For many citizens, both black and white, the Panther-police showdown illustrated a complete breakdown of law and order in the city of New Orleans. Contributing to the notion that things in the black community were out of control witnessed a record 106 murders. Although many of these murders occurred in the black community, white residents were alarmed. Many whites felt that the city was completely out of control and that the NOPD had lost its power when it retreated from a Panther showdown in November. Beginning in the spring of 1972, local civic organizations began to demand the NOPD do something about the crime rate. George Singelmann, chairman of the local white citizens council, stated that the city had become a veritable “jungle” of crime and murder.
He asked the business community to demand that the city council provide additional funding for the NOPD because “without restoration of law and order we are rapidly approaching a vigilante situation.” He then remarked: “Day in and day out unbelievable, heinous crimes of murder, rape, and perhaps the most atrocious of crimes, the muggings and assaults on defenseless, elderly women” occur in the city. Singelmann blamed the state of Louisiana for some of the problems since in his eyes the state spent four times as much on welfare as on both police and fire protection.
In response to broad criticisms of the escalating lawlessness in New Orleans, Chief Giarrusso launched a multiphase plan “to make the streets and homes safe again” in the fall of 1972.
In an effort to crack down on the city’s crime rate and to prove to residents that he was serious about taking back the city from thugs, hoodlums, and lowlifes, Giarrusso announced the creation of the felony action squad (FAS), a select group of specially trained officers to attack murders, armed robberies, rapes, and aggravated burglaries. Giarrusso was also motivated by the unfortunate reality that by September 1972, the city had already chalked up 142 homicides for the years.
Giarrusso was confident that the FAS would be successful: “The people who perpetuate these crimes are one degree above animals and we are not going to tolerate them. They’re going to stop; you’ll see.”
At a news conference on Monday, September 18, 1972, Giarrusso announced the new FAS concept to the public. FAS officers were to be semi-undercover, “Some of them will look like bank presidents and some like bums.” The goal was for them to be in strategic places where crime might occur. Then to the delight and to the despair of others, he told reporters that FAS members would have orders to “shoot to kill.”
He conveyed that the main purpose of the FAS was to make the streets of New Orleans safe again. Consequently, the FAS was explicitly given “shoot to kill” orders. When FAS members closed in on a suspect and thought that person was armed, they were to give a three-word order, “Police, drop it!” If the suspect turned to face police with a weapon in hand, then the FAS was ordered to shoot to kill.
… First to respond was the New Orleans NAACP, which was becoming increasingly more aggressive in its tactics. NAACP officials challenged Giarrusso to explain the “shoot to kill” order. “The consistent resorting to the ‘might is right’ tactic is only a temporary stopgap measure which will help produce more fear in the community,” said one NAACP official.
Daniel P. Vincent of the TCA condemned the FAS “shoot to kill” order: “The shoot-to-kill order is in itself barbaric and will almost certainly lead to the accidental killing of a young black male. History tells us that the accident will occur to a young black male.”
The real solutions to the crime problem, according to Vincent, were increased employment and job opportunities and an end to racism. “Unless basic causes are attacked, no emergency police can stop crime in this city.”
Although many African Americans came out against the FAS, there was considerable support for the FAS in the black community, although few would admit it. Isaac Green, who represented an unnamed group, told a reporter: “Many of the persons that will be represented have said that they have been afraid to make statements or give their true opinions for fear of being thought disloyal to black people.” (p. 88 – 95)
|Historically, New Orleans was a white city. Only when black crime (and its deleterious effect on commercial/private property values) drove whites out of the city did it become the incredibly dangerous 'Chocolate City'|
From 1972 to 1982, Felony Action Squad members shot or wrestled with armed robbers, rapists and murderers, patrolling the streets in rundown Ford Mustangs, Ford Torinos and even a Chevy Corvette.
They spent nights inside an old Amtrak train car alongside Earhart Boulevard, watching for muggers and car burglars while a concert went on nearby at the Superdome.
They took breaks from their heavier duties by arresting drifters begging for change in the French Quarter.
Meanwhile, they said, many of their marriages unraveled.
Unpopular with some
Some elected officials and community leaders lobbied to have the squad shut down throughout its 10-year existence, accusing the plainclothes cops -- both black and white -- of being racist and reckless.
Warren Woodfork, the unit's first commander and later the NOPD's first black superintendent, said he dismissed the opposition as chatter coming from "bleeding hearts."
"We solved a lot of the violent crime problems we find ourselves with again today," said Woodfork, 73, on Saturday.
Police Superintendent Clarence Giarrusso formed the undercover squad to operate in the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods. At a 1972 news conference announcing its inception, he told reporters that if any of the Felony Action Squad's 12 original members crossed paths with a criminal they thought was armed, they were to "shoot to kill."
The NAACP cried foul. A local community group said Giarrusso's order was "barbaric." State Rep. Louis Charbonnet III and other legislators unsuccessfully urged the City Council to pass a resolution abolishing the unit.
The squad members dismissed the opposition as "political BS meant to get people's votes," Marie said.