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No Justice for the African-Americans Targeted by White Vigilantes After the Katrina Flooding

A.C. Thompson discusses his Nation report on the men who roamed New Orleans shooting African Americans. (With full text of Thompson's article).
 
 
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In the days after Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana and Mississippi, the bodies of African American men began to turn up on the streets. But these weren't the bloated corpses of drowned Gulf residents whose images were beamed around the world. Instead, their nameless bodies contained bullet holes, slain at the hands of persons unknown.

A number of these killings took place in the community of Algiers Point, a small, isolated place west of the Mississippi and a "white enclave" in a largely African American area. Situated between the Lower Ninth Ward and the rescue point for so those who were trying to flee, a band of residents there responded to accounts of post-hurricane looting by arming themselves to the teeth and going out in search of criminals, lynch-mob style.

"The existence of this little army isn't a secret," reports investigative journalist A.C. Thompson in his groundbreaking investigative article just published in The Nation, "Katrina's Hidden Race War" (read at the bottom of this interview. "In 2005, a few newspaper reporters wrote up the group's activities in glowing terms in articles that showed up on an array of pro-gun blogs; one Cox news story called it 'the ultimate neighborhood watch.' "

With so many questions unanswered about the extrajudicial killings committed by these white vigilantes, Thompson spent 18 months trying to piece together the mystery of what happened in New Orleans. With the support of the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund, he traveled to Algiers Point, where he spoke with black men who had been targeted and shot, the families of slain men, and those who had gone out and participated in these white vigilante mobs.

Many months -- and one lawsuit -- later, the result is a huge feat of investigative reporting that reveals the racist logic that drove these mobs and which centers around some basic but critical questions that have gone unanswered for years: Who killed these men? And why has there never been any accountability?

AlterNet's Rights & Liberties Editor Liliana Segura corresponded with A.C. Thompson to ask him the story behind the story.

Liliana Segura: How did you come across this story?

A.C. Thompson: Author Rebecca Solnit, a friend, encouraged me to chase the story. She'd been in New Orleans, working on an alternative history of disasters, which will be published in 2009. Rebecca kept hearing these stories about shootings on the west bank of the Mississippi, crimes attributed to a group of white vigilantes. Crime reporting isn't her specialty, so she pushed me to follow up, throwing a bunch of leads and ideas at me and prodding me, vigorously, to investigate.

From start to finish, I spent about a year-and-a-half on the project, although I didn't work on it every day. During that time, I also put hours into some other stories, including several investigative pieces about the murder of Oakland [Calif.] journalist Chauncey Bailey, who was assassinated in 2007. I made four trips to New Orleans, and spent about two months in the city. When I wasn't in New Orleans, I was working the phones, reading through documents, writing, tracking people down, trying to come up with new leads.

The lawsuit brought by me and the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund also gobbled up many months. We sued Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard for the right to copy every single autopsy report tied to Hurricane Katrina. All we really wanted were the autopsies documenting shooting victims, but Minyard refused to give us those, saying he couldn't sort them out from all the other autopsies. So we wound up demanding everything, as we were allowed under Louisiana law. We won. And the coroner now owes the Investigative Fund some $10,000 in attorney fees, which he hasn't paid.