In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in August of 2005, citizens became desperate for help and police officers struggled to keep order in the city. Many questions have since arisen about how some members of the police force acted after the storm, especially in the case of two unarmed men who were shot on a New Orleans bridge on Sept. 4, 2005.
The federal government recently indicted four police officers in that incident who have been charged with federal civil rights violations and using weapons in the commission of a crime. Two other officers were charged with covering up the crime and making it look like the shootings were carried out legally.
The first shooting victim, 17-year-old James Brissette, was walking along the Danzinger Bridge in New Orleans when he was allegedly shot by the indicted police officers. Later that day, the same officers allegedly shot and wounded 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who had severe mental disabilities. Madison later died.
New Orleans' newly elected mayor, Mitch Landrieu, has ordered a full review of his city's police force to uncover other possible crimes committed by officers. There are several other investigations currently underway about suspicious police activities following Hurricane Katrina.
The first four minutes of this video discuss the cases against the police officers in general; the rest is an interview with A.C. Thompson, who's been reporting on the story for the independent investigative news site ProPublica.
“Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are sworn to protect the public. This will not stand. And we will hold all offenders accountable.” - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
“What appears to me is that the officers, based upon the admitted statements, immediately decided to not tell the truth. That's just disgusting. It's an insult to everybody who does this work. It's an insult. It's an insult to the community, obviously.” - Ronal Serpas, New Orleans Police Chief
“We have interviewed a lot of officers. And what they say is, look, you don't understand what it was like on the ground or under the water at that time in New Orleans. It was chaos. The communication system for the police department collapsed. The command structure of the department collapsed.” - A.C. Thompson, reporter, ProPublica
1. What happened in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina?
2. Why do we have police officers?
3. What is an indictment?
1. Why might it be especially difficult to punish police officers who have done something wrong?
2. The ProPublica reporter says police officers he interviewed insist it was "chaos" after Hurricane Katrina and "the command structure of the department collapsed." Do you think this justifies violent behavior on the part of police officers? Why or why not?
3. What would you do if you had a complaint against a police officer in your community? Who would you tell about it?
4. Why do police officers need guns? How did they allegedly overstep the boundaries of how their guns may be used in this case?