Estimated reading time: 12 minute(s)
by Jesse Muhammad, Staff Writer
The Final Call Newspaper
(FinalCall.com) – The recent federal investigation into the New Orleans Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division has placed it under great scrutiny with four officers now pleading guilty to assisting with the cover up in the shooting of six civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
The investigations are exposing criminal behavior within the NOPD ranks which is all too familiar to activists, who are organizing to keep the pressure going on the federal government to act swiftly.â€œWe have contacted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder via correspondence to demand that he intervene in this investigation. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the NOPD,â€ Wes Johnson told The Final Call.
On April 28, Robert Barrios became the fourth NOPD officer to plead guilty to participating in the Danziger Bridge cover up. The former officer pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice.
â€œBut it is not only the NOPD that needs change. We need changes immediately in the Coroner’s office, the Sheriff’s Department, and the District Attorney’s office,â€ said Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson is the co-organizer of the newly formed group Community United for Change (CUFC), which includes several organizations, clergymen and activists demanding that the U.S. Department widen its investigations to look into older cases where citizens lost their lives at the hands of NOPD.
At a public hearing on April 22 at St. James African Methodist Church, several victims came out to give recorded testimonies. Terry Simpson talked about how he has suffered from police harassment and false arrest after refusing an officer’s attempt to persuade him to be an informant. The father of Adolph Grimes III spoke about the loss of his son on New Year’s Eve in 2009.
The audience also heard from Dwight Leblanc, who served twelve years in jail for a bogus drug charge; the aunt of Michael Anderson, a young man who was charged with the murder of five teenagers; and Cynthia Parker who believes her son was falsely imprisoned.
All of them pointed out that some of the officers who have pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in the Danziger Bridge shooting were involved in these cases or the cases of their loved ones.
â€œWe wanted New Orleans victims to give their stories and record them for the purpose of presenting these facts to the FBI,â€ Malcolm Suber told The Final Call.
â€œWe have galvanized citizens to step up and speak out. Before, many of them were afraid to give testimonies because they feared retaliation from the NOPD,â€ said Mr. Johnson.
According to Mr. Suber, the coalition is planning a series of public hearings throughout the city over the next several months.
â€œYes, those officers may be pleading guilty in the Danziger Bridge case but they are only pleading guilty to civil rights violations and conspiracy. We want the state to charge them with murder,â€ said Mr. Suber.
The family of inmate Jamil Joyner is also calling for a federal investigation as he faces 20-50 years after being convicted of shooting a NOPD officer post-Katrina despite no evidence linking him to the crime. His mother, Bridgette Khan, is hoping her son gets the lowest possible sentence as his legal team prepares to appeal.
â€œMy son was a prominent entrepreneur and employer in the city. He would not hurt a fly. It can’t end like this. If it takes every dime we have, we’re going to keep fighting,â€ Ms. Khan told The Final Call. She has called on people to submit character witness letters via a dot com in her son’s name.
â€œThe testimonies of those who participated in the hearing show that there is an element within the NOPD that uses their authority to terrorize people instead of helping. Victims of police brutality and those who have lost loved ones because of it deserve justice and CUFC is helping them in their fight to get it,â€ stated Student Minister Willie Muhammad, who also recently led a letter writing campaign that caused the local D.A. Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr. to explain why his office has been relatively silent about the ongoing investigations.
â€œI have agreed to stand down any investigation in the cases involving the Danziger Bridge and Henry Glover while the Federal investigation is ongoing,â€ stated Mr. Cannizzaro in an e-mail response.
(Any victims of NOPD brutality can contact the Community United for Change at call 504-251-2201 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)