Associated Press investigative journalist Greene (Night Fire: Big Oil, Poison Air, and Margie Richard's Fight to Save Her Town, 2009) examines the shockingly overlooked case of police brutality that left six unarmed citizens shot during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The city of New Orleans was drastically unprepared for the devastation of Katrina. The after-action report concluded as much, but it also exposed the environment that police, woefully understaffed and undersupplied, had to deal with in the wake of the hurricane. Exhausted from trying to maintain order and quell looting, some officers, the report documented, “who should have been decommissioned and sent for counseling were given rifles instead.” This was the situation when, as Greene describes it, officers responded to a 108 call, meaning officer’s life in danger, at Danziger Bridge. When they arrived in an unmarked rental truck, they found members of the Bartholomew family, along with friend James Brissette and brothers Lance and Ronald Madison, walking across the bridge. Without warning, the police opened fire, killing Ronald Madison and Brissette and wounding four others. However, there was no threat at the bridge; the distress call was phony. The details of the ensuing coverup—planting a gun, inventing witnesses, and conspiring to prosecute Lance Madison for attempted murder—are almost too audacious to believe, but they are further evidence of a long history of corruption in the New Orleans Police Department. Greene expertly constructs the narrative of events during the shooting and through the federal trial of the officers involved, who received sentences of up to 65 years. However, in an unprecedented decision in what the judge called “a legal odyssey unlike any other,” the ruling was overturned based on comments posted online during the case—leaving the families of this tragic event without closure.
A poignant and skillful examination of a case that adds to the ongoing public debate about corrupt police practices, the militarization of local law enforcement, and convoluted legal decisions.