Horrible Day for Alexandria

Felker Street Report

Thursday, February 20, 2003

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 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 law.

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.

Bob Vincent