When the New Orleans Police and Louisiana National Guard disarmed New Orleans citizens at the point of a gun (or a hundred), the news of the event reverberated throughout America’s firearm fraternity like the original “shot heard ’round the world.” The law enforcement action stoked the fires of those who’d long been warning of the threat of official gun confiscation—from mainstream NRA members to extremist militias. The scenes also added fuel to the pyre for restrictive gun control laws. In retrospect, disarming post-Katrina citizens was an enormous strategic blunder by bone-headed bureaucrats drunk with power and bereft of respect for the Constitution. On the other hand, ProPubica reports that New Orleans was home to a band of shotgun-wielding racist vigilantes with a shoot-to-kill mentality.
The floodwaters that spilled over much of New Orleans didn’t touch Algiers Point.
Still, the catastrophe prompted the neighborhood’s residents – most of whom are white — to take action. Within days, a band of 15 to 30 locals had taken up weapons, barricaded the streets with downed trees and debris, and begun regular patrols of the area. Residents say they were trying to keep their homes from being overrun by thieves and outlaws.
“There’s no black and white issue here,” said Clyde Price III, a white man who lived next door to Bourgeois for many years.
But others, including Malik Rahim, the co-founder of the activist group Common Ground Relief, who was in Algiers Point in the days after the storm, believe the neighborhood militia carried out a series of hate crimes, threatening and shooting black people who walked into the area.
That’s right: “and shooting.” I know the following excerpt stretches the boundaries of fair use. But every gun owner who felt the long arm of the law on his or her shoulder after the New Orleans gun confiscation “scandal” should read this passage, regardless of their take on their right to personal protection.
As Terri Benjamin and her aunt, Eudith Rodney, walked along Pelican Avenue that day, the reverberating boom of gunfire echoed through the thick, humid air.
Fearful, the women began running toward the safety of Benjamin’s home. As they neared Vallette Street, they encountered a group of armed white men, Benjamin said in an interview.
Among the men, Benjamin recalled, was Roland Bourgeois Jr., who lived just two doors down on Vallette Street. Bourgeois was gripping a shotgun and celebrating.
“My neighbor was jumping up and down, hootin’ and hollerin’ like he was big-game hunting and he got the big one,” she said. “All of his friends were rallying him on, and they were cheering.”
A beefy character with a shaved head, Bourgeois screamed “I got one!” and boasted that he’d shot a “looter,” said Benjamin, who shared her story with a federal grand jury on March 25.
Before long, she said, another armed man — someone Benjamin didn’t recognize — showed up with news: The person Bourgeois had shot was wounded but alive a few blocks away.
According to Benjamin, Bourgeois said, “I’m gonna kill that nigger,” and ran, barefoot and shirtless, down the street before turning and jogging out of view.
Benjamin heard another gunshot.
Bourgeois ran back to join the group of gun-equipped men standing in the street, she said. “He came back with a baseball cap that had blood on it. And I knew there was blood on the cap because it ran onto his arm. And he brandished the cap for all of his friends,” Benjamin said. “Everybody cheered. They were happy for him.”
Rights. Responsibilities. Connect the dots. Should the New Orleans Police and National Guard have disarmed the ironically named Mr. Bourgeois? And if so, how could they tell which armed homeowners were on the right side of the moral divide, and which were looking to swan dive into the dark side? So why not disarm them all and stop the slaughter?
Now you could argue that the victim, Donnell Herrington, should have been armed himself. And then recoil at the idea of a race war on the streets of New Orleans. Any way you look at it, when society breaks down, everyone suffers. Some more than others.