Ronnie Greene speaks about "Shots on the Bridge" in Katrina aftermath
Nov 5, 2018
Posted in: News
Robertson School alumnus Ronnie Greene, an investigative story editor at Reuters, spoke to students and faculty last Thursday about his award-winning book “Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina.” The book chronicles the events surrounding the killing of innocent unarmed people by New Orleans police and subsequent cover-up in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Greene, a 1986 Robertson School alumnus and author of two books, described the chain of events that led to the killing, how the New Orleans Police Department hid the wrongdoing, and how the cover-up was ultimately exposed.
“Everyone involved here was in a life or death situation, just trying to survive,” said Greene, who won the Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award for the 2015 book. “The days after Katrina were chaos,” he added.
Greene edits investigative stories for Reuters and teaches graduate writing at Johns Hopkins University. Before joining Reuters, he edited "Breathless and Burdened," a Pulitzer Prize winning investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. He spent much of his career at The Miami Herald.
Greene said he saw a wire story about the conviction of New Orleans police officers involved in the bridge shooting cover-up in 2011. He said that something about the story “literally stopped me in my tracks.”
“Something about reading that story, I knew there could be a book,” Greene said. “What I really wanted to do was almost in a way stop time and think and try to learn about everyone on the bridge that morning ... how did they get there?”
Attendees of the talk in the Temple Building were interested in Greene’s research tactics: where he began, how he was able to contact the families and police officers and what he learned. Greene said he got most of the information through public records from court filings, the Department of Justice and other New Orleans civil rights cases. He started by covering the sentencing hearings of the officers, then reaching out to anyone involved through their lawyers
One student attendee asked if a tragedy like this would be any different if it took place in today’s world of smart phones and other camera-enabled devices. Greene said it would have been more likely to be recorded, and reiterated how the situation after Hurricane Katrina made it easier for something like this to go relatively unnoticed.
“When I was looking into this ... this case was rarely, if ever mentioned,” Greene said. “I think part of this is because there was so much tragedy after Katrina that it was really hard to keep track [of the ones] involving police or otherwise.”
Greene was also amazed by how the families kept pushing for answers on what happened. He attributes their persistence to get justice as the reason the cover-up was ultimately exposed.
“They were trying to get some attention for this case, because they had a brother who was being held in jail,” Greene said. “This cover-up would have held, if it wasn’t for the families pushing.”
Greene spent the day at the Robertson School on Thursday, giving a lecture in the Advanced Reporting capstone class and meeting with student editors and reporters at the Commonwealth Times, where he had worked himself when he was a VCU student in the 1980s.
You can watch Ronnie Greene's talk on the Robertson School's YouTube channel.