Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-up in the Wake of Katrina
Named one of the top books of 2015 by NewsOne Now, and named one of the best books of August 2015 by Apple
Winner of the 2015 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award
A harrowing story of blue on black violence, of black lives that seemingly did not matter.
On September 4, 2005, six days after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans, two groups of people intersected on the Danziger Bridge, a low-rising expanse over the Industrial Canal. One was the police who had stayed behind as Katrina roared near, desperate to maintain control as their city spun into chaos. The other was the residents forced to stay behind with them during the storm and, on that fateful Sunday, searching for the basics of survival: food, medicine, security. They collided that morning in a frenzy of gunfire.
When the shooting stopped, a gentle forty-year-old man with the mind of a child lay slumped on the ground, seven bullet wounds in his back, his white shirt turned red. A seventeen-year-old was riddled with gunfire from his heel to his head. A mother’s arm was blown off; her daughter’s stomach gouged by a bullet. Her husband’s head was pierced by shrapnel. Her nephew was shot in the neck, jaw, stomach, and hand. Like all the other victims, he was black—and unarmed.
Before the blood had dried on the pavement, the shooters, each a member of the New Orleans Police Department, and their supervisors hatched a cover-up. They planted a gun, invented witnesses, and charged two of their victims with attempted murder. At the NOPD, they were hailed as heroes.
Shots on the Bridge explores one of the most dramatic cases of police violence seen in our country in the last decade—the massacre of innocent people, carried out by members of the NOPD, in the brutal, disorderly days following Hurricane Katrina. It reveals the fear that gripped the police of a city slid into anarchy, the circumstances that drove desperate survivors to the bridge, and the horror that erupted when the police opened fire. It carefully unearths the cover-up that nearly buried the truth. And finally, it traces the legal maze that, a decade later, leaves the victims and their loved ones still searching for justice.
This is the story of how the people meant to protect and serve citizens can do violence, hide their tracks, and work the legal system as the nation awaits justice.
From the Hardcover edition.
would deny leaning over the railing and spraying gunfire at innocents. Those images, he said, took place solely in Hunter’s mind. Racing to the bridge after the 108 call, Hunter had felt his insides fill with fury, stunned that, once more, police appeared under attack. That mix of fear and rage engulfed the Budget truck, coursing through officers black (Faulcon, Villavaso, Barrios, and Hills) and white (Hunter, Bowen, and Gisevius). In the months to follow, the focus would be on these seven, not
Jordan, with a deliberate agenda to hurt police. “In the meantime, I want to assure everyone, that the Police Association of New Orleans is fully dedicated to the complete support of these officers and their families,” Glasser wrote. “PANO and FOP are completely unified in their support efforts, both legally and financially.” Signal 26, an online message board for city police, was soon filled with criticism of the district attorney and an unqualified support for the officers. “Jordan has
fifty-four-page report by claiming the gun was Madison’s. All the defendants conspired to violate the civil rights of Jose Holmes by falsely prosecuting him, and Bowen, Gisevius, Kaufman, and Dugue committed the same crime against Lance Madison. Bowen made up a series of misleading statements to obscure what had really happened, falsely claiming the Bartholomew family fired guns at the officers and that “after the shooting, he saw two guns on a walkway near the dead and injured civilians; that
remained elusive. After Warren’s acquittal, the family left federal court arm in arm, praying that the state would pick up the case that faltered in federal court, praying that someone would pay for Henry Glover’s death. Their quest could be seen as a metaphor for the larger bid to reform the NOPD. Even with hard evidence of crimes, justice always appeared out of reach. In Glover’s case, an unarmed black man had been shot in the back by a white police officer, another white officer set a car
now as president of the National Urban League, were insightful. I had earlier obtained Morial’s letter to the Congressional Black Caucus written on February 20, 2007, urging action and obtained similar letters written in early 2007 by sources ranging from the National Dental Association to a group called Safe Streets/Strong Communities. Assessing the police department’s history of abuses, I contacted Rafael Goyeneche III, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Commission, located in New