Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Headlines coast to coast screamed “Blagojevich Guilty” after a Chicago jury deliberated for nine days and found former Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty on 17 corruption counts. In Florida, the seemingly endless Casey Anthony child murder trial also made headlines after the defendant’s mother tried to explain away her computer searches for “chloroform,” with a straight face. But in New Orleans, all eyes were on the Federal courthouse as a jury was seated for the Danziger Bridge trial. What, no Nancy Grace, Joy Behar, Wolf Blitzer or even Dr. Drew Pinsky reports? Nothing. A quick search of the NY Times turns up nada. The Washington Post? Well, if by chance you clicked on “National” news at the top of the home page, and the once you got there, scrolled way down and clicked on “More National News,” and then once you got to that page, scrolled down to the 27th headline, you’d find an AP wire story about the Danziger Bridge story.

You get the idea. Danziger is not a term in the national consciousness. But here in New Orleans, the courthouse was packed on day one of the trial that has become so iconic to the Hurricane Katrina event, that people actually drive to the bridge just to see where it all happened. So, if you’re reading this from Salt Lake City, or Poughkeepsie, or Greensboro, maybe I should briefly recount for you what happened. At least as much as we know. What is known is that on Sept. 4, 2005, just days after the storm, two men were killed by gunfire on the bridge and four others were wounded. One of the dead was a 40-year-old disabled man who was shot in the back. To hear the accused cops (above, left) tell it, there was a distress call from the bridge area suggesting cops were fired upon. Nine other cops piled in a rented truck and rushed to the scene. What happened after that is unclear, except we know the two men were killed and four others wounded.

Now five police officers are on trial for civil rights violations, unjustified shootings and for covering up their activities. Five former cops have already entered guilty pleas to the cover up and will testify against their one-time colleagues. A detective goes on trial later in the summer. Anybody who lives in New Orleans knows something very bad happened on the bridge that day, and just about everybody believes the cops are guilty – except other cops, who never believe their brethren are guilty. Federal prosecutors allege the attacks on the bridge were unprovoked. In fact, this case may have simply faded away had the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI not become involved in the investigation. But they did. It’s a complex series of events that led to this trial. Listen to two Times-Picayune crime reporters explain the order of what happened:

New Orleans is often aptly referred to as “The city that care forgot.” So true. The story just isn’t as “sexy” as say a Rodney King police abuse case out of L.A. back in 1991. It doesn’t have the staying power of the 1997 NYC case of citizen Abner Louima, who was sexually brutalized with a plunger handle by two cops. This is New Orleans. We made it on the media map in 2005 because of the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States. But attention spans are short and news has very little longevity in our new tech world culture. So Katrina is over. Way over. And stories like the Danziger Bridge case don’t really get much CNN/MSNBC/Huffington Post/CBS/NBC/ABC/FOX attention. Almost none, you might say.

It’s tough to compete with Blagojevich, who’s still rocking those 1970’s junior high school bangs. And Casey Anthony, the innocent-looking white girl who may have killed her baby and then gone out partying? Well, that’s ratings gold for networks like HLN. They’ve even got Dr. Drew Pinsky covering it – he’s an addiction specialist and nobody in this case is claiming addiction problems. Go figure. In his new book about Katrina, former Mayor Ray Nagin (above, right) is all hot and bothered about police corruption during and after the storm. But oddly enough, while he was mayor, the words “Danziger Bridge” scarcely crossed his lips. Although the cops in question are both black and white, the victims were all black. Where is Jesse Jackson? Where is Al Sharpton? Where’s the NAACP? Where is the Southern Christian Leadership Conference? The ACLU?

Where is the public outrage? I believe it is stuck back in 2005. “Katrina fatigue” is not just an expression. In New Orleans we can barely look back. Around the rest of the country, Katrina is a historical term now. In some ways we in New Orleans still see the storm in present tense, although certainly it fades as time moves on. But really, if you are in New Mexico, or Connecticut, or Maine or Montana, do you care about Katrina now? No. To you, the Danziger Bridge could just as easily be a place in a fiction novel as it could a real blood-soaked crossing in Louisiana. I do not anticipate a high profile for the trial outside of Louisiana, but at the same time, I know that if the accused cops walk free, the racial implications for the whole country could be dire. Stay tuned.

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