers — After being hired as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement based on little more than her personal connections, Myers made herself famous by awarding “Most Original Costume” to an employee who dressed up in blackface and a prison costume for Halloween. She was also heavily criticized for conducting politically-motivated immigration raids.

42. Wade Horn — As Assistant Secretary for Community Initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services, Horn funneled millions of tax-payer dollars into right-wing abstinence-only programs. Shortly before he resigned, it was revealed that he had given nearly $1 million “to the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), where he was the president for at least three years until joining the Bush administration in 2001.”

43. George Deutsch — As a young, inexperienced press officer for NASA, Deutsch “told public affairs workers to limit reporters’ access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word ‘theory’ at every mention of the Big Bang.” He resigned in 2006 after it was discovered he had lied on his resume, falsely claiming that he had a journalism degree from Texas A&M.

Dishonorable Mentions: Bush appointees who didn’t quite make the list included a child pornography aficionado, a patron of hookers, a shoplifter, a mail fraudster, an operator of an illegal horse gambling ring, and a CIA official who took bribes in the form of prostitutes.

The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights.
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katrina-shooting-victimDonnell Herrington was shot twice by vigilantes after Hurricane Katrina in Algiers Point, a mostly black community across the river from New Orleans. (Photo: Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun / The Nation)

www.truthout.org

21 December 2008

by: Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch.com

sent a refrigerated 18-wheeler to pick up what a colonel in the National Guard expected to be 200 bodies in New Orleans’s Superdome, only to find six, including four who died naturally and a suicide. Meanwhile, the media never paid attention to the real rampage that took place openly across the river, even though there were corpses lying in unflooded streets and testimony everywhere you looked – or I looked, anyway.

  What do you do when you notice that there seems to have been a killing spree? While the national and international media were working themselves and much of the public into a frenzy about imaginary hordes of murderers, rapists, snipers, marauders, and general rampagers among the stranded crowds of mostly poor, mostly black people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a group of white men went on a shooting spree across the river.

    Their criminal acts were no secret but they never became part of the official story. The media demonized the city’s black population for crimes that turned out not to have happened, and the retractions were, as always, too little too late. At one point FEMA

 The widely reported violent crimes in the Superdome turned out to be little more than hysterical rumor, but they painted African-Americans as out-of-control savages at a critical moment. The result was to shift institutional responses from disaster relief to law enforcement, a decision that resulted in further deaths among the thirsty, hot, stranded multitude. Governor Kathleen Blanco announced, “I have one message for these hoodlums: These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.” So would the white vigilantes, and though their exact body count remains unknown, at least 11 black men were apparently shot, some fatally.

    The parish of Orleans includes both the city of New Orleans on one side of the Mississippi and a community on the other side called Algiers that can be reached via a bridge called the Crescent City Connection. That bridge comes down in another town called Gretna, and the sheriff of Gretna and a lot of his henchmen turned many of the stranded in New Orleans back at gunpoint from that bridge, trapping them in the squalor of a destroyed city, another heinous crime that was largely overlooked. On the Gretna/Algiers side of the river, the levees held and nothing flooded. Next door to Gretna, Algiers is a mostly black community, but one corner of it down by the river, Algiers Point, is a white enclave, a neighborhood of pretty little, well-kept-up wooden houses – and of killers.

    What do you do when you notice that there seems to have been a killing spree? By my second visit to New Orleans almost a year and a half after the hurricane that devastated the place, I had more than enough information to know that something very wrong had happened in Algiers Point. In a report on New Orleans for TomDispatch in March of 2007, I wrote:

“During my trips to the still half-ruined city, some inhabitants have told me that they, in turn, were told by white vigilantes of widespread murders of black men in the chaos of the storm and flood. These accounts suggest that, someday, an intrepid investigative journalist may stand on its head the media hysteria of the time (later quietly recanted) about African-American violence and menace in flooded New Orleans.”

    I found that journalist in my friend A.C. Thompson who, backed by the Nation magazine, launched an investigation just concluded this week, 21 months after I first approached him. His courageous and meticulous investigation tracked down victims and persecutors, clarified what happened on those days of mayhem in Algiers Point, sued to gain access to, and sifted through, the coroner’s records that mentioned some bulllet-riddled bodies, and dug up some previously unreported police crimes. His stunning report in the Nation, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” suggests that there’s still more there to find.

    A lot of the pieces of the Algiers Point killing spree were out in the open. Several weeks after Hurricane Katrina, community organizer and former Black Panther Malik Rahim had told Amy Goodman on her nationally syndicated program Democracy Now!, “During the aftermath, directly after the flooding, in New Orleans hunting season began on young African American men. In Algiers, I believe, approximately around 18 African American males were killed. No one really know[s] what’s the overall count.”

    Rahim’s count seems high, but the real toll remains unknown. The young medics who staffed the Common Ground Clinic, co-founded by Rahim, also knew that there had been a spate of killings: like everyone else who came in, the killers and their associates had felt the need to tell their stories, as well as get their tetanus shots or blood pressure meds. The medics, whom Rahim credits with defusing a potential race war in Algiers by reaching out to everyone equally, told me they’d heard murder confessions from the vigilantes and their cohorts (but respected their confidentiality by not passing along names or identifying information).

    CNN and the Times Picayune, New Orleans’s paper of record, both published a photograph of a member of the “self-appointed posse” in Algiers Point napping next to five shotguns, an AK-47 assault rifle, and a pistol, but they never got around to asking if the band of white guys had actually used the guns. As it happened, not only did they use the guns, but they confessed – or boasted – on videotape to their shootings and killings, tape that ended up in a little-seen documentary called “Welcome to New Orleans.” I passed along what I knew to A.C., but a lot of it hadn’t been a secret, just easily visible dots no one was connecting. None was more visible than the attempted murder of Donnell Herrington.

    What It’s Like to Be Murdered

    One balmy September afternoon, under the shade of the broad-armed oaks of New Orleans’s City Park, Donnell Herrington told us what it’s like to be murdered – for the men who attacked him shortly after Hurricane Katrina drowned his city intended to kill him and nearly succeeded. Donnell is a soft-spoken guy now in his early thirties and he worries the question of why they shot him, of what they thought they were doing. On what possible grounds could you blast away with a shotgun at a guy walking down a public street who hadn’t even seen you, let alone threatened you?

    He knows they consider themselves justified, and he wrestles with the question, but each time it comes up he finally concludes it was a hate crime. It was because he was black.

“I didn’t approach these guys in any way possible for them to react the way they did. It wasn’t a reaction at all it. It was just a hate crime, because a reaction is when somebody try to bring bodily harm on you and you react in self-defense. When the guy actually stepped out and pulled the trigger, I didn’t see him, I didn’t even know what happened to me. The only thing I can remember is feeling a lot of pressure hit my neck and it literally knocked me off my feet.”

    The close-up shotgun blast had punctured his jugular vein and he had only a little time to get help before he bled to death. He told his friend and cousin to run, found his way to his feet, only to be shot in the back yet again. He fell down again, got up again – a former athlete, Herrington is many kinds of strong – and stumbled away, one hand to the blood spurting from his neck.

    Herrington had been desperate to get out of the ravaged city where, two days earlier, he’d seen his grandparents’ neighborhood flood, rescued them and a lot of neighbors by boat, left them to be evacuated from the elevated Interstate, walked across the Crescent City Connection to his home in Algiers on the other side of the Mississippi, found its roof crushed by a huge bough, and decided there was nothing left to do but get out himself. On September 1st, day three of the catastrophe, he had set out with his teenage cousin and a friend for the ferry landing in Algiers Point. There, they had been told, you could actually be evacuated when so many people were stranded in the heat and chaos of a drowned city. Not long into that flight they ran into the white men with guns.

    On the one-year anniversary of the catastrophe, millions of Americans watched Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts on HBO. Most of the film is made up of people talking straight into the camera about their Katrina, and one of the talkers is a sweet-voiced, brown-skinned guy: Herrington. He tells the camera:

“We walking down the street, which was in Algiers and I’m talking to my cousin. I had a bottle of water in my hand, and I’m talking to him, we’re talking about different things and before you know it, I heard a boom, a blast. My body lifted up in the air, and I hit the ground, and, you know, my cousin was standing over me and he was howling and he hollering my name and asking if I was okay, and he was hysterical at this time, and looking at the blood on my shirt and my arms.

“And I looked up and saw a white guy with a white t-shirt in his hands coming toward me, so I managed to get up by the grace of God. I managed to get up, and they had some debris in the street, and so when I turned away from the guy he turned toward me with the shotgun, looked like he was trying to reload. So as I turned away from him I jumped over the debris and I heard another bang. Some of the buckshots hit me in the back, and I hit the ground again.”

    In the film, Herrington pulls up his shirt and shows his torso, peppered with lumps from the buckshot. And then he gestures at the long, twisting, raised scar wound around his neck like a centipede or a snake: “And this is the incision from the surgery from the buckshots that penetrated my neck and hit my jugular vein.”

    A victim of a horrific attempted murder told his story in a national television special and, though I’m sure lots of viewers wanted to do something, those who really could have done something did nothing. Lee’s film cut away to then governor Kathleen Blanco vowing more law and order against the supposedly rampaging African-American menace of New Orleans.

    Herrington is a kind man; one of the first things he said to us was, “I asked God to forgive those guys that done this thing to me. It was kind of hard to even bring myself to that but I know it’s the right thing to do, but at the same time those guys have gotta answer for their actions.”

    He was a Brink’s truck driver at the time of Katrina, a man with a clean record routinely in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, and he attempted to evacuate Katrina with a pocketful of his own cash – which only underscores how preposterous it was for his prospective murderers to see him as a thief. He nearly bled to death before a local couple drove him to the nearest medical center, where his throat was sewn up. More than three years later, it’s clear that the trauma is still with him.

    His friend and cousin were chased down, threatened with pistols, called “nigger,” but finally allowed to go, traumatized by their own brush with men who made it clear they’d be happy to kill them.

    “Like Pheasant Season in South Dakota”

    In 1892, Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man, was arrested in New Orleans for riding a streetcar then reserved for whites only. A precursor of Rosa Parks, he pursued a landmark lawsuit that went all the way to a racist Supreme Court, which issued the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine that stood until the civil rights battles of the postwar era.

    That same year Charles Allan Gilbert drew a picture of a beautiful woman sitting in darkness at her dressing table, her head with mounded hair and its reflection arranged so that if you look at the celebrated drawing another way you see a grinning skull whose teeth are the rows of bottles of perfume and powder. For a year or more – Katrina was one of the biggest news stories of the past century – journalists swarmed like ants over New Orleans. The national and international news media, left, right, and center, big and small, print and radio, television and film, saw the beautiful woman and saw as well bogeymen in the shadows of their own lurid imaginations. And they declined to see the big white skull laughing at them.

    That death grin can, however, be caught on the faces of the tipsy white people who confess on camera to murdering their neighbors. Separate but equal may have been abolished in the courts, but these people were gunning down African-American men just for walking in the streets in the aftermath of the storm – segregation by bullet – gunning them down on the grounds that no black man had the right to be there and any of them was a menace.

    On one of my visits to New Orleans after Katrina, I met with Rahim, a solid older man with long dreadlocks who told me in his rumbling voice of the bodies he’d seen in the streets of Algiers and gave me a copy of the documentary Welcome to New Orleans. It showed one of the corpses rotting, in plain sight, under a sheet of corrugated sheet metal. It also showed white vigilantes whooping it up and talking openly about what they had done. At a barbeque shortly after Katrina struck, a stocky white guy with receding white hair and a Key West t-shirt chortles, “I never thought eleven months ago I’d be walking down the streets of New Orleans with two .38s and a shotgun over my shoulder. It was great. It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it.”

    A tough woman with short hair and chubby arms adds, “That’s not a pheasant and we’re not in South Dakota. What’s wrong with this picture?”

    The man responds happily, “Seemed like it at the time.”

    A second white-haired guy explains, “You had to do what you had to do, if you had to shoot somebody, you had to shoot. It’s that simple.”

    A third says simply, “We shot ’em.”

    I vowed to Rahim then that I would get the murders investigated. After all, it wasn’t just rumors; it was a survivor telling his story on national television and apparent murderers telling theirs in a documentary. Despite the solid evidence, no one was following up – not the Pulitzer-winning journalists I contacted through friends, nor the filmmaker who captured Herrington, nor the national radio host Rahim spoke to of mass murder, nor the coroners who had some very interesting corpses on their hands, nor the New Orleans police who talked to Herrington in the hospital and whom he approached afterward, no one until the Nation provided A.C. the resources to do it right.

    The worst crimes in disasters are usually committed by institutional authorities and those aligned with them. They fear an unpoliced public and believe private property so sacred a right that they’re willing to kill to defend it, or in this case, just on the off-chance that a passerby might fancy their television set. This is the conclusion of the sociologists who have been studying disasters for decades, many of whom I’ve spoken with in the past few years. And this is the pattern of disasters, like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, in which the public behaved well but the military – which essentially became a hostile occupying army – terrorized the public in the name of preventing looting, shot many innocents, and may have killed scores overall. (In some outrageous incidents, New Orleans police evidently gunned down unarmed African-Americans themselves in the wake of Katrina.)

    Looting is a term that should be abolished. In major disasters, when the monetary economy evaporates and needs are desperate, taking water, or food, or diapers, or medicine from shuttered stores – which is what much of the so-called looting consisted of – is largely legitimate requisitioning. The rest is theft, and in the days after Katrina there was also some theft – by the New Orleans police, for example, who cleaned out a Cadillac dealership and helped themselves to goods in a WalMart, as well as by stranded citizens who figured they’d been abandoned or imprisoned in the ruined city and that all rules were gone.

    Looting is an incendiary, inexact word, suggesting mayhem far beyond the acquisition of commodities. One Algiers Point vigilante claimed to fear that they would come for his elderly mother, but most of the flooded-out evacuees were looking for food, water, information about family members, and a way out of the wreckage. Another vigilante told A.C. that they could tell the three black men they blasted with a shotgun were looters because they were carrying sports apparel with them. That the victims might be evacuating with their own clothing did not occur to these homicidal fabulists, nor did they seem to think that shooting men who might possibly have taken something of modest value from elsewhere was an overreaction.

    The vigilantes of Algiers Point seem to have killed, by their own admissions – or boasts – several African-American men. A.C. was able to get first-hand accounts of eleven shootings, and my initial sources had told me they heard admissions of about seven killings. One militia member shot a black man dead at close range as he attempted to break into a corner store, another member told A.C., the only time one of the shootings seems tied in any way to a potential property crime. The police and coroner produced almost no record of what went on there and then.

    The vigilantes of Algiers Point were classic white-flight people. They had spent decades regarding the central city with terror and resentment, and so saw Katrina not as a tragedy that happened to the neighbors, but as a moment when the dangers confined to the other side of the river were swarming across it. Because the riot was already in their heads, they became the crazed murderers they claimed to fear – though fear may not have been the driving motive for all of them.

    A.C. was told that they turned themselves into an informal militia after one of their number was brutally carjacked by a black man, but another source told me that her relatives were gleeful about the chance to fight a race war against African-Americans and encouraged to do so by law enforcement. Like Rahim, she calls what went on “hunting” and spoke of a photograph she was sent of a vigilante posing like a big-game hunter next to a black murder victim. Which suggests the catastrophe of Katrina was just cover for getting away with a Klan-style killing spree.

    “Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land”

    Why couldn’t anyone in the mainstream see the story of vigilantes on a rampage? Why didn’t anyone want to see it?

    Racism is the obvious answer, the racism that made the killings invisible to some and made others think they weren’t an issue. The racism and corruption of the New Orleans law enforcement system is old news, and it’s not surprising, though it is shameful, that stories like Herrington’s didn’t even trigger police reports, let alone investigations. But the whole world was watching New Orleans and, at one point or another, every major news outlet in the country had someone on the ground there. Maybe a deeper racism made these crimes unimaginable, even when enough evidence was there, even when the skull was laughing out loud. Certainly the murderers have, until now, lived with a strange sense of impunity that has made them cocky and candid about what went down in Algiers Point in the wake of the storm.

    These were the people who broke down in the aftermath of Katrina, who reverted to savagery, not the crowds stranded in the Superdome, or the Convention Center, or on the elevated freeways, or in schools and other inadequate refuges from the flooding that overtook New Orleans. It’s important to keep in mind, despite the false stories the media spread in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, and this grim, true story three years later, that the response to Katrina was mostly about altruism, courage, and generosity. That was the case whether you are considering people like Herrington, who stayed behind to take care of others, or the “Cajun Navy” of white guys with boats, who headed into the city immediately after the storm to rescue the stranded, or the many who took in evacuees or otherwise tried to help, or what, by now, must be hundreds of thousands of volunteers who arrived in the months and years after the storm to cook and build and organize to bring New Orleans back.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that, while the small minority who became a freelance militia murdered casually, the catastrophic loss of life in Louisiana – about 1,500 people, disproportionately elderly – was largely due to decisions made by another small minority: elected and appointed government authorities, from Mayor Ray Nagin, who hesitated to call a mandatory evacuation and never provided the resources for the most destitute and frail to evacuate, to FEMA director Michael Brown, who posed and dithered while tens of thousands suffered, to New Orleans’s police chief and Louisiana’s governor, both of whom chose to regard a drowned and overheated city as a law-enforcement crisis rather than a humanitarian relief challenge.

    In many, many cases, supplies and rescuers were kept out of the city, hospitals were prevented from evacuating the dying, and the ability of civil society to do what the government would not – save the stranded, succor the sick – was hindered at every turn. But this story we know. Now, it’s time to know the other half, the grinning skull, the version that turns everything we were told in the first days upside-down and inside out, the story of murders in plain sight almost no one wanted to see. Look at them. Now, may some measure of justice be done.

    ——–

    Rebecca Solnit’s book about disaster and civil society, “A Paradise Built in Hell,” will be out in time for Katrina’s fourth anniversary. It includes a much more extensive report on the crimes of Katrina, as well as the achievements of civil society in that disaster and others. To listen to a TomDispatch audio interview in which Solnit discusses how the importance of the story of the New Orleans killings dawned on her, click here.

    [People with information on murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina are encouraged to write to Thompson and Solnit at justiceinorleans@gmail.com. Anonymity will be protected.]