“We shut down the bridge,” Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been “a closed and secure location” since before the storm hit.
“All our people had evacuated and we locked the city down,” he said.
The bridge in question—the Crescent City Connection—is the major artery heading west out of New Orleans across the Mississippi River. […]
“If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged.”
As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.
We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.
Readers may judge for themselves where Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, ultimately belongs. What’s certain is that he was acting entirely as many of his constituents wanted him to act: keep the black people out, even if you have to shoot them.
Of course, perish forbid we should talk about race.