This one page New York Times Story has been sitting on my desk since April 4. I’m thinking on one hand, well, some kind of justice has alighted on these monsters, getting terms from six to 65 years for their involvement in deadly shootings of unarmed New Orleans residents on a bridge, right after Hurricane Katrina hit that city like a knock-out punch, August 29, 2005. On the other hand, I’m wondering if this sentencing is too little, too late, moving at a snail’s pace towards conviction, minimizing the scope of corruption surrounding Katrina.
The five officers in this case were Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso, and Robert Faulcon. They were convicted on firearms charges in the shootings. Retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, assigned to look into the shootings, was convicted of helping orchestrate the cover-up no less.
Faulcon got the toughest sentence of 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius each received 40 years while Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years. Kaufman got off the easiest with a six-year sentence. The convictions came from a federal jury in August 2011 on civil rights violations in the inhuman shootings on the Danziger Bridge and the cover-up.
The police shot six people, killing two, less than a week after the storm’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005. To give the appearance of the shootings being justified, officers conspired to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports. For that, this case turned into the centerpiece of the Justice Department’s push to mop up the troubled New Orleans Police Department.
U.S. District Court’s Kurt Engelhardt heard hours of testimony earlier in the day from prosecutors, defense attorneys, relatives of victims and the officers. And the Times story abruptly stops here. That’s it?
On September 1, 2010, I wrote a review of Spike Lee’s then new two, two-hour episodes that made up his then new HBO documentary If God is willin and the creek don’t rise, shot five years after Katrina. And, When the Levees Broke: A requiem in Four Acts, covering the trials and traumas of New Orleans during the storm and after, for which Lee won a Peabody Award and three Emmys.
I titled the review Spike Lee gives America its voice, because that’s exactly what he did, full-throated with pain, irate with the unending injustice of brutality heaped on New Orleans, which the Times perhaps didn’t deem important enough to be “All the news that’s fit to print.” The following four paragraphs come from my review and provide some perspective on the reality of how the police and governor handled the Katrina aftermath.
I wrote, “I say Lee Gives America its voice again because he gives the still-ailing New Orleans the opportunity for its people to speak on the myriad issues that face them, which also face America. First on the BP oil disaster, on the destruction of the fishing industry, whose catch comprises 40% of America’s fish supply; on the oil-coated waters, whose offshore drilling comprises 20% of America’s natural gas and oil; and of course, on the dead sea life, the blighted marshlands, the soiled fowl, the scarred beaches; and on the lie that a well that is capped for one day can make 75% of the pollution gone the next; and on the voice that describes the explosion of the well-head like a bag of fire incinerating its victims, the voices of a one-armed survivor and a two-fisted reporter.
“Lee’s cast of truly real people embraces the issues of poverty, poor health, a failing medical and psychological care system, a public school system being rapidly privatized, with an administration that doesn’t see its black students and their issues clearly. What with the trauma these kids bear, the ubiquitous violence they experience, the fact that New Orleans has become the US city with the most murders is almost no surprise. Lee’s documentary in fact is the antidote to Reality TV America. Take it upon yourself to see this, to make a regimen for your own understanding of life and its possibilities, of the need to pay attention beyond the pure pursuit of your own agendas.
“Nor does the New Orleans Police Department fare much better in the face of this chaos, with visual stories of them killing a retarded man, carrying another dead man in his old car to burn his body and car behind a police station and then remove the skull bones to crack them into pieces and scatter the evidence. The Big Easy is in trouble from every angle, a microcosm of the macro of America. And one of the largest trials against law-enforcement in an American city has occurred to help set New Orleans PD on its feet again to protect people, not kill them.
“This has been the case going back to Governor Kathleen Bianco claiming ‘We are going to restore law and order . . . These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.’ This was an open invitation to ethnic and racial cleansing by calling in Guard troops. And it was reinforced by Police Chief Eddie Compass passing on fantastic rumors about babies being raped and helicopters being shot at. Of course, he admitted afterwards these claims were lies and said, ‘I guess I heightened people’s fears. I erred on the side of caution.’ Caution here is just another word for their deep hate racism.”
I wonder why his name wasn’t on the list of cops that were sentenced. Having written that, I suggest you read the rest of the review for a fuller review which condemns New Orleans officials, not just the police, in greater detail, and does not let them off the hook because five police officers, albeit deserving, took the fall for the entire system. I forwarded the Times article to Spike Lee’s Facebook site and suggested he considered it as either another documentary or a dramatic film. I haven’t heard back from him yet. Like myself, I almost didn’t want to touch this article for nearly two weeks. It’s still painful and opens old wounds.
But curiously, in The New York Times a Reuters article surfaced in the middle of another racial tragedy, Trayvon Martin killing puts spotlight on “Gunshine” state. Once again we see the law dragging its feet, taking 45 days to finally arrest the perpetrator, George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, on a charge of second-degree murder, for shooting the unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin with a 9mm handgun. In fact, Zimmerman claims this unarmed teenager attacked him. Isn’t that strange?
“Martin was walking home from a convenience store on the night of February 26 when he encountered Zimmerman and an altercation followed which resulted in Martin’s death from a single gunshot to the chest.” As I understand it, Zimmerman had been stalking Trayvon Martin as he spoke on his cell with his girlfriend. At some point the teenager stopped and asked Zimmerman why he was following him.
“Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman and turned the case over to prosecutors, citing Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, enacted in 2005 and now in effect in more than 20 other states. The law provides shooters with wide latitude to claim a killing was in self-defense if they fear bodily harm.” Was the grown man with a 9mm pistol in fear of bodily harm by a teen-ager carrying a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea from the Local 7/11? It doesn’t compute.
“The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was just one of several pro-gun laws that have originated in Florida and been adopted in other states, earning it the nickname ‘Gunshine’ state.
“Florida lawmakers last year passed a measure to prohibit cities from enacting gun ordinances stricter than those of the state, with heavy fines if they transgress . . .”
So, New Orleans, Florida, and actually 24 other states with similar or the same laws play these games with black people’s lives. Yet so many conservative white people are wondering why Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are “making such a fuss about it all,” as if black life was worth less than white life.
It is reminiscent of the scenario devised by Teddy Roosevelt idealizing the uber-white Anglo-Saxon warrior that conquered England and America. Told by James Bradley in his book, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, Teddy lauded the Saxon warrior for conquering America, encouraging him to move west towards the Pacific and Asian nations whose brown and yellow people Roosevelt described as inferior, yes, as monkeys.
Nevertheless, Teddy elected the paler-skinned Japanese whom he felt were more like whites to conquer and to colonize the people of color. After decades of war and colonizing, when the Japanese were told to stop, part of the original deal, they wouldn’t. By then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt put a crippling oil embargo on the Japanese. And that led to their angry attack on Pearl Harbor, the beginning of World War II, and ending it by bombing the Japanese with two atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The European nations received no such treatment. Only the just-like-us Japanese.
So, what goes around comes around, in racism as with other moral conundrums. I don’t believe the depth of pain of Katrina has been fully vetted nor will be; nor have those colonized Pacific nations, from Hawaii to the Philippines, Korea to China shed the memories of random U.S. murder and war. Nor has the full story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin been fully told to satisfy black America and wiser white people. The resentments among all people of color still go deeper than “What’s fit to print.” And the three tales presented here are really all part of one ongoing story of American racism. And that’s a tragedy in itself.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of the intrepidreport.com (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.