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Answers to Your Post-Katrina Violence Questions

Algiers Point, La.You have questions about post-Katrina violence. We have answers.

The ProPublica/Nation investigation of violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina quickly went viral, appearing on dozens of news sites, blogs and Web forums. Much heated discussion ensued. Last week we asked readers to submit questions about the reporting. Today I’ll answer those questions—which have been edited slightly for clarity—as well as some that have come up frequently in radio and TV interviews.

Several readers wanted to know what law enforcement was doing in response to the stories. Here are a few representative questions.

What are the law enforcement agencies of La. doing about this?

On Dec. 24, the New Orleans Police Department announced (PDF) that Superintendent Warren Riley was “looking into” the incidents I documented. In a press release, the NOPD encouraged people with information to contact the department. It seems the department is waiting for leads to come to them—so far I haven’t heard about them taking initiative by contacting any of the people named in the story.

Are the New Orleans police only investigating the vigilante activity? Or are they also probing the allegations of police misconduct?

This is a great question. My reporting from New Orleans focused on two threads: the attacks on African Americans by white vigilantes in the days after the hurricane, and the allegation that police played a role in the death of Henry Glover, a 31-year-old black man whose body was set ablaze shortly after the storm.

According to witnesses, Glover was shot by an unknown assailant on Sept. 2, 2005 and sought medical assistance from a squad of NOPD officers who’d set up camp at an elementary school. Those officers, witnesses say, failed to help Glover and did nothing as he bled to death. Glover’s charred body later turned up behind an NOPD station house a short distance away.

I’ve heard nothing from NOPD to indicate that they’re actively investigating Glover’s shooting, the apparent inaction of the police when he sought help or the desecration of his body.

Do you know why the [U.S. Justice Department’s] Civil Rights Division did not or could not get involved in investigating and prosecuting these crimes? Or the FBI?

I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think there’s anything barring the FBI or the Department of Justice from probing these crimes. In the case of Henry Glover, the FBI, which has a history of investigating police misconduct, may be the law enforcement agency best suited to taking up the matter.

Have any other large media entities picked up on the stories?

Aside from NPR, the large media outlets haven’t exhibited a lot of interest in the reporting. By contrast, African American-focused media, community radio stations and left-leaning talk radio shows have really followed the stories. And the stories have garnered a fair amount of coverage on local TV news and radio in New Orleans, which, I think, prompted the NOPD to announce its probe.

What’s crazy is the way the story has zinged around the Web. I didn’t really expect that. The main article has been featured on sites ranging from Alternet to forums for fans of the Washington Redskins to BET.com, while the YouTube video has been viewed more than 140,000 times, which is a lot for a serious news clip.

What can you say about the odds of your advancing the story in the coming months?

I think they’re good. I’ve got some new leads I’m chasing. So keep watching this space. And if you’re a cop, vigilante, witness, crime victim or anyone else with information you’d like to share, please contact me: ac.thompson@propublica.org.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Law and Disorder

Law and Disorder: After Katrina, New Orleans Police Shot Frequently and Asked Few Questions

New Orleans police are under scrutiny because of shootings of civilians after Katrina.

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