Guns & Katrina, Reconsidered

Remember when post-Katrina New Orleans turned into a teaching moment about the importance of using guns to protect yourself?  Over at the VC, David Kopel wrote (on September 5, 2005)

“Given the absence of a sufficient police presence in order to stop the looters, I strongly agree with Glenn Reynolds that such looters should be shot on sight by armed citizens. A citizen’s arrest and detention isn’t possible as a practical matter. Shooting the New Orleans looters is, under present circumstances, an appropriate response to the collapse of civic order, and a first step towards the restoration of that order.”

The necessity of shooting looters was widelydiscussed.  Kerr, Solove, Volokh, Muller and I all dissented.  It’s worthwhile, then, to read this article looking back five years later at what actually happened after the hurricane:

“The narrative of those early, chaotic days — built largely on half-baked anecdote and unfounded rumor — quickly hardened into a kind of ugly consensus: poor blacks and looters were murdering innocents and terrorizing whoever crossed their path in the dark, unprotected city.

“As you look back on it, at the time it was being reported, it looked like the city was under siege,” said Russel L. Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general who led military relief efforts after the storm.

Today, a clearer picture of post-Katrina violence is emerging, and it is an equally ugly one, including white vigilante violence, police killings, official cover-ups and a suffering population far more brutalized than many were willing to believe. Several police officers and a white man accused of racially motivated violence have recently been indicted in various cases, and more incidents are coming to light as the Justice Department has started several investigations into poststorm civil rights violations . . .

“One case is that of a former Algiers resident, Ronald J. Bourgeois Jr., who is white and accused of being part of one of the vigilante groups. He was recently indicted by the federal government on civil rights charges in the shooting of three black men who were trying to leave the city. According to the indictment, Mr. Bourgeois, who now lives in Mississippi, warned one neighbor that “anything coming up this street darker than a brown paper bag is getting shot.””

I don’t mean to blame any of the bloggers (like Glenn Reynolds or David Kopel) who called for looters to be shot on sight.  Obviously, they were writing about the facts as they knew them.  But the retrospective story is a sobering reminder that unleashing private violence – and encouraging armed self-help – doesn’t necessarily lead to the restoration of civic order.  It may, as it turns out, result in biased, erroneous, decision making and awful tragedy.

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4 Responses

  1. Re: “unleashing private violence – and encouraging armed self-help – doesn’t necessarily lead to the restoration of civic order. It may, as it turns out, result in biased, erroneous, decision making and awful tragedy.”

    Indeed, perhaps it’s time to re-visit Hobbes.

  2. Guest says:

    You refrain from blaming Reynolds and that VC fellow on the grounds that “Obviously, they were writing about the facts as they knew them.”

    But just a few sentences before this you quoted: “The narrative of those early, chaotic days — built largely on half-baked anecdote and unfounded rumor — quickly hardened into a kind of ugly consensus”.

    If “they” were writing about the “facts” based on half-baked anecdote and unfounded rumor, then they weren’t writing about facts at all, and should be blamed – blamed for the racism their extraordinary overreactions would seem blatantly to manifest. I would like to suggest that sophisticated law professors and professional bloggers should be held to a pretty high standard of skepticism and fact-checking, and should be roundly censured for jumping on a band-wagon that involves *encouraging people to shoot strangers to death*.

    Sorry, giving you a bit of a hard time, but the point kind of makes itself, doesn’t it?

  3. ParatrooperJJ says:

    Shooting looters has been an accepted and necessary part of US common law and continues to be an effective response to looting in a natural disaster or uprising.

  4. ParatrooperJJ,

    Yet again you’ve failed to take your reality medication: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-solnit-katrina-looting-20100829,0,7411362.story

    A prescription is ineffective if you ignore or forget it.