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Monday, May 28, 2012

Corruption Comes in All Colors

Black New Orleans police officers help maintain blue wall of silence
The Times Picayune by Jarvis DeBerry  -  May 27, 2012
Sgt. Lesia Mims, a 23-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department, learned soon after it happened that police killed Henry Glover and burned his body the Friday after Hurricane Katrina, but the officer stayed mum almost five years.

"Then I go to my brother, and I say, 'Brother, help me, please.' But he winds up knocking me Back down on my knees." -- Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come." 

The Katrina-era atrocities and cover-ups carried out by the New Orleans Police Department show that black officers had no higher regard for the lives of black civilians than their other colleagues on the force. Black officers were among those who killed unarmed pedestrians and among those who kept mum about the crimes. Black New Orleanians weary of police aggression must wonder if there's anyone on the force to whom they can turn, anyone they can trust not to keep them on their knees.  The police did many horrible things in 2005, but, as far as we know, no black body was treated with more disrespect than Henry Glover's. The Algiers man was wrongfully shot to death the Friday after Katrina by white police officer David Warren. Gregory McRae, another white officer, drove Glover's body to a nearby levee and set fire to it and the car. But according to FBI files obtained by The Times-Picayune, a black woman, Sgt. Lesia Mims, learned of Glover's fate not long after he died. Mims was Warren's supervisor, but she didn't tell the FBI what she knew about the crimes until March 2010. When interviewed she said she "never asked or heard from anyone" about who burned Glover's body. Mims was promoted after Katrina and until last week, she held an investigative position in the department's Public Integrity Bureau. After news of her silence was published Tuesday, police brass reassigned the 23-year veteran officer to desk duty. "This is completely new to us," said Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook, the head of the Public Integrity Bureau. "We had no knowledge of this." By doing nothing to see that Glover's death was properly investigated, Mims behaved no differently than Marlon Defillo, the black man who served as the Police Department's second-in-command between 2005 and 2011. Defillo was provided information about Glover's violent death and the desecration of his body at least as early as June 2008. According to testimony Defillo gave a federal grand jury, he sat on that information for seven months. Defillo resigned July 21, the same day he was to expected to be punished for neglecting his duty. It's a shame. Yesterday's civil rights activists thought it important that black people be hired as police officers. They believed that a black presence in those departments would result in fewer black people being injured or killed by the police. They believed -- it seems now naively -- that black police would show more compassion, more concern. A month before Katrina, Raymond Robair, a black man, was stomped to death by black police officer Melvin Williams. The Friday following the storm, Danny Brumfield, a black man, was shot to death by black police officer Ronald Mitchell outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Robert Faulcon, a black officer convicted in the Danziger Bridge case, got the longest sentence given to an officer for Katrina-related crimes. He was sentenced to 65 years for killing teenager James Brissette and Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man with the mind of a child. So what can we say about yesterday's civil rights leaders? Either they underestimated black people's capacity for self-hatred or they overestimated the power of individuals to change the culture of institutions from within. The blue wall of silence is real. Officers almost never report misdeeds committed by other officers. It appears that black officers don't do any better in that regard. But if they don't, then their usefulness to the black community becomes difficult to determine. I'd never argue against an integrated force, or gainsay racial diversity; but if black officers are going to beat and kill black civilians or look the other way after they're dead, it's not unfair for us to ask: Why exactly are you there? Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at or 504.826.3355.

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