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Pro Publica story: Police order allowed shooting looters in New Orleans after Katrina

Wednesday night, there’s going to be a documentary on Frontline on PBS about police shootings in New Orleans after Katrina:

In recent months, a team of reporters from The Times-Picayune, PBS Frontline, and ProPublica, have examined department leaders’ conduct as part of a broader look at police shootings after Hurricane Katrina. A documentary drawn from that work airs Wednesday evening on Frontline, which can be seen locally on WYES-TV at 8 p.m.

Pro Publica has just published a story based on the same investigation.  It starts out:

In the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, an order circulated among New Orleans police authorizing officers to shoot looters, according to present and former members of the department.

It’s not clear how broadly the order was communicated. Some officers who heard it say they refused to carry it out. Others say they understood it as a fundamental change in the standards on deadly force, which allow police to fire only to protect themselves or others from what appears to be an imminent physical threat.

The accounts of orders to “shoot looters,” “take back the city,” or “do what you have to do” are fragmentary. It remains unclear who originated them or whether they were heard by any of the officers involved in shooting 11 civilians in the days after Katrina. Thus far, no officers implicated in shootings have used the order as an explanation for their actions. Only one of the people shot by police – Henry Glover – was allegedly stealing goods at the time he was shot.

Read more here.

5 comments to Pro Publica story: Police order allowed shooting looters in New Orleans after Katrina

  • Anderson

    I think the lack of comment here betokens an equal or greater lack of any surprise.

    In NOLA, you never know who’s scarier, the thugs or the cops.

  • Former PD

    Pro Publica and Frontline are also working on a story about this country’s medico-legal problems — coroners and pathologists and so forth; the piece will feature Mississippi. No surprise there. It will air sometime after the first of the year.

  • BoynamedSioux

    can anyone say “bunker” mentality.

    terror isn’t related to vulnerable ones in charge.

  • jlw

    Anderson: If you haven’t read it, you should check out Nine Lives by Dan Baum. It’s an excellent read. He chronicles the lives of nine individuals who lived through Katrina and one of those folks is Tim, a police officer. At one point Tim fires his gun blindly into a crowd of people, killing at least one (so he thinks). Later, after Katrina, he walks. (He leaves the force voluntarily and no charges are filed against him).

    Earlier in the book, we learn that NOPD had an order to guard against looters at Wal-Mart and, prior to killing a man, Tim threatens to kill several looters at his local Wal-Mart (they’re stealing shoes, basketballs, and other minor things).

    And of course, all the while, all through the city, folks are dying.

    I’m not sure what’s more frustrating, that Tim, a police officer in uniform, shot a man, or that Tim was never tried or that Tim (and his colleagues) had orders to protect Wal-Mart while people were dying. Maybe there was nothing they could have done vis-a-vis Katrina’s impact and maybe Tim was driven mad by his helplessness and sleeplessness. But if that’s the case, the police ought to have been sent home.

    I have trouble blaming a man for coming apart in the wake of such terrible and severe circumstances–we would all no doubt have acted a little crazy–but at the same time, I have greater trouble sympathizing with Tim and his ilk. Police, on a personal and collective level can’t afford to come apart like that. Better to have no law than a badly damaged law.

    Sorry for the slightly rambling post, I blame the book. Baum does a fantastic job of setting up severe moral problems w/out actually condemning anyone.

  • Anderson

    Thanks, jlw. Great comment. I will look for that book.

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