Revolution #210, August 29, 2010

The New Orleans Police Murder of Raymond Robair

Early on the steamy Saturday morning of July 30, 2005, two New Orleans cops took the battered body of 48-year-old Raymond Robair to the emergency room of Charity Hospital. They left Raymond unconscious in a wheelchair, told ER workers they had found him on the ground, and drove away. Several hours later, Raymond Robair died on an operating table.

Raymond had sustained a vicious beating. He had several broken ribs that had lacerated his liver and ruptured his spleen. He died from the ruptured spleen. The two cops who had taken Raymond to the hospital—Melvin Williams and Matthew Brooks—claimed that they had found him staggering at the corner of Robertson and Dumaine streets in the Treme district of New Orleans, just behind Louis Armstrong Park. The report they filed, as the New Orleans Times Picayune wrote, "never mentions any struggle with Robair—or any use of force at all. It never quotes a civilian witness, mentions Robair by name, or notes that he later died."

People who witnessed the encounter between Raymond and the cops told a completely different story. Raymond Robair, who was known as a local handyman, had gone to the house of an elderly neighbor to help her with repairs, although he knew she didn't have money to pay him. They told how Williams and Brooks confronted Raymond, and how Williams—known throughout Treme for his brutal history, kicked and beat Raymond with his nightstick until he was unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk. They then threw him in the back of their police car.

The Coverup, the Indictments

In late August 2005, Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard issued his report on Raymond Robair's death. The report said that "Robair's injuries were sustained sometime before his encounter with the police." Minyard also claimed the cause of Raymond's death was "unclassified" and "accidental."

Minyard admitted that he "relies heavily on the NOPD to provide facts that help determine how a person dies." He continued, "The way it was presented to me by the Police Department, this young man was staggering along the street and he collapsed in front of them or around them. The story was that, right around the corner, this guy had been in a fight. That's what the police said."

A lawyer for Robair's family struggled to bring the truth of his murder to light, and filed complaints against Williams and Brooks. But the NOPD said the complaints were "unfounded." And in December 2007, over two years after Robair's murder, the Orleans Parish DA made an official decision to refuse charges on the cops.

The Robair family attorney was able to have an independent autopsy done. The conclusion drawn by this coroner—the chief medical examiner for the state of Georgia—in early 2008 was that Robair was the victim of a homicide.

Finally, on July 29, 2010, five years after his murder, the killers of Raymond Robair were indicted on federal civil rights charges. The cops are not charged with murder. The federal charges are that Williams and Brooks used "unnecessary force" when they kicked and beat Raymond to death, and then filed a "false report" when they claimed his death was a "medical incident." After a short hearing, both cops were released "in lieu of bond."

A Frenzy of Murder

The indictments of Williams and Brooks are part of a wave of federal indictments against members of the NOPD. At least 18 NOPD cops are under indictment now for three incidents, and five cases are still under federal investigation. Except for the case of Raymond Robair, all of the incidents being investigated occurred in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Less than a month after Raymond Robair was beaten to death, Katrina hit New Orleans. Tens of thousands of people—overwhelmingly, Black people—were left to suffer and die for days in suffocating heat, and drown in the toxic sludge that flooded the city. Rescue workers, medical personnel, and other volunteers were prevented from entering the city by police and soldiers.

People in the city, especially youth usually condemned by the system as "gangsters," fought heroically to save as many lives as they could, rescuing people from rooftops, making improvised rafts to take people to dry land, gathering supplies for children, and elderly people who were without food or water. But the system's media blasted huge lies to the world about wanton murder and rape by criminal gangs ransacking the city.

These conscious and deliberate lies became a big part of the pretext for the massive infusion of armed enforcers into New Orleans, and gave a green light to a frenzy of killing, murder, and disappearances by New Orleans police and other armed enforcers of capitalism. The routine terror inflicted upon the people by the police—like that suffered by Raymond Robair—became an orgy of murderous violence. In one particularly horrific incident, Henry Glover was shot to death by a cop acting as a sniper. When Henry's brother, Edward King, and William Tanner, a passerby, tried to save Henry's life, they were themselves assaulted and savagely beaten by a mob of cops, who then set fire to Henry Glover's dead body and left his ashen remains in Tanner's car, 400 feet from their police station.

We Need a Revolution to Put an End to This

All these murderers must be brought to justice.

At every step this system—through its enforcers, defenders, and institutions—has viciously and methodically inflicted maximum suffering upon the people. Its defenders have covered their bloody crimes with mountains of lies and deceit.

Think about it. The cops brazenly beat a man to death in broad daylight. They dump his inert body at an ER and say he had an accident. The coroner accepts their word. For five years, federal authorities, local police, the coroner's office, and the district attorney "examine" the murder and see nothing wrong. Only when a poor family with a dedicated lawyer perseveres for five years are the killers even indicted, and then they walk out of court an hour later.

Time is long past overdue on this system. The people don't need to live like this anymore. Revolution—a real revolution—is not only needed to get rid of this system and put an end to its murderous oppression, that revolution is possible.

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