I've been thinking through some things the last few days related to this discussion and the pursuit of justice for victims of unrepentant vigilantism during Hurricane Katrina.
After I suggested that some instances of abuse of power might be more easily prosecutable than others and wondered aloud whether or not some sort of truth commission deal might be appropriate for some of the cases, an anonymous commenter points out:
So the family of Emmett Everett, the black man killed by Doctors at Memorial hospital, only deserves an apology while the white cop who torched a black man deserves prison? The family of the black woman who died at the convention center because homeland security blocked ambulances deserves an apology while the police at Danzinger deserve jail?
This is moral relativism at its worse. If you killed someone under the color of law or in an official capacity as a medical care provider, you should pay the price.
We developed the Nurenberg acccords and International Court precisely to prevent people from using "special circumstances" as an excuse for murderous behavior.
Every human has an individual conscience and the history of human progress our of the ranks of primitive primates has been to get them to use it when mob mentality takes hold.
But earlier in the thread, the same (I think) Anonymous commenter points out:
Trust me, if these ever go to jury no white juror is going to hold the white defendants accountable. In their minds, blacks went wild and they share a collective guilt for the actions of a few, so the innocent ones deserve no sympathy.
So I guess I'm still not sure exactly what it is you do here.
If we have a moral standard for what justice should be in this case - i.e. appropriate criminal penalties for those that committed crimes during Katrina - but no practical means of enforcing the standard, how do you move forward?
Anon is right both about the plank you walk off when discussing moral relativism and about the low likelihood that a local jury would ever convict a DHS bureaucrat that blocked ambulances from the Convention Center or the Doctors at Memorial.
That's why I'm having a hard time resolving this.
Let's take the Memorial case.
I would applaud a criminal case being brought against Anna Pou. I think it is pretty damn clear that she killed Mr. Everett when he could have very easily made it through the evacuation.
But I highly doubt she'd be convicted. The trial would be highly polarizing, perhaps more so than the other cases, since I think people are naturally inclined to be sympathetic toward a medical professional and because of Ms. Pou's public exoneration tour.
So what kind of justice would be handed down from that kind of circus?
I'm curious to engage in a frank discussion about this. I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of my readers are in agreement that these cases should be pursued. But I wonder to what extent impediments to justice exist and whether those impediments limit the ability of our traditional system to actually deliver. Are there practicalities to consider?
I'm at least comforted by the knowledge the Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States. The administration is serious about empowering the Civil Rights Division to do what it is supposed to do. It's not a coincidence that the feds are now actively investigating some of these post Katrina horror stories to see what they might be able to successfully prosecute.
I am hoping Holder will utilize the powers established under the Clinton administration for the Civil Rights Division to take over police departments characterized by rampant civil rights violations. Forces with a "pattern or practice" of civil rights abuse can be effectively taken over using consent decrees. Cities are threatened with civil rights lawsuits unless they agree to a federal police monitor to implement sweeping reforms. Holder came to oversee the Civil Rights Division as Deputy Attorney General just as it began pursuing consent decrees against police departments in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
New Orleans was once a candidate for a consent decree from the Department of Justice. This outside pressure played a role in Marc Morial's decision to hire Richard Pennington, who presided over a pretty damn successful reform of the NOPD. Some background here.
This is something that people should pressure our Mayoral candidates about. Would they sign a consent decree to bring in federal oversight of the NOPD or not and why?