A week after Gretna, La., became a symbol of callousness for using armed officers to seal one of the last escape routes from New Orleans – trapping thousands of mostly evacuees in the flooded city – the Gretna City Council passed a resolution supporting the police chief’s move, reports the Los Angeles Times. “This wasn’t just one man’s decision,” Mayor Ronnie C. Harris said Thursday. “The whole community backs it.” Three days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Gretna officers blocked the Mississippi River bridge that connects their city to New Orleans, exacerbating the sometimes troubled relationship with their neighbor. The blockade remained in place into the Labor Day weekend.
Gretna (pop. 17,500) is two-thirds white, and it warily eyes its neighbor, a two-thirds black city (pop. about 500,000) that is also a perennial contender for the murder capital of the U.S. Itself deprived of power, water and food for days after Katrina struck Aug. 29, Gretna suddenly became the destination for thousands of people fleeing New Orleans. The smaller town bused more than 5,000 of the newcomers to an impromptu food distribution center miles away. After someone set the local mall on fire Aug. 31, Gretna Police Chief Arthur S. Lawson Jr. proposed the blockade. Armed Gretna police, helped by local sheriff’s deputies and bridge police, turned hundreds of men, women and children back to New Orleans. Gretna was not alone. Authorities in St. Bernard Parish, to the east, stacked cars to seal roads from the Crescent City.