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“If it Moved, You Shot it”White Vigilante Violence After Katrina by A.C. THOMPSON From The Nation. Reporting supported by the Nation InstituteInvestigative Fund,ProPublica. New America Media and the Center for Investigative Reporting. The winner of the MOLLY National Journalism Prize of 2010 is A.C. Thompson, now a staff reporter at ProPublica, a national nonprofit newsroom that focuses on investigative reporting. Before joining ProPublica, Thompson was an investigative reporter for various San Francisco-area papers. Before becoming a journalist, Thompson worked in juvenile detention facilities, an experience that prompted him to focus his reporting on the criminal justice system, poverty and human rights. Thompson’s winning story, published in The Nation, exposed the tragic truth behind one of the most insidious rumors spread in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: that gangs of armed black men were pillaging the remains of New Orleans. The rumor hampered aid efforts and terrified residents. It encouraged and hid the reality uncovered by Thompson: Groups of armed white men were attackingand possibly killingblack victims of the storm. This story helped spur a federal investigation into the events. A companion piece, about the death of Henry Glover, led to indictments against five people, all current or former police officers. Here’s an excerpt from Thompson’s report; the full winning stories can be found at . EXCERPT THE WAY DONNELL HERRINGTON TELLS IT, THERE WAS NO warning. One second he was trudging through the heat. The next he was lying prostrate on the pavement, his life spilling out of a hole in his throat, his body racked with pain, his vision blurred and distorted. It was Sept. 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African American, with a shotgun. “I just hit the ground. I didn’t even know what happened,” recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl. The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington’s companionshis cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. “I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck,” Alexander recalls. “I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again.” Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander’s back, arm and buttocks. Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn’t even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, Herrington says, the gunmen yelled, “Get him! Get that nigger!” The attack occurred in Algiers Point. The Point, as locals call it, is a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a small cluster of ornate, immaculately maintained 150-year-old houses within the larger Algiers district. A nationally recognized historic area, Algiers Point is largely white, while the rest of Algiers is predominantly black. It’s a “white enclave” whose residents have “a kind of siege mentality,” says Tulane University historian Lance Hill, noting that some white New Orleanians “think of themselves as an oppressed minority.” A wide street lined with towering trees, Opelousas Avenue marks the dividing line between Algiers Point and greater Algiers, and the difference in wealth between the two areas is immediately noticeable. “On one side of Opelousas it’s ‘hood, on the other side it’s suburbs,” says one local. “The two sides are totally opposite, like muddy and clean.” Algiers Point has always been somewhat isolated: It’s perched on the west bank of the Mississippi River, linked to the core of the city only by a ferry line and twin gray steel bridges. When the hurricane descended on Louisiana, Algiers Point got off relatively easy. While wide swaths of New Orleans were deluged, the levees ringing Algiers Point withstood the Mississippi’s surging currents, preventing flooding; most homes and businesses in the area survived intact. As word spread that the area was dry, desperate people began heading toward the west bank, some walking over bridges, others traveling by boat. The National Guard soon designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site. Rescuers from the Coast Guard and other agencies brought flood victims to the ferry terminal, where soldiers loaded them onto buses headed for Texas. Facing an influx of refugees, the residents of Algiers Point could have pulled together food, water and medical supplies for the flood victims. Instead, a group of white residents, convinced that crime would arrive with the human exodus, sought to seal off the area, blocking the roads in and out of the neighborhood by dragging lumber and downed trees into the streets. They stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs. The newly formed militia, a loose band of about 15 to 30 residents, most of them men, all of them white, was looking for thieves, outlaws or, as one member put it, anyone who simply “didn’t belong.” The existence of this little army isn’t a secretin 2005, a few newspaper reporters wrote up the group’s activities in glowing terms in articles that showed up on an array of pro-gun blogs; one Cox News story called 9 READ the complete winning -1 entries at PHOTO BY LARS KLOVE 9 READ the blogs praising the -1 militias at READ the Cox News story about the Algiers militia at After Katrina, a white militia in New Orleans stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs, looking for anyone who simply “didn’t belong.” JUNE 25, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29