A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL:
This month, Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an apology to the families of James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Henry Glover and Raymond Robair—all four Black men killed by NOPD officers—Madison, Brissette and Glover in the days after Hurricane Katrina in two separate, horrible incidents events that left a stain on the city, and Robair about a month before Katrina.
The apology was coupled with the announcement of about $13.3 million in wrongful death settlements to the families of those men.
We were moved by the mayor’s words, a true display of leadership. His apology on behalf of the city can help lead to healing, we believe. And we certainly think the families of those slain men deserve the apology and the renumeration that has been allotted to them through these settlements. In fact, they deserve that and then some.
We also know that none of this brings their loved ones back. We are mothers here. And as such we know that the mothers of those men would trade every dollar in those settlements for their sons.
We know better still that apologies and lawsuit settlements are not the same thing as justice. As citizens of this land, we have been waiting for that last line in the pledge of allegiance to actually manifest since the day it was written. But all too often real substantive justice is the one thing that eludes our community.
We’re tired of that. Forget more training and sensitivity workshops. Scrap the racial reconciliation and healing. Can we just get some justice?
These stories and others like them are the incidents behind the cry “Black lives matter.” And they are nothing new. They are the modern-day lynchings. And like lynchings, the Civil Rights-era bombings and the post-Reconstruction reign of terror designed to quell Black political and economic empowerment, far too many of these modern-day incidents never result in any real justice.
In fact, we have come to expect that. That does not mean, however, that we have to accept it.
Another Case of the Elusive Justice
Jefferson Parish, the not-so-sleepy suburb just across the Mississippi River, recently garnered the national spotlight earlier this month when the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, under the leadership of Sheriff Newell Normand made some questionable decisions early in its investigation of the death of former NFL player and local prep standout Joe McKnight.
In case you have been hiding under a rock for the last several weeks, here is the Cliff Notes version of the incident and ensuing events.
McKnight, who happened to be Black, was gunned down in Terrytown by motorist Ronald Gasser, who happens to be White, following what was believed to be a road rage incident. Gasser never left the scene. He admitted to shooting McKnight.
And why shouldn’t he feel emboldened enough to do just that. By now he knows the routine. As a White man who has killed a Black man, he only needs to claim he feared for his life and was standing his ground to get away with murder. Just ask George Zimmerman.
To the best of our knowledge and based on everything we have read and heard, McKnight never brandished a gun nor suggested that he had a gun during his confrontation with Gasser, though Normand has said one was in the vehicle.
One of the first things that struck us here at The New Orleans Tribune was local news footage of Gasser shortly after the incident with officers clearly on the scene. Gasser is seen sitting on the ground outside the rear driver’s side of a blue sedan, with his hands behind his back. Maybe he is handcuffed. Maybe he isn’t. It is impossible to tell from the photo. Gasser’s sunglasses shield his eyes. His cellphone is on his hip. He is not in the back of a squad car. He does not even appear to be under arrest. He looks way too unbothered and comfortable for a man who had just taken another’s life for our taste—as if he hasn’t a care in the world. In ways, that photo reminded some of us of those old, sepia-toned and black and white pictures of White men posing proudly around the dangling body of a lynching victim.
We would later learn that while Gasser may have been detained, he was not arrested or charged with any crime that day. In fact, he was sent home the same evening. Reportedly, there were even police units sent to sit outside Gasser’s home, ostensibly to protect the uncharged killer from would-be vigilantes disturbed and disappointed by what rightfully appeared to be another case of a White perpetrator-Black victim and egregious injustice.
Gasser was not arrested and charged in the shooting death of McKnight until five days after the incident. The charge—manslaughter. And we hate to think this way, but if Gasser had killed any other random Black man as opposed to a beloved former John Curtis standout and NFL player, we are doubtful that the manslaughter charge would have even happened.
Just ask the families of Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, Trayvon Martin and little Tamir Rice and Walter Scott. It’s hell out here trying to get justice for the average Black man or boy. Let’s face it, if Philando Castile had not been, by all accounts, a beloved and unblemished school system employee nearly up for sainthood his murderer would probably not have been charged with manslaughter either.
About Newell Normand
According to media reports, Sheriff Newell Normand has said that Gasser was not charged with killing McKnight before the following week because that night there was not enough evidence to do so. The investigation was ongoing, and Gasser’s statement was all that officers had to go on at the time.
Let us digress here for a while; we will return to Gasser’s killing of McKnight and the larger issues facing our communities in just a moment. But since this is our first print edition since the McKnight killing, we must reflect on Newell Normand for a brief moment. The only thing more sickening than the road rage incident, tinged by race, resulting in a man’s murder was Sheriff Normand’s response to criticism by residents and activists upset by his department’s failure to immediately arrest Gasser.
Normand, who has on more than one occasion, demonstrated his inability to display decorum and professionalism especially when he is grandstanding for the cameras, decided to rip into members of the public who dared question his office’s decision to not arrest Gasser after the killing. He thought, perhaps, that he would gain a position of moral high ground by reading aloud some of the tweets and online posts lambasting his leadership. What resulted was an irresponsible rant filled with repeated racial slurs and vulgar language that made Newell look like an out-of-control despot instead of a judicious law enforcement officer.
And much like Gasser, the sheriff seemed unaffected. Even worse, he appeared to lack any sense of evenhandedness and integrity. In fact, when it came to those that questioned why JPSO took so long to arrest Gasser, Normand declared, “Tough, I don’t care. Because what I know is that I can put my head on a pillow every night knowing we’ve done the right thing for the right reason.”
That sounds clever, Newell, but your job is to unconditionally uphold the law in the pursuit of justice without regard or respect of person—not to search for valid reasons to do so. And the people’s demand for justice should never be met by indignation and frustration. There was more than enough probable cause to arrest Gasser that day. Instead of rising to the occasion, Normand sunk to his depths.
The way Newell Normand behaved in the hours and days after the shooting ought to have every Jefferson Parish resident with a conscience. . . or at least a measure of good sense calling for the sheriff’s resignation or planning his democratic ouster. He should have arrested Gasser that day. By Gasser’s on admission, he shot and killed a man. And yes, like many others angered by how this scene has played out, we contend that if the roles were reversed and McKnight were the shooter while Gasser lay dead, the Black man would have been arrested before he could say “stand your grou…”
Getting Away With Murder
Like others, we were upset by the turn of events. But we were hardly surprised. We have heard and seen one too many stories of White folk being treated preferentially after they have taken the life of some Black person. It wasn’t so long ago in the nation’s history that some White communities gathered to enjoy lynchings of Black bodies as if it were a show. The lynching of a Black man or woman was sport. And the lynchers had no fear they would be held accountable for their crimes. They took pictures; they even sent postcards with images of the lynchings.
If you think we’re offbase with the lynching comparison, consider that in 1915, 56 Black people were lynched in America, according to the Tuskegee University Archives. In 2015, 100 years later, 258 Black men and women were killed by police, according to statistics compiled by The Washington Post.
It’s no small wonder we have become almost conditioned to not expect justice. Today, a White perpetrator responsible for taking the life of a Black man or women only needs to claim they were protecting themselves, that they were afraid for their life, that the Black person was combative or that they reached for something in order to justify their actions and keep justice at bay.
Like Ronald Gasser, they can declare they did it and sit on the ground without being placed under arrest as police walk and move around them. Like Gasser, they even get to go home afterwards.
To be sure, the lady in the blind fold has always been peaking.
Don’t believe us? Consider that:
• The lone Black snipers that opened fire on police in both Dallas and Baton Rouge earlier in the year did not live to have their days in court. We knew they would not, like Mark Essex and Christopher Donner before them. It takes law enforcement officials in both Jefferson Parish and Cleveland, Ohio days to even arrest and/or charge the White men who killed Black victims in road rage incidents in those jurisdictions. Days.
• Dylan Roof guns down nine Black church goers as they prepared for Bible Study, and South Carolina police officers treat him to a flame-broiled Whopper before taking him to jail. On the other hand, Jermaine Neveaux, 19, is “taken into custody” after allegedly shooting and killing JPSO Officer David Michel Jr., whose reason for stopping the Black teen as he walked down a public street is as of yet unclear, and he gets treated to a beating that leaves him with a fractured eye socket, spinal cord contusions, cuts and bruises to his face, along with likely internal injuries to his brain, facial bones, abdomen and pelvis.
• Sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder, who is Black, spent three years in Riker’s for allegedly stealing a backpack, without benefit of a trial, let alone a conviction. A White Stanford student, Brock Turner, gets six months in a county jail for sexual assault because some judge is afraid prison may be too hard for the Ivy League rapist.
• George Zimmerman kills a young Black boy after stalking and harassing him as the child tried to return to his father’s house and he gets acquitted. Marissa Alexander can’t even fire a warning shot in her own garage to keep her abusive husband away from her without getting 20 years.
Yes, it seems like White folk are getting away with almost everything—even murder. While so many Black folk can’t even get by. A measure of justice would be nice. And to hear Newell Normand yak about needing more time to investigate the shooting death of a man before making an arrest when you have a suspect admitting to be shooter is unconscionable. No, it’s laughable. No, it’s a pathetically preposterous excuse for not doing one’s job.
While much attention has been paid lately to the number of Black men and women killed at the hands of law enforcement in recent years—often without the benefit of justice to soften the body blow family and friends experience, there has been another equally disconcerting trend.
According to national crime figures from the FBI, interracial homicide has climbed to its highest levels last year since the election of President Barack Obama almost eight years ago, even as the proportion of purported Black-on-Black killings dropped.
So for all those anti-Black Lives Matter crusaders repeating the “but what about Black-on-Black crime” rhetoric, the fact is that Black-on-Black killing and all intra-racial crime, has dipped while the opposite is true for interracial killing.
The number of Black people killed by Whites surged nearly a 25 percent in 2015 from 2014, while the number of Whites killed by Blacks rose 12 percent. Together, interracial killings increased about 13 percent from 2014, according to FBI statistics.
We don’t know if it is the Trump factor or the anti-Obama sentiment that has fueled this uptick in interracial murder, though some have speculated. What we do know is that we have long grown tired of the double standards, the double talk and the double dealings. There’s no place in the justice system for that.
Of course, just because a killing is interracial does not mean it is racial. The reality is that we have no way of knowing whether Gasser’s killing of McKnight was fueled by race. What we do know is that just about everything that has occurred since the shooting has been steeped in the systemic racism that has ruined our criminal justice system—JPSO’s failure to immediately arrest an admitted White shooter for the murder of an unarmed Black man, Newell Norman’s irate and irrational response to criticism from the Black community and even his intimation that McKnight may have done something to cause his own death as if there were any rhyme or reason to Gasser’s actions.
Right now, Ronald Gasser is being held in a Jefferson Parish jail on manslaughter charges in lieu of a $500,000 bond. He belongs there . . . for so much more than that.
He is rallying lawyers and petitioning for a bond reduction. While he is charged with manslaughter, the fact is that he intentionally picked up a gun and killed a man—a Black man. And we have no doubt he thinks he can get away with it.