When the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center deteriorated into anarchy and food and water ran short, many who tried to escape the flooded streets found their paths blocked. Gretna, La., police fired shots over the heads of evacuees as bullhorns blared for them to go back to New Orleans, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune, citing several similar examples.
The confrontations occurred largely along racial lines: African-American residents of poor sections of New Orleans facing off against majority white law enforcement agencies. Elected law enforcement officials remain unapologetic over their response and say they would take the same steps if the city flooded again. “If you are in your house and they’re rioting all around to get in, are you going to let them in?” asked Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson. “We saved our city and protected our people. Our plan worked and we’re going to stick with our plan. Next hurricane, we’re going to secure our city the same way.” Lawson said evacuees “actually would have been better off where they were, because we didn’t have anything for them.” New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas accused Lawson of “trying to make white folks in Gretna think he’s protecting them from all those poor black people from New Orleans.” Westwego, La., Chief Dwayne “Poncho” Munch said at one point a call came over the police radio warning of “400 to 500 looters” coming toward his city. The marauding army never arrived, and most looting turned out to be homegrown.