On Monday Feb 8th, 2016, Eric Harris, a 22nd year old Black man was killed by deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sherriff’s Office (JPSO) in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. Authorities have attempted to justify the shooting by claiming they acted in self-defense after Harris crashed his car into a pole. It was claimed that his tail lights went on, putting his vehicle in reverse, though his girlfriend and passenger that evening offered a conflicting report that accuses JPSO of making up crucial details in order to justify the shooting. According to The Advocate, Harris’ girlfriend reports that after crashing, Harris was too dazed and disoriented to put the car in reverse, “I never saw him try to back up” she says, “As soon as he asked me if I was all right, they started shooting at the car. I just felt like they was mad that they chased us.”
Despite Harris’ girlfriend’s claim that the vehicle was disabled when they crashed, there were also reports of an alarmingly high level of force used by deputies. Neighbors in the area reported hearing multiple gunshots, with one unnamed man reportedly saying, “They shot 10 times and then 10 more times…It was like they didn’t stop shooting”. Despite this, Jefferson Parish deputies Henry Dejean and Kenneth Bonura have not being reassigned pending investigation, because as JPSO spokesperson Col. John Fortunato said, “We believe that the shooting was the direct result of the officers feeling that their lives were in danger…We don’t reassign our officers who are involved in officer-involved shootings unless we suspect improprieties or policy violations,”. Currently, the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau Force is in charge of the investigation of this case, and must move swiftly in acting to hold these 2 JPSO deputies accountable for the homicide of Eric Harris in Orleans Parish.
As a result, a group of Black organizers and advocates in New Orleans including the local chapter of the Black Youth Project 100 have organized a rally and protest today, Friday Feb 12th, 2016 at 3pm at 715 S. Broad Street to raise awareness of this case and to help demand #JusticeForEricHarrisNOLA.
New Orleans and its surrounding areas have a long history of state sanctioned violence against Black people. Within the city, perhaps most notoriously, the Danziger Bridge shooting in the aftermath of Katrina and the subsequent cover up that followed, but other cases such as the 2012 NOPD murder of 20 year old Wendell Allen in his own home, the 2015 non-fatal NOPD shooting of Armand Bennet when the office turned her body camera off specifically to engage in violence and other instances have illustrated the impunity to which NOPD violently operates within New Orleans communities.
Nearby, in New Iberia Parish, the case of Victor White III, a 22 year old Black man who was found dead in the back of a police car is also yet to raise the same national profile despite the clear police misconduct. According to the New Iberia Sherriff’s Office, White committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest despite his hands being handcuffed behind his back. Last year when I spoke to Victor White’s father Rev. White, I asked him why he thought his son’s case hadn’t received national attention. His answer, simply was “Being in the South has a lot to do with it…it’s supposed to be commonplace down in the South, its unconscious prejudice…[We’re] supposed to settle for what’s presented.” No Black person anywhere should have to settle for what’s presented. Therefore, we call on all Black people, all who truly value humanity, to demand justice and equity in all areas pertaining to Black life and include the stories of the South.
Join the protest today at 3pm EST, 715 South Broad, New Orleans.
(Photo: Eric Harris photo provided by the family)