Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

The bridge to nowhere?

25th July 2011   ·   1 Comment

By Edmund W. Lewis

Anyone who thinks getting convictions in the Danziger Bridge case is going to be a slam dunk doesn’t know the history of the Crescent City, the New Orleans Police De­part­ment, and the local criminal justice system.

This is a department that has gotten away with murder more than once and has defended the actions of men and women who have killed a woman in an Algiers bathtub in the 1980s, shot an unarmed man sitting in a car on New Year’s Eve several years ago and cooked the books in various police districts across the city to win crime-reduction awards.

It is also a department that saw nothing wrong with calling the “Danziger 7” heroes five years ago and has done very little to discipline cops more interested in making extra money from off-duty details than in making the community safer.

There hasn’t been a great deal of outrage from whites in the greater New Orleans area about the cops involved in cases like those of Henry Glover, Raymond Robair and the Danziger Bridge shootings using the U.S. Constitution like toilet paper. That has to be a concern to anyone who is committed to fighting for justice and equal protection under the law in this city, state and nation.

Far too few of our white brothers and sisters have said anything about the miscarriages of justice taking place almost daily on the streets of New Orleans. Regardless of what ultraconservatives and mainstream media say, no group of people deserve to be treated worse than animals by people whose salaries they pay to protect them.

While Blacks in New Orleans are often depicted as animals, it is the cops themselves who have earned the right to be called animals given their propensity for committing crimes, assaults on the dignity of innocent civilians and brutal acts of violence.

Whether you’re talking about a police officer or a civilian, what kind of human being would use unarmed people for target practice and stomp a mentally disabled man to death as he already lay dying from gunshot wounds? What kind of men would stand over another human being and pump his body with bullets after he had already been shot in the head by one of the police officers? What kind of God-fearing individual would shoot an unarmed woman in a way that would result in the loss of her right arm?

That’s not exactly the handiwork of “heroes” or officers of the peace.

While much has been reported and written about how prospective Black jurors are unable to be fair and open-minded in cases involving police brutality in New Orleans, very little has been said or written about how many whites seem to never question the actions of law enforcement officers when they use deadly force in communities of color.

Part of the problem is the depiction of Black people by mainstream media outlets, which often portray people of color radically different than they portray white Americans. Blacks are depicted as violent, sinister savages who cannot be trusted or treated with compassion or respect.

White people, on the other hand, are loving, sentimental human beings who are often viewed sympathetically by the media even after they commit unconscionable acts.

There was no shortage of mainstream media outlets who treated Susan Smith, Casey Anthony and the Columbine High School terrorists with kid gloves even though their actions resulted in the loss of human lives. Even Timothy McVeigh was not vilified the way he might have been if he had possessed higher levels of melanin.

Black and white victims of violent crime are also treated differently by the media. Very little is written about the hopes, dreams, aspirations or friends and loved ones of Black murder victims, as if these very things that define all of us as human beings don’t matter to Black people. Conversely, great pains are taken to show the tremendous loss the taking of a white life represents. Viewers of television broadcasts get to hear from friends, classmates and loved ones of white victims and learn about the things that gave them great joy and satisfaction in their lives. The message is clearly that whites are living, breathing human beings whose lives matter. Blacks are simply statistics.

Sadly, this subtle message that only white lives matter has even been bought by some in communities of color who have seen how the criminal justice system delivers stiffer penalties to those who harm white people.

It is telling that some 148 years after the signing of the Emancipation Procla­mation Blacks and whites can still look at the actions of cops in cases like the murder of Henry Glover and the Danziger Bridge shootings and see something completely different.

What some people still don’t get is that what you do is so loud that no one can hear what you say, which is basically another way of saying that one’s actions speak louder than words ever could.

That’s true for the jurors in the Danziger Bridge trial, the top brass in the New Orleans Police Department, local, state and federal elected officials and the decision-makers at City Hall.

What anyone says in 30-second media bytes, press releases and press conferences pales in comparison to what he or she does in his or her everyday life.

All the media blitzes and press conferences in the world can’t hide the fact that there are elected officials in this city who only pay lip service to principles and goals like justice, truth, democracy and equal protection under the law.

Pretty words and lofty speeches are no substitute for the nitty-gritty work needed to dismantle the system of white supremacy that has placed a shadow over the lives of Black people in this city since antebellum times.

New Orleans is still being run by the descendants of those who gained massive profits from the sugar-cane plantations that once flourished along the Mississippi River in the River Parishes and the descendants of powerful white families who fled Santo Domingo at the start of the Haitian Revolution. Everything they do to continue to control the lives and futures of Blacks in New Orleans today suggests that they have vowed to never underestimate the power of Black people again.

Those who live in this city and find themselves always on the outside looking in with regard to having opportunities to make things better for themselves and their families are all too familiar with the widening gulf between the haves, have-littles and have-next-to-nothings.

The anger of those locked out of opportunities is not just focused on white New Orleanians. Poor, undereducated and underemployed Blacks also see the same Black elected officials and appointees getting opportunities decade after decade while very little has changed for the Black masses in New Orleans. They see the same Black faces being tapped to sit on boards and commissions and lining their pockets with blood money while the majority of the city’s Black residents continue to languish in poverty and miseducation and grapple with things like substandard housing, inadequate health care, police brutality and an education system that continues to maim their minds and spirits and is controlled by the descendants of those who created these conditions centuries ago.

All of this fury, discord and oppression culminated in the events that took place after Hurricane Katrina, where cops saw no reason to stop treating Black people as they always have. But Black people have reached a point in the history of this city where they have gained a deeper understanding of the shackles that continue to bind them today and the many Black and white agents who have been deployed by the powers that be to keep them in chains.

It’s a powder-keg situation that doesn’t need much in the way of heat or friction to shake this city to its foundation.

If the jury doesn’t convict the five officers on trial in the Danziger Bridge shootings case, it is safe to say that this city will never be the same.

Race relations have been strained to the limit since the Great Flood of 2005, when whites took it upon themselves to fire hundreds of Black educators, administrators and New Orleans public school employees, purge still-displaced Blacks from the voter rolls, tear down the city’s public housing developments and experiment with the lives and futures of Black public school children.

There’s no way to overstate the importance of this trial and what it will mean to the future of New Orleans. We are at a turning point in the history of this city that no one can deny. Future historians will likely refer to the city as New Orleans B.D. (Before Danziger) and New Orleans A.D. (After Danziger).

This Danziger Bridge trial and its outcome will either provide a bridge to a brighter future for all of the people of New Orleans and a way to at least begin to bridge the bitter racial divide or a bridge to utter chaos and continued steps on the downward spiral New Orleans has been on since it took on since it earned the dubious distinction of being the epicenter of the domestic slave trade.

Let’s hope and pray that those with the power to decide the outcome of this explosive trial at this critical junction in New Orleans history choose wisely.

This article was originally published in the July 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Hal Green says:

    Thank You Mr. Lewis.
    These Police Thugs will have Forever
    in Hell to Repent!
    “Great Gulf Fixed”- That Means
    Nothing to them now. In a nano
    second after they close their eyes
    their last day on earth, “They Will
    Get it!

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