For those of you who missed it, in Dec 2008 the Nation published an in-depth report on events in Algiers, a part of New Orleans just across the Mississippi River, in the days after Katrina hit. A warning to the faint-hearted: it's not an easy read. But it is apparently all true -- except, that is, for this one sentence by a staff member at Tulane University:
I can't see a white person being convicted of any kind of crime against an African-American during that period.
As a Horton reports, on Friday a white man was indeed found guilty of killing a black man during those days. To make things worse, the white man was a police officer at the time. (A total of five police officers were indicted.)
I visited Algiers and spoke with some of the people in the Nation article in late December 2005 myself. I was only in New Orleans for around 10 days and only in Algiers for one, so I was not able to do this kind of in-depth reporting. I certainly heard a lot of stories about white vigilantes patrolling the streets, but a number of things that some of the (black and white) locals claimed were simply not true, as I pointed out a few months later in this article (unfortunately only in German).
What I did not do, but the Nation journalist did, is try to speak to white vigilantes in the community, which seems to be fairly easy to do -- they certainly do not seem to have much of a problem speaking to the Nation journalist, and also see this Danish documentary. Had I spoken to these gun-toting white wackos, I probably would have believed more of the stories I had been hearing.
Overall, it seems that a group -- or perhaps a number of separate groups -- of white vigilantes responded to a quite small number of crimes in the wake of Katrina by setting up their own militia-driven state. They then proceeded to harass, threatened to kill, and in some cases murder law-abiding black citizens from the community. It's quite frightening, especially when we think about the implications of all of the gun-toting that still goes on right out in the open -- or, as blogger Tim Wise recently put it:
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters - the black protesters - spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic?