An American War crime
A failure of leadership
Police in Suburbs Blocked Evacuees, Witnesses Report
By GARDINER HARRIS
Police agencies to the south of New Orleans were so fearful of the crowds trying to leave the city after Hurricane Katrina that they sealed a crucial bridge over the Mississippi River and turned back hundreds of desperate evacuees, two paramedics who were in the crowd said.
The paramedics and two other witnesses said officers sometimes shot guns over the heads of fleeing people, who, instead of complying immediately with orders to leave the bridge, pleaded to be let through, the paramedics and two other witnesses said. The witnesses said they had been told by the New Orleans police to cross that same bridge because buses were waiting for them there.
Instead, a suburban police officer angrily ordered about 200 people to abandon an encampment between the highways near the bridge. The officer then confiscated their food and water, the four witnesses said. The incidents took place in the first days after the storm last week, they said.
"The police kept saying, 'We don't want another Superdome,' and 'This isn't New Orleans,' " said Larry Bradshaw, a San Francisco paramedic who was among those fleeing.
Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna, La., Police Department, confirmed that his officers, along with those from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and the Crescent City Connection Police, sealed the bridge.
"There was no place for them to come on our side," Mr. Lawson said.
He said that he had been asked by reporters about officers threatening victims with guns or shooting over their heads, but he said that he had not yet asked his officers about that.
"As soon as things calm down, we will do an inquiry and find out what happened," he said.
The lawlessness that erupted in New Orleans soon after the hurricane terrified officials throughout Louisiana, and even a week later, law enforcement officers rarely entered the city without heavy weaponry.
While police officers saved countless lives and provided security to medical providers, many victims have complained bitterly about the behavior of some of the police officers in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina.
Officials in Lafayette, La., reported seeing scores of cruisers from the New Orleans police department in their city in the week after the hurricane. Some evacuees who fled to the Superdome and the convention center say that many police officers refused to patrol those structures after dark.
"It's unbelievable what the police officers did; they just left us," said Harold Veasey, a 66-year-old New Orleans resident who spent two horrific days at the convention center. And in the week after the hurricane, there were persistent rumors in and around New Orleans that police officers in suburban areas refused to help the storm victims.
posted by Steve @ 12:55:00 PM