- Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina
In the last few years studies by African Americans examining police service have become an integral part of the historical narrative. Marvin Delaney, Dwight Watson, and now Leonard Moore all address African Americans in institutional studies of policing. Moore’s Black Rage in New Orleans is an important work on blacks and police brutality. His work argues that police brutality in New Orleans fueled African American activism in the city post WWII. The strength of Moore’s work is his analysis of the growth of African Americans’ activism and their reaction to the police impropriety in New Orleans.
Historically, New Orleans was a city full of racial anomalies in which the police viewed all nonwhites as suspect agents and used brutality and repressive measures to control the community. Moore shows that New Orleans had no blacks on the police force prior to World War II. Following World War II, African American activism led to lawsuits challenging institutional inequities in the city. The presence of blacks on the police force was due to the Carlton Pecot lawsuit filed in 1949 by A. P Tureaud. The case forced Mayor Morrison to discuss the issue of black police applicants, largely due to Morrison’s hope of reelection with the help of the black vote.
Police training embraced brutality as an accepted, expected, and relied upon tactic by police to ensure hegemonic control of minority communities. Moore documents that the scandal and corruption-plagued NOPD relied on violence rather than negotiation and respect when it came to the city’s African American community. The first black police officer was hired in 1950 with the expressed purpose of policing the black community. In 1960 Police Chief Joseph Giarousso attempted to provide protection for black students entering white schools, but NOPD was unable to stop hundreds of white teenagers from rioting in the central business district of New Orleans in retaliation for school integration. Instead of looking for whites NOPD increased its presence in the black community. Also in 1960 New Orleans police committed a series of homicides against black citizens, fostering mistrust and protests. The Internal Affairs Division of NOPD, rather than investigating police brutality complaints, pushed for charging defendants who reported police abuses with various charges, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The NOPD also employed increased surveillance, infiltration, and extreme measures to control suspected black radicals. Their tactics led to the infamous January 7, 1973, Howard Johnson’s sniper shootings by Mark Essex. The governor of Louisiana and the NOPD chief called the shooting “a black nationalist conspiracy to kill white police.” In reality blacks were responding to the Police Department’s aggressive policing techniques within their communities. Here Moore succeeds [End Page 100] in clearly articulating the level and degree of violence in New Orleans following the shooting of the black power activist and how activist politics in the city were emboldened by the police action rather than stymied by it. The crowning jewel of collective community activism was the Office of Municipal Investigations established in 1981 after the Algiers Motel incident and police shootings. Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial appointed Warren Woodfork as the first African American to head the New Orleans Police Department. Police violence, then, became a galvanizing force for the unification of the black community.
Moore successfully creates a narrative based on primary source research and extensive newspaper archives that highlights how police brutality, and black rage, black activism, and demand for institutional services changed the Crescent City in the last half of the twentieth century.