by Jarvis DeBerry
Moments before the opening arguments in the trial of New Orleans police accused of the post-Katrina killing of unarmed pedestrians on Danziger Bridge, one of the defendants looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with his family. Prosecutors were looking to separate that man and his co-defendants from their families for what might as well be called forever, and the look in his eyes was pleading, desperate, anxious. And at that moment, I imagined myself being forever separated from my family and was overcome by a deep sadness.
It’s not supposed to be that way, is it? We are supposed to maintain a binary view of the world: good people, bad people. The good folks and their families are worthy of our empathy; the bad folks and their families are not. Well, sue me for not following the script. As I sat in a federal courtroom Monday before closing arguments in the trial for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, I ached for his family: his mother and father, his wife Seletha.
During his initial campaign for mayor in 2002, Nagin made sure we all knew that he was born in Charity Hospital and that his father, Clarence Ray Nagin Sr., had often worked two jobs to support their family. One of those jobs the elder Nagin had? Janitor at New Orleans City Hall. Imagine what it must be like to see your son take complete charge of the building you used to sweep, take complete charge of the city in which you struggled to make a living. I can’t imagine the magnitude of such pride.
Nor can I imagine what comes later: Seeing that son standing in federal court as a defendant, hearing 12 jurors all say that yes, they agree, that Junior is guilty of 20 of the 21 charges made against him. How does Daedalus feel when he sees his son Icarus fly toward the sun just to crash back down into the sea?
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