"We have authority by martial law to shoot looters."

[Trigger warning for violence and police abuse.]

Investigative outlet ProPublica, in conjunction with The New Orleans Times-Picayune, has published a report about some truly disturbing orders given to New Orleans police in the aftermath of Katrina, as part of its ongoing investigation into unresolved cases where police abuse has been alleged.
In the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, an order circulated among New Orleans police authorizing officers to shoot looters, according to present and former members of the department.

It's not clear how broadly the order was communicated. Some officers who heard it say they refused to carry it out. Others say they understood it as a fundamental change in the standards on deadly force, which allow police to fire only to protect themselves or others from what appears to be an imminent physical threat.

The accounts of orders to "shoot looters," "take back the city," or "do what you have to do" are fragmentary. It remains unclear who originated them or whether they were heard by any of the officers involved in shooting 11 civilians in the days after Katrina.


In one instance captured on a grainy videotape shot by a member of the force, a police captain relayed the instructions at morning roll call to cops preparing for the day's patrols.

"We have authority by martial law to shoot looters," Captain James Scott told a few dozen officers in a portion of the tape viewed by reporters. Scott, then the commander of the 1st district, is now captain of the special operations division.
Of course he is.

The lack of meaningful accountability, from local police to the utterly useless and criminally apathetic former President of the United States who let an American city drown on his watch, for institutional failure in the Katrina's wake is one of the great shames in this nation's political history.

And the terrifying part is that we have not learned from it, and thus are we doomed to repeat it.

[Related Reading: In the aftermath of Katrina, gun-owners were forced—at gunpoint—to hand over their guns, even in areas unaffected by the hurricane.]

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