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August 27th, 2009
03:56 PM ET

After the storm: Are allegations of vigilante killings true?

The roof of the Louisiana Superdome, pictured on August 30, 2005, shows the scars of Hurricane Katrina.
The roof of the Louisiana Superdome, pictured on August 30, 2005, shows the scars of Hurricane Katrina.

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Four years after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, much of the aftermath is still shrouded in mystery. And that is what brought me to New Orleans this week for a story we are bringing you tonight.

In the days after the storm, doctors tell us they saw an inordinately large number of patients who were brought in to hospitals with gunshot wounds. Many of them were dead or ended up dying.

Because of the chaos in the storm’s aftermath, many autopsy records are incomplete or were never done. So officially, it’s not at all clear what was going on.

Well, one man who was shot twice and lived to tell about it has a theory.

An African-American man named Donnel Herrington says he was attacked by three white men who yelled racial epithets at him, with one of them shooting him in the neck and back. Herrington says the gunmen “were hunting black men.”

A journalist named A.C. Thompson, who writes for the investigative non-profit news organization called ProPublica, has been researching this story for about two years. And he writes in an article in “The Nation” magazine that he has found that “there were a series of attacks (in the mostly white) Algiers Point neighborhood, and these attacks were carried out by an organized group of white residents, and that the targets of their attacks, as far as I can tell, were African-American males.”

Indeed, many men in that neighborhood acknowledge setting up what they refer to as a “private militia.” They armed themselves and vowed that any looter or criminal who endangered them would be risking his or her life.

Herrington says he was merely walking to a ferry boat landing to evacuate the area, and there is no reason to doubt that. But residents of Algiers Point acknowledge that shots were fired by members of their militia because they claim there were looters in the area. But did those shots hit anybody?

In a documentary filmed by a Danish production team in the days after Katrina, several residents of Algiers Point say things like this on camera:

“It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it.”

“You had to do what you had to do. If you had to shoot somebody, you shot somebody. It was that simple.”

“We shot ‘em. They were looters.”

My mission on this trip to New Orleans was to find these people who said these things four years ago, and find out what exactly they meant. Were they serious? Was it alcohol talking? Well, we did indeed find them, and got them on camera. What they told us, we will tell you tonight.

Program Note: Four years after Katrina, what is New Orleans like now? Some residents continue to face challenges as the Big Easy keeps trying to rebuild. Take a look at In Depth: After the Storm. And to learn about ways you can make a difference, visit Impact Your World.

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Lacy

    Let me clarify that the man who fell overbored inherited a bacteria that killed him ,and the weapon was the water that he was exposed into,

    August 28, 2009 at 4:08 am |
  2. Lacy

    Anderson,Have you read the book by JAMES LEE BURKE named "TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN"? What a great story and a prolific statement of NO in post Katrina setting.

    August 28, 2009 at 3:50 am |
  3. Lacy

    I heard about a man that went overboard on Galveston Bay last weekend and accidently scraped his knee and died within 24 hrs..Whats up with the water? Could this be a result of Katrina or Ike?

    August 28, 2009 at 3:42 am |
  4. Lacy

    I was so glad to hear about the musicians village on this segment and the rebuilding in this area. However, living in the Houston area we have probably inhereted a few of NO"s here, that's the best part! The problem came weeks later with the threat of Hurricane Rita, and all our safe passage transplants from Katrina to Houston found themselves into to same boat, in a worse way. The icing on top occured last year when Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area!! We are still in recovery here too and a few NO people still are here making music to our ears. Got To Luv Em!!

    August 28, 2009 at 3:02 am |
  5. Maddy

    Disappointed that this story is racially slanted. I would be interested to know the statistics on black on black shootings during the turmoil.

    August 28, 2009 at 2:50 am |
  6. Gus

    Demonizing gun owners again. How about the unsolved murders in New Orleans that aren't being investigated? How about the New Orleans PD abandong those they server and committing crimes?
    Let this one through moderators!

    August 28, 2009 at 1:46 am |
  7. Ann McGee

    BOTH sides were shooting and killing...both sides are wrong too. But do not forget to talk about both sides because the other side was scarey. They would drive up and down the street like Al Quaidi in big pick up truck and AK's...I like the way you say New Orleans....

    August 27, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  8. Jim

    Boy CNN, if your little vigilante story in NO wasn't aimed to kiss more of your beloved african american's ass, I don't know what is. Most of these african americans you cherish so much are the same ones during Katrina that were raping 10 year old little girls (of there own race), the ones looting everything they could get, the ones shooting at National Guards. It does not take a racist to see a black roaming around on their property and not protect themselves. You would have to be an incredible dumb person not to protect yourself, because believe me the blacks are not there to lend a hand – you see that in the recovery effort; I don't see a black face helping to rebuild or helping others. I'm from Louisiana and when I travel the Nation and the random person asks me where I am from, and then asks about the poor people from Katrina – I say do not feel sorry for them; they had a choice to get out. The residents of Algiers are not dumb and the everyday american is not dumb – so when they see a black and all their violent history messing around in their yard, I commend them for protecting themselves. CNN, you should be ashamed how one sided you are on this story and be accountable for the lives you put in jeopardy.

    August 27, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  9. heidi

    I love AC, but please tell me when it became a bad thing to protect your home and family? Why wasn't the looting in the suburbs like non-flooded Algiers Point not mentioned, or the fact that much of the police force was no where to be found?

    August 27, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    Might have been fear and frustration driving them to overly protect their homes. In the aftermath of the storm with the lack of visible enforcement of the laws particularly concerning looters, people fell back unfortunately on deep seated biases and old fashioned Western justice. I'm looking forward to seeing this story – how's the skating down there Gary?

    August 27, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  11. Stephanie, Villanova, PA

    I'm looking forward to finding out more about both sides of the story. Interviews with some of the militia members and others like Herrington would be interesting.

    August 27, 2009 at 8:20 pm |
  12. Mike in NYC

    Moral of the Algiers Point story: you've got to protect your own, both in the best of circumstances and in the worst.

    Considering what went down inside the Superdome, I wouldn't judge them too harshly.

    August 27, 2009 at 8:12 pm |
  13. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    No doubt that after 1/3rd of the NOLA Police Dept. deserted their posts, looters took over. Residents who stayed probably were very trigger happy. Not surprising given the total breakdown of society.

    August 27, 2009 at 7:38 pm |
  14. sharon, sydney, ns

    Wow, I never heard about any of the stuff Gary wrote of. I am looking forward to seeing the story tonight.

    August 27, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  15. Katelyn

    I'm glad that you decided to go back to New Orleans and do the story!

    August 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm |