There is widespread difference in how the
tragic events of last Thursday, February 20, 2003, are being seen. Being
white and having been at the police station when what was left of the
Special Response Team arrived, my perception is that white and black
police officers were ambushed by an angry drug dealer, who simply happened
to be black. That is not how the tragedy is viewed, by and large, in the
black community. (There are exceptions.) Many people there see certain
police officers as having set up this young man. The widespread rumor is
that he was double-crossed by a crooked narcotics officer, whom he had
planned to kill the day before when he fired at the wrong officer. For
some people in both communities, this shoot-out segues into the pain and
rage of their own individual experiences, many of which have no direct
connection with either local government or even, necessarily, with people
of other races.
Peopleís perception of truth, not the reality itself, is that with which
we must deal. A city that can afford new golf courses but not pay raises
for its police force is a city in difficulty. The overwhelming perception
in the African-American community is that Alexandria is a city where rich
white folks get most of the benefits from the public trough, while black
folks get the left-overs. Thatís the perception, but perception is the
thing with which we have to deal.
People in both the white and black communities are very critical of the
chief of police, Tommy Cicardo. I am not. Our chief has not caused
these problems. The racism of Alexandria is systemic and goes back
for many generations; it is found in both the white and the black
communities. I have heard whites assert that the chief is
incompetent and that what happened could have been prevented. Those people
need to stop and consider what happened. First of all, the United States
is a constitutionally limited republic, ruled not by pragmatic need, but
the law. The Fourth Amendment of The Constitution of the United States
The right of the people to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or
things to be seized.
That means that unlike Stalin and Hitlerís
secret police, American law enforcement personnel have to put themselves
in harmís way very often. They cannot act on a hunch, fire tear gas into
our homes and break in with guns blazing; they have to follow the rule of
Here are the facts as I have been given to understand them:
1. Someone tipped off the police that the person who shot up a police car
the day before was in a particular residence. The officers obtained a
warrant and went to that house on Thursday afternoon. Taking into
consideration what had happened the day before, the officers who went to
carry out the warrant were part of the Special Response Team, and they had
plenty of back up from the SRT waiting on the street.
2. The young man was waiting to ambush the officers. He had a weapon that
had been illegally and professionally modified to be fully automatic.
People with enough money can buy weapons like this anywhere in the world
in spite of restrictive gun laws. He had many rounds of ammunition,
illegal cartridges designed to penetrate through protective gear.
3. When he saw the two officers on the porch, he simply opened fire
without warning, instantly killing one and wounding the other. He kept up
his rain of fire so intensely that other officers could not reach the
wounded men. In the process, he shot six officers.
4. They had to call for the help of other agencies and more ammunition,
but it was difficult for others to get to where they were because of the
steady barrage of fire. Could they have been better prepared for what
happened? Sure, if they had had divine knowledge of the future.
People in the black and white communities need to realize that the chief
of police does not operate with the same freedom, as does the sheriff.
Under Louisiana law, the sheriff of a particular parish has significant
freedom to operate and often can instantly make changes as long as these
things do not violate local, state or federal laws. But the police
department is governed by civil service, with very strict
guidelines. This is true regarding procedures, not only in terms of
doing the work of enforcing the law, but also with regard to dealing with
officers who are accused of wrong doing.
In terms of the larger issue, this shoot-out could not have taken place at
a worse time. Our mayor was out of town, attending to official business in
Baton Rouge. Many of the black ministers ó the wisest voice in the black
community ó were out of town, attending their associational meetings.
They did not get back to Alexandria until the next day, well after the
rumor mills were churning.
The older brother of the young man who
murdered these two police officers has a degree in mechanical engineering
and is a captain in the Louisiana National Guard, currently deployed in
Afghanistan, but flown back for his brotherís funeral. Among other
things, he told the packed audience Monday night: ďOn the plane trip
from Afghanistan to Alexandria, I did a lot of thinking, and I committed
my life to Jesus Christ. I prayed for wisdom how to speak to you all. We
need to forgive and let Godís peace take over.Ē
Let us pray that this young manís words, as well as those of his mother
and father, impact one community of people in the same way as the words of
the father of one of the slain officers, former police chief, Charles
Ezernackís did the other.