Last year the nation fell in love with the show that the New Orleans Saints were putting on in the Superdome, but five years ago New Orleans police officer Rhett Charles saw the stadium in a different light. Photo by Jeff Lewis
“Basically it was just a lawless nation inside the dome at night.”
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Five years ago some kids were living out their dreams. They were playing football on the floor of the Superdome, on the same field that the New Orleans Saints play on. But with each passing day, as Rhett Charles tells it in the documentary Katrina Cop in the Superdome, it turned into a nightmare for the city’s residents who were trapped in the aftermath of the 2005 Katrina hurricane.
Charles, an African American member of the New Orleans Police Department, was assigned to the Superdome, where thousands of people went to seek shelter from the storm and flooding. Rhett found himself in a situation where he might have to use his weapon to protect himself, rather than the citizens of New Orleans.
“Basically it was just a lawless nation inside the dome at night,” said Marc Spears, co-producer of the documentary, and a cousin of Charles.
“There was a thought that there was going to be a revolt against the police, so they had to strap up,” Spears said. “He thought that at one point he’d have to shoot man, woman, and child. He was so worried about what could potentially happen that he even walked over to the side parking garage, near the top of it, and saw what would be a good place to jump if he needed to. He also saved one bullet for himself incase he needed it. It got that bad.”
There were reports of a suicide, rapes, and a report that two men who committed rapes were beaten to death in the Superdome.
The power was out at night, and the police were gone, so people had to fend for themselves.
“Money didn’t matter,” Spears said. “It didn’t matter what class you were, everybody in there was the same and everybody in there was fearing for their lives.”
The documentary tackles issues such as race, class, government response and responsibility, and political rivalries. It addresses the lack of support to help the mostly black crowd that was seeking safety in the stadium.
“It’s the United States man, it should have all been handled in a day, in hours,” Spears said. “I mean, that’s just embarrassing.”
The documentary talks about the San Diego fires a year later, where people were sent to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers. There was more than enough food for everybody, tents, and medical attention, all vital items that were not available to the people in the Superdome.
Spears, who is an NBA writer for Yahoo! Sports, felt that he needed to use his media background to get this story out after he was moved to tears when Charles told him what happened in the Superdome.
This story was important to Spears because he has ties to New Orleans.
“I’ve been there for football games,” Spears said. “I’ve been there for the Essence Music Festival. My mom is from New Orleans, so I’ve spent a lot of time in that stadium.”
But Spears now sees that stadium in a different light after hearing Charles’ story.
“When you see it now you can’t help but to think what happen there,” Spears said. “The first time I went to the Essence Music Festival, when they had it like two years later, you certainly get wooed into the music, but I couldn’t help but think that there was a man who committed suicide there, that there were rapes there, that there is always kind of an eerie feeling about what happened. No matter how many games the Saints win in there, no matter how many songs Mary J. Blige sings in there, what happened in the Superdome will never be forgotten.”
The documentary has slowly gotten out to the public, mostly through film festivals. It was recently viewed at the Bel-Air Film Festival at UCLA James Bridges Theater. Spears is looking for a distributor so that by this time next year it will be much more accessible to the public.
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