Revisiting: New Orleans Cops Were Told They Could Shoot Looters – Sept 1, 2005

Remembering Katrina means remembering that, by Sept 1, law enforcement entities converging on the city had authority to shoot residents.

“We have authority by martial law to shoot looters,” Captain James Scott told a few dozen officers in a portion of the tape viewed by reporters. Scott, then the commander of the 1st district, is now captain of the special operations division.”

Above is from ProPublica’s multi-year reporting on the use of force by police and armed officials in the city during the days after the Storm. ProPublica reporters covered six cases of “law and disorder,” most from deaths that occurred eleven years ago to the day: The assault by police officers of two handcuffed men on Religious Street on September 1; murder of Matthew Macdonald by police; murder of Danny Brumfield by police I need September2; the shooting of Keenon McCann on Claiborne Overpass on Sept 1; the murder of Henry Glover on September 2 (whose body was later found in a burned out Chevy, incinerated); and the Danzinger Bridge shooting. Of these, Danzinger Bridge may be most well known–and a judge overturned the convictions.

ProPublica also reported on the carte blanche given officers during those days. Levels of misconduct were obscene. From 2012:

Another police captain, Harry Mendoza, told federal prosecutors last month that he was ordered by Warren Riley, then the department’s second-in-command, to “take the city back and shoot looters.” A lieutenant who worked for Mendoza, Mike Cahn III, said he remembered the scene similarly and would testify about it under oath if asked.

Mendoza and Cahn said in separate interviews that Riley made the remarks at a meeting at Harrah’s casino, where police had established a command post. Mendoza quoted Riley as saying: “If you can sleep with it, do it,” according to a document prepared by prosecutors and provided to lawyers defending police officers recently charged with federal offenses.

Riley categorically denied telling officers they could shoot looters. “I didn’t say anything like that. I heard rumors that someone else said that. But I certainly didn’t say that, no.”

“I may have said we need to take control of the city,” Riley said. “That may have happened.”

Yesterday, I found myself remembering how media used black folks in pain to paint a picture of disorder as a call for aid. Today, eleven years later, it is even easier for me to see how that call for aid may have been ameliorative in the meantime, but drew on a centuries old lexicon of dangerous and disorderly black bodies to do so. And those images do powerful work. Dangerous black bodies on screen, as looters, as unruly, as needing to be under control or dead more than excused actions by the police to the public. Meanwhile, on the ground, Louisiana has its own history of killing insurgent black people (slave revolts from 1729 to 1811). So at what point, I suppose, is the image of criminal black bodies an excuse and at what point is it a cover?

There is nothing new about police killing black people. It is not a post-2012 or 2014 phenomenon and #BlackLivesMatter activists have stressed this time and again. The right to shoot and control and “restore order” through black death is the afterlife of slavery. It is built into the hypermilitarized, carceral state.

Danzinger Bridge, Mario Tama/Getty Images

But social and digital media does give us space to present evidence, challenge the narrative and the images of ourselves, scream back. Tool for redress and for reveal.
State violence. Carceral lives. And somewhere during these days, activists asking questions about those evacuated from Charity Hospital and the Orleans Parish Jail were also beginning to be heard…

My thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones to state gunfire. Then and today and always.

Review the ProPublica cases here:


One thought on “Revisiting: New Orleans Cops Were Told They Could Shoot Looters – Sept 1, 2005

  1. Pingback: Revisiting: Kanye West tells the Tale; Those Who Stayed Behind — September 2, 2015 – Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog

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