Katrina: Governor Orders Troops to Shoot and Kill Looters
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has ordered the National Guard to “shoot and kill” looters in New Orleans.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco warned rioters and looters in New Orleans on Thursday that National Guard troops are under her orders to “shoot and kill” to end the rampant violence in the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Announcing the arrival of 300 Arkansas National Guard troops in New Orleans fresh from service in Iraq, Blanco said, “these troops are battle-tested. They have M-16s and are locked and loaded.” “These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will,” she said.
Update: The above link is dead. Here’s a similar story at Australia’s ABC.
These are desperate times which, I’m told, call for desperate measures. Having the American military shooting suspected looters on sight, however, is an outrageous precedent from which we may not recover.
Indeed, were I still on active duty, I would refuse this order as illegal. Not only does the use of the military for domestic law enforcement rather clearly violate the posse comitatus law but shooting unarmed civilians violates all the ethics of professional soldiering that I learned. It is ironic, too, that we are treating an American city suffering from the worst natural disaster in memory as a hot fire zone while our soldiers fighting in Iraq are under much, much tighter rules of engagement.
My visceral reaction to the looters and other criminals in the flood zone is the same as most: they’re scum who deserve no compassion. As this story and others make clear, though, it’s not easy to tell the vermin from the merely desperate. I don’t agree with Digby too often and disagree with most of his analysis even on this; but we simply can not devolve into a Third World dictatorship here.
It should be noted, too, that the Constitution is being thrown out the window here. Not only are basic due process rights–being charged with a crime, a trial, an attorney, the right to confront witnesses–being ignored but we’re turning relatively minor crimes into capital ones. Even with benefit of due process, theft is not something for which we execute people. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a judgment call, I suppose, but we’ve got decades of Supreme Court rulings that it’s a violation of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on excessive punishment to execute people for less than murder.
Sadly, though, there are signs that New Orleans has devolved to Third World status:
Melancon said some of those waiting for pickup died of dehydration in the 90-degree heat that has afflicted the region since Tuesday. Despair is also affecting those in New Orleans charged with protecting the city, said State Police Superintendent Col. H.L. Whitehorn. Some New Orleans police officers have resigned rather than face the violence in the city. “It’s my understanding those who have resigned said they have lost everything and it’s not worth being shot at and losing their lives,” Whitehorn said. Whitehorn said he did not know the specific number of police officers who have quit their jobs.
The lack of numbers makes this rather difficult to evaluate. One wonders why the police superintendent wouldn’t know this, although the city police may not be under his authority. It’s sobering, though, that it takes only three or four days of hardship to turn an American city into this. It’s difficult to fathom police officers abandoning their city during the worst crisis it has ever faced and at the worst possible moment in that crisis. Iraqi troops did that when Saddam Hussein was in power but they didn’t exactly have anything worth fighting for. One wouldn’t expect this of Americans trained and sworn to protect their own.
Update: Donald Sensing, a retired Army major and a current Methodist minister, disagrees.
He notes (as do LaShawn Barber and Pajama Hadin) that similar orders were issued under similar circumstances a century ago. Certainly true. Goodness, we used to hang horse thieves, too.
Under riot conditions, shooting armed perpetrators in the midst of violence may be a necessary evil. Shooting unarmed television thieves, though, is hard to justify. And, of course, without benefit of a trial we may wind up shooting people “stealing” their own possessions.
I think James has confused “shoot to kill” with “shoot on sight.” I have not been able to find online the actual text of Gov. Blanco’s orders to the Guard, if indeed she has issued any written orders. Brendan Loy says that the issue is very unclear, and I think he’s right. If she hasn’t been specific in the use of deadly force — what the military calls rules of engagement (ROE)– then she has failed in her duty.
I cannot believe in my heart that any Guard commander would approve ROE in this situation that allows Guardsmen to kill civilians for any circumstances except actual self defense from armed attack — a right that police have always enjoyed — or the protection of lives of others under actual threat. It may be that the Guard and other law enforcement agents will shoot people caught in the commission of crimes if they do not heed warnings, but that remains to be seen.
One hopes sanity will indeed prevail in the form of professional soldiers selectively refusing to obey this order. I agree that soldiers and cops have every right–indeed, a duty– to shoot to defend their own lives or that of innocents. But shooting people who fail to heed a “drop that TV!” order under the color of authority is unconscionable.