A Conversation with A.C. Thompson

A journalist talks about white paranoia and why Mayor C. Ray Nagin is partly to blame for vigilante justice during Katrina.


Thompson: This is what I can tell you: The white residents of Algiers Point and the white vigilantes I interviewed, they said to me repeatedly that the police, one, did not enforce the curfew against them. They were able to move about the city; however, they wanted to at any hour with no interference from the police. Two, multiple vigilantes and residents told me that the police tacitly sanctioned their behavior—that the police gave them the green light to shoot people who they believed to be criminals and posing a threat to them. That’s what I was told. Now, if you ask NOPD—well, to me they said nothing, they refused to comment on that—but I think their position would be: No way that anything like that happened. But it was something that I kept hearing from white folks who said that those were their experiences with the police. So it makes you wonder.

Wright: This is another story that makes it hard to imagine New Orleans as a society that can move forward. At the end of the piece, one shooting victim says he’s galled at the impunity these guys have. I almost envision this spiraling, racial violence. Do you see this spiraling forward?

Thompson: This story has been buried in New Orleans and elsewhere, as well. In a lot of ways, this is not something that people think about or talk about, it’s kind of a chapter that has been stowed in the Katrina time period, and people want to forget about it. That’s both black folks and white folks who I spoke to. A lot of them take Katrina and the time period immediately afterward and they say, “That’s something I don’t want to think about any more.” The problem is Katrina keeps coming into the present. Especially for a guy like Donnell Harrington, who was shot and almost killed and his life has never been the same sense.

Kai Wright is a regular contributor to The Root.