Anne Levy's Message
Holocaust memories – post-Katrina
Craig Mulcahy photograph
A federal court’s emphasis on police body-worn cameras is one of the reforms in the court-supervised NOPD Consent Decree that’s apparently beginning to pay off.
In the long run for reform, no police technology will be a “silver bullet.” Policing remains about power and people.
This column (again) recommends Anne Levy, 80, a 5-foot-tall survivor of both the Nazi Holocaust and Katrina.
Best-known for chasing neo-Nazi David Duke away from a Holocaust exhibit at the State Capitol in 1989, Levy has been speaking to New Orleans schoolchildren about the importance of making good decisions (Troubled Memory: Anne Levy, The Holocaust, and David Duke’s Louisiana, by Lawrence N. Powell, University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
Here is how and why it’s a good time for her to address NOPD recruits:
On Aug. 18, Chief Michael S. Harrison can mark his first year as the city’s top cop.
One year ago, Landrieu suddenly announced then-Lieutenant Harrison would replace embattled Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who retired that same day; NOPD body cameras were Serpas’ idea.
Chief Harrison has yet to make his mark.
The obvious area to show innovative leadership is training.
NOPD Commander Richard Williams is tasked by Harrison with transforming NOPD’s Training Academy into the best in the nation. To that end, Williams has advised the Court of offers from guest speakers with expertise beyond the insular world of law enforcement.
Levy’s long-standing invitation was not among them.
Readers may recall Police Chief Warren Riley made viewing of the Stephen Spielberg movie, Schindler’s List, a graduation requirement for all NOPD recruits (“Cops Learn from Schindler’s List, August 2008”).
The film about the Nazi extermination of the Jews was added to NOPD’s curricula so that police recruits would understand the importance of “atrocities by a government agency,” Riley said.
This column reported the latest recruit class missed the movie.
Some 30 newly sworn officers were immediately ordered back to the academy for the three-hour film. Then Lt. Richard Williams, head of the academy, led the discussion that followed.
A reporter asked the officers how they would respond to a commander’s order to “shoot-to-kill.” One officer replied: “We’re trained to stop the threat. The order wouldn’t be given.”
“No one can require you to follow an illegal, immoral or unethical order,” Lt. Williams said.
The column ended with Levy and her biographer, Tulane historian Lawrence Powell, offering to address the next NOPD recruit class.
Some four years later, in April 2012, NOPD Captain Harr Mendoza accused Chief Riley of issuing a “shoot-to-kill” order after Katrina.
Testifying under oath as a defense witness at the sentencing hearing of the Danziger Bridge police shooting defendants, Mendoza told U.S. District Judge Kurt Englehardt that then-Assistant Chief Warren Riley delivered the directive at a police command post outside Harrah’s Casino. “He came there, basically, for one purpose, to tell us that he was ordering us to shoot looters that morning …” Mendoza said, adding he told officers in his unit to disregard the “illegal” order.
Riley has consistently denied that he or anyone at NOPD issued a shoot-to-kill order. In 2011, Riley attorney Robert Jenkins told WWL-TV that Mendoza’s allegations were false, adding “many other officers support that it didn’t happen.” In 2006, Chief Riley accused Mendoza of neglecting his duties and fired him. The city civil service board later reinstated Mendoza.
His explosive allegation and the Chief’s heated denials fizzled.
Riley’s screening of Schindler’s List at NOPD remains a good idea, especially since Mendoza’s testimony.
I recently called Levy, one of the few children in Poland to survive the Nazi liquidation of the Jews, and asked if the NOPD ever contacted her about her offer to address police recruits. She says, “No, we didn’t connect.”
At a coffee shop, accompanied by her husband Stan Levy, a retired imports dealer, she reflects on her Holocaust lectures to local school students: “The kids are grand! The black kids listen very respectfully. They have been through bad times. They have seen bad things.” Crime, violence, drugs.
She worries about kids who are exposed to horrific images, such as a violent car crash.
“Once you lose your innocence, it’s hard to get it back,” Levy says. She was a child of 6 when she saw dead bodies in the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto. Passersby stripped the corpses for their clothes, leaving them naked in the street.
“I saw two old guys forced to pick up the bodies and stack them like wood,” she says.
Memories like those never go away, she says.
Her parents hid her and her younger sister, Lila, from Nazi search parties. According to Powell’s biography: “Anne never ventured outdoors because of her dark curly hair and olive complexion. ‘My sister is lighter than me, so she didn’t have to stay inside. I looked Jewish so I had to remain indoors.’”
They both hid in a dark vegetable bin every day for nine months, quietly waiting for their parents to return from forced labor.
When Levy first talked to local kids about her childhood, “I would break down and cry,” she says.
She now encourages youths to talk about “bad things” they’ve seen to relieve the stress. “If you see something wrong, tell a teacher, tell your mother, tell an adult you trust.”
She adds: “If they could learn to talk about it and not get angry …”
Levy says she has never addressed a police audience. Hearing of news headlines of former police using “Gestapo tactics” in Chicago, she frowns at the euphemism: “I know what (the tactics) look like and what it feels like. Police need to realize their own demeanor – how they come across to people.”
Closer to home, she recalls the recent murder of NOPD Officer Daryle Holloway with sadness.
“When (police) go out in the morning, they don’t know what will happen to them. I wish the kids were more respectful toward the police.”
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan has set a public hearing on NOPD reform for Aug. 20.
Note: A new trial has been ordered for five police defendants in the Danziger Bridge case. Six unarmed blacks were shot by officers on the bridge – two fatally. The case is in U.S. v. Kenneth Bowen et al (Case No. 2:10-cr-2040), U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Englehardt presiding.