Post-Katrina 'vigilante' violence: rumor or fact?
The US Attorney's Office and the FBI are looking into allegations of roaming 'people hunters' targeting blacks in the floods and chaos of four years ago.
(Page 2 of 2)
The New Orleans coroner's office has counted 23 dead with gunshot wounds to their heads, he says. What happened to these people is a mystery to authorities, he adds.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
One focus of the investigations is Algiers Point, a historically white enclave on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. As New Orleans flooded, survivors from the Lower Ninth Ward came across on boats, and residents armed up, even walling off neighborhoods.
What happened next, Mr. Thompson alleges, amounted to mob justice. "[V]igilantes and residents – citing the exact locations and types of weapons used – detail a string of violent incidents in which at least eight other people were shot, bringing the total number of shooting victims to at least 11, some of whom may have died," he writes.
Several of the vigilantes have bragged of various shootings, but Loyola criminologist Dee Harper, for one, says "they don't come off as very credible – something is missing there."
It's clear that footage from the time – including a Danish documentary – includes as much braggadocio as fact.
"I've heard that 120 people were executed and dumped in the river, but I've never seen proof that it actually happened," says Mr. Harper.
With the complete collapse of a functioning civil society after Katrina "rumors became urban legends," says former FBI agent Jim Bernazzani, who was on the scene.
One Algiers Point resident, Vinnie Pervel, said he does not appreciate being cast as "a thug."
He had been clubbed with a hammer by a looter the day after the storm, he told Thompson. Later, he came close to shooting somebody, but they ran off after being warned, he said. Mr. Pervel has been interviewed by the FBI.
"At the time, at the storm I thought, I guess, we could be considered like a neighborhood hero," he told CNN. "When the FBI contacted me, I felt like a vigilante, a thug."
Despite the difficulties involved with separating rumor from fact, the FBI has a responsibility to follow up credible leads, police sources say. FBI agents recently seized several New Orleans Police Department computers in a raid connected to an investigation of the Danziger Bridge incident.
A judge threw out indictments against seven police officers in the case.
"There's no presumption of guilt here," says Mr. Bernazzani, the former agent. "But the FBI will follow the facts. And if the facts warrant further scrutiny within the legal system, we have processes in place – because we are a nation of laws – to achieve that end."