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U.S. Held to Account on Human Rights Violations After Hurricane Katrina

by Jennifer Smith

The international conversation about human rights violations after Hurrican Katrina, put into motion by MCLI representatives in 2006, continued in the 2011 U.S. report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee (HRC).
The report includes an update on the infamous Danziger Bridge shooting case, in which New Orleans Police officers fired on unarmed civilians trying to cross the Danziger Bridge, killing seventeen-year-old James Brissette and forty-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man who was shot in the back.
The officers guilty in the Danziger Bridge shooting (and subsequent police cover-up) may never have been brought to justice if MCLI had not reported to the HRC in 2006 that:
“No U.S. Government agency has conducted an investigation of the fact that in Gretna, LA, government officials encouraged some white citizens to threaten Afro American New Orleans residents who were peacefully assembled seeking to evacuate the area via the [Danziger] bridge in Gretna, LA, and permitted the police department of Gretna to block their evacuation and threaten them at gun point.”
The HRC was very concerned about MCLI’s report and displeased that the U.S. had not even mentioned Hurricane Katrina in its 2005 report.  The HRC asked “to be informed about the results of the inquiries into[...] the allegations that New Orleans residents were not permitted by law enforcement officials to cross the [Danziger] Bridge to Gretna, Louisiana.”
Although the shootings may have been investigated locally regardless of the HRC’s concern, the state charges were dropped by a local judge in 2008.  It was the federal government investigation that ultimately brought the officers to justice last year.

Amazingly, three of the officers were given hefty sentences of 38, 40, and 65 years, respectively.  Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, called it the most significant police misconduct prosecution since the Rodney King beating case in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

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