by Darwin Bond-Graham
Grimes, a 22 year-old New Orleans native, living in Houston since Katrina, was back visiting family for the New Year’s holiday. In the early hours of Jan. 1, an unmarked police vehicle filled with plain-clothes officers swooped in on Grimes as he was waiting for a relative in his parked car outside of his grandmother’s house. They were headed to an Uptown night club.
A hail of gunfire ensued. Grimes was hit 14 times, 12 in the back, according to early reports from the New Orleans coroner. Police claim it was a “gun battle” and that after the incident is investigated the shooting will be justified. Few community members have confidence in the police department’s account, and with good reason.
Grimes’ family and friends describe him as a law abiding citizen and proud father of an 18-month-old baby. The NOPD, however, has already begun spreading subtle character misinformation about Grimes to prejudice the case and steer public opinion away from sympathy with the victim. Police note that Grimes was carrying a hand gun and claim that a later search of his vehicle turned up a shotgun and “high velocity” magazine clips.
Police Chief Warren Riley and Assistant Superintendent Marlon Delfillo held one press conference about the police killing by lining up 9mm cartridge pistol clips and Grimes’ handgun on a table next to their podium to imply the victim’s deservedness of the police attack. Ironically, the bullets numbered 19, just five more than entered Grimes’ body and probably fewer than the total hail of bullets that struck him down.
Grimes’ family and community leaders point out that he had a permit for the hand gun. The shotgun turned up in a search that wasn’t conducted until days after the killing, casting doubt on the conduct of the investigation so far. Some in the community believe the shotgun was planted. Furthermore, NOPD’s Chief Warren Riley has so far declined to state whether Grimes’ weapon and hands have been tested for gunpower residue.
Even so, if Grimes fired on the police it would prove very little. Few believe the NOPD or other city officials are capable of investigating their own officers. Grimes’ family called the FBI to lodge a civil rights complaint days after the shooting. The FBI has now opened its own investigation.
The fact that an unmarked car filled with plain-clothes officers moved in so quickly and aggressively on an otherwise innocent Black man raises serious questions about the intent and conduct of the officers. A group of New Orleans ministers described the conduct of the officers as “trigger happy.” The Times-Picayune described the gang of officers involved as an undercover narcotics unit including three women and six men: “They were dressed like tourists, and the women would pose as ‘decoys’ – potential victims – for robbers.”
Many New Orleanians carry a weapon as protection against possible muggers. If Grimes fired – which is still not proven – it was likely to protect himself from an attack by a car filled with suspicious and hostile looking armed strangers in “street clothes.” Police Chief Riley admitted in one news conference that “I don’t know if he knew they were police when the first shot was fired” but reiterated the department’s claim that Grimes fired first.
Community leaders gathered outside the police station today say Grimes was straight up murdered and that a full investigation can only be the beginning of bringing his killers to justice.
Sadly, within hours of Grimes’ slaying at the hands of the NOPD, another young Black man was shot by police in Oakland, California. Videos of Oscar Grant’s murder have circulated widely on the internet. Dozens of transit riders witnessed Grant being shot execution style in the back by an officer.
Last night Oakland erupted in rebellion as youths marched in the streets. Their demonstration ended with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas on the protestors who destroyed police vehicles in retaliation.
So far the response in New Orleans has been more subdued, even though the community is filled with outrage. Protestors at today’s demonstration at one point chanted, “No justice, no peace!” Organizers of today’s protest say there will be another demonstration next Thursday.