The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Welcome to Gretna

Libertarian Samizdata reports an outrage from the township of Gretna, on "day 4" after the hurricane Katrina's 29 August landfall - corresponding with 1 September a week ago. These claims came from two "socialist workers" in the SEIU, which is a union predominant among state employees. Their account shows that they had acquired their knowledge of Louisiana law enforcement from TV Westerns, and this account further includes all manner of Bush-bashing and otherwise tendentious boilerplate. I'm bothering with this account because the core of it has been verified by hostile witnesses elsewhere.


Gretna is the county seat of Jefferson Parish. Gretna's mayor is Ronnie C Harris, and the chief of Gretna police is Arthur S. Lawson, Jr. The Jefferson Parish president is Aaron Broussard and its sheriff is Harry Lee.

On this early-September day, a police chief and his officers met a crowd of hundreds of New Orleans refugees on the Pontchartrain Expressway at the foot of "the greater New Orleans Bridge" (i.e. Houston's very own I-10: map). The Gretna Police Department fired presumably-live rounds over the crowd, holding them at the bridge's foot until nightfall; and then under cover of dusk the GPD sent a helicopter and dispersed the crowd by force. This was done, we are told, in the name of "no Superdomes in their city".

The union members' account, although not current up to that evening, has corroboration: Tim Scheer (h/t Bruce R).

Dale Amon lists the pertinent background information:

We so far have corroborating data that there was an EMS conference; people from the conference were staying in the hotel at which the bus event occurred; people were left outside by the hotel; there were shots fired at the bridge and there was a crowd there which was a mix of people trying to get to a refugee center. President Bush was at the airport on the day that corresponds to the timeline in the story.

To which, I would add: a few days before "day 4" (11:16 AM, 30 August), Chief Lawson had told the media that his force had "whatever authority they need" to stop the looting of homes.

A Gretnan view.

One of the locals, a certain Kevin, had this to say about the event:

Unlike you or most of your posters, I know for a fact what was happening. I live on the Westbank and know personally the Gretna "Sherrif". He is in fact the Gretna Police Chief.

There were two reasons for stopping the crowds from crossing:

1. There was no place to go on the Westbank. The nearest evacuation center was several miles away in Westwego. Few people would have made it that far if they knew where it was.

2. The GPD was aware of the looting and other mayhem going on in the city and they were not about to let the nerdowells into the city to do there what they did in New Orleans.

I'm lucky. My home was not flooded, was not destroyed by wind nor was it looted. We cannot control the first two, but the GPD certainly could control the third, and that they did.

Now, I expect to get a lot of posters condeming me to being callous, but I don't care. All that I own is still in the house. My life is invested in that house. I built it from the ground up and I'll be damned if I will allow a bunch of gangsters and murderers take it away from me.

All you do-gooders out there perhaps should direct your anger to the ones who accually did the looting, murering, raping, sniping at rescuers and the like. For it was because of them the Gretna PD was forced to defend their city and the poor evacuees had to suffer.

And for those who still insist on calling me callous, let me tell you this; yes, I still have my house, I have another job now and am staying with family in Baton Rouge, the suffering of others is not lost on me.

The refugees seen on TV were located just two to three blocks from where I work. Some people living in the hardest hit areas were aquantences of mine and I have no idea as to their whereabouts. Hell, some of those bodies flooting down streets may be people I know.

I plan on returning to NO ASAP as well as many of my colegues to rebuild the city not mater how long it takes. New Orleans is my home and it will remain my home.

So people, please get your facts straight and get the whole story before you post something. Otherwise, your no better than the news buzzards who parachute into a tragedy to get their face time doing rightous indignation and leaving.

Glenn Reynolds says, "hold your outrage for now", because of the problems with the SEIU members' account. I am instead going to analyse what Kevin had to say.

Kevin claims to be a local with local concerns. He repeatedly points out how his house is still standing and how much he has invested in that house. He further drives home the point that all his critics live on the outside and don't understand his area. His concerns are material, not abstract.

Notable phrases in his posting are "callous" (repeated), a word which he has likely adopted from the SEIUers' account of the GPD as also applying to himself; "do-gooders", a term of derision for such outsiders as criticise the GPD's actions; and "murderers" and "looters" who did damage in New Orleans and whom he fears would have carried out similar actions in Gretna.

He does not bring race into his account, and he professes "the suffering of others is not lost on me" - to which we are to infer that he does not hold animus to the mostly-Black refugees from New Orleans.

Kevin and Tim Scheer also fingered the Gretna PD, and not the county authorities (pace Bruce R, in LibSamz comments). It wasn't Sheriff Lee who did this.

I hold Kevin to be who he says he is: a local of Gretna who knows what the GPD did and approves of it.

Contra Gretna.

RC Dean had this comment:

(a) the nearest evac center was several miles away. In other words, a walk of a couple or three hours. Color me unconvinced that directions couldn't have been posted and the route patrolled to keep evacuees on foot moving toward the center. Certainly, turning people back into the holocaust of NO seems the worst option, especially since these people were, belatedly perhaps, trying to comply with the evacuation order. The whole thing becomes Kafkaesque at that point.

(b) The cops weren't going to ne'erdowells from NO into Gretna. Fine, but how were they going to sort the good people trying to get out from the ne'erdowells looking to make trouble? Are they justified in treating everyone as guilty? Are they even legally permitted to close a public highway in this fashion?

I am not one to play the race card, but one is mightily tempted by the tableaux at the Gretan bridge . . . .


Now, this is a blog post, and a work in progress. However, from what I can see, based on Kevin's post and Dean's rebuttal alone, there is enough cause for outrage against the citizens and leadership of Gretna.

The chief of police in Gretna, with the full approval of his citizens, blocked a public road to keep a crowd of hundreds of starving, mostly African-American refugees from safety. His mayor had presumably handed over to him the authority if not the order to carry this out.

This isn't just Selma-bad; this is close to Rosewood-bad. Ronnie C Harris, mayor of Gretna, and Arthur S. Lawson, chief of police in Gretna, ought to be indicted for capital charges. Federal charges. This case deserves a Nuremburg-style tribunal, with all that implies.

POSTSCRIPT: Political Ties is all over another part of the story, the state government's role in the debacle. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco had deliberately kept the Red Cross out of New Orleans so as to force the locals out onto the highways... you know, the highways, which Chief Lawson was currently blocking.

posted by Zimri on 17:30 | link | 0 comments

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