Keeping Truth Alive: The Impact of Social Justice Organizing on the Glover Case

In case you are just tuning in, 2010 has been the year when, like Malcolm X once said, “the chickens have come home to roost” for  New Orleans Police Department officers involved in shootings of unarmed civilians.

First, six officers involved in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge murders after Hurricane Katrina were indicted, four of them charged with the murders of two African-American men. Their trial in Federal Court is still pending, but they could face life in prison or even the death penalty.

Currently, five police officers are on trial for killing and covering up the murder of Henry Glover in Algiers (across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter). The cover-up included burning a car near the levee with Glover, possibly alive, inside.

While the newspapers, particularly the Times-Picayune, are now covering the trials and original incidents with the attention they deserve, most social justice organizers remember when no one believed the families side of the story. And the media never took them seriously enough to independently investigate the claims.

Safe Streets/Strong Communities, an organization formed after the hurricane to address brutality and other unaccountable behavior by the police, were visited in their office by friends or relatives from both these cases who shared their stories and sought support for justice. The stories were included as testimony in the little-remembered, but sweeping International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The tribunal was hosted by the New Orleans Black-led organization Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund over the weekend of the Katrina Commemoration in 2007.

With the support of Safe Streets, the Madisons, who lost a family member at the Danziger Bridge shooting, organized and pressured the District Attorney to file criminal charges against the police officers in local criminal court. Not surprisingly, Judge Raymond Bigelow found a way to dismiss the charges, finding prosecutorial misconduct during the Grand Jury process. Almost immediately, Jim Letten’s U.S. District Attorney’s office started their own much broader investigation, which included an FBI raid of the New Orleans Police Department to seize files.

William Tanner, who was beaten by police and whose car Glover was burned inside, approached Safe Streets unwilling to let the murder of this stranger go without consequence and justice.

When Safe Streets  heard from A.C. Thompson, a journalist with ProPublica and The Nation, they directed him to William Tanner. Thompson included the cover-up of Henry Glover’s death in his long investigative article in late 2008 on white vigilantes who murdered African-Americans in Algiers in the weeks after the hurricane.  The report brought national attention and regained local momentum to seek justice for everyone murdered in that “time of crisis”.

The lesson is clear: never stop documenting injustice and speaking truth to power, for its effects and impacts may influence people you least expected. The FBI seeking justice for a few black people in America?  Proactively prosecuting nearly a dozen white police officers? Relentless organizing to expose the truth of the NOPD to the public made the FBI’s investigation a safe choice.

Legal action, however, has its structural limitations in the “bad apple” theory, where only the most destructive individuals are picked out for indictment. Questions arise about transforming the culture of the NOPD but always blow over until the next murder at the hands of police. From where will the spark come to address the root causes of unequal power accorded police in American society? And the courage to implement and fund alternatives that will make the need for police obsolete? Now that’s the terrain for lifelong relentless organizing that we all must participate in if we are ever to find the beloved community.

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Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment