Six days after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans police shot several civilians on the Danziger Bridge. The officers said they were responding to a distress call that two officers were "down" under the bridge. When police arrived on the scene, they say they were shot at and returned fire. When it was over, two civilians, James Brissette, 19, and Ronald Madison, 40, were dead and several others had been shot. In December 2006, seven New Orleans police officers were indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder.
Our second season takes place from the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2007. We mentioned this incident in Episode 5 because it was an important event that happened during the period we were portraying. But we have also used it because, perhaps more than any other case of alleged police misconduct, this one has exemplified the range of views New Orleanians have about their police force. Fellow police officers and other supporters rallied in support of the officers whom they say were heroes at a time when many of their colleagues abandoned the city. But for other New Orleanians, the incident is yet more evidence of the criminal behavior and cover-ups that have been exposed in a long- running series of police misconduct allegations and trials. Our Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse) is facing a set of circumstances that, though fictional, reflect the kinds of issues raised by the Danziger Bridge shootings.
The charges that resulted from that 2006 indictment were ultimately thrown out. But the United States Attorney's office stepped in and accused the officers of civil rights violations. The trial on those charges began this week.
As a 'Treme' writer, I'm often faced with this strange feeling of watching events unfold in parallel universes. As far as our characters know, there will be a Danziger trial sometime next year (2008). But for New Orleanians, a new trial has already started and a verdict will likely arrive before the start of our third season, set to take place in the fall of 2007.
Regardless of the outcome, Colson will begin next season ignorant of what is happening now.