Oris Buckner III paid a steep price for his turn as a whistleblower who told the truth about racist abuses carried out by his fellow New Orleans Police Department cops.
Four decades ago, Buckner, who died recently at 70, exposed a stunning pattern of brutality targeting Algiers residents in the wake of the still-unsolved killing of a White officer; four Black residents were killed during a pair of police raids, and others were rounded up, beaten and even tortured with plastic bags over their heads to get them to talk about the murder.
His honesty and courage led to consequences, the conviction of three other detectives in the landmark “Algiers 7” civil rights case.
They also effectively torpedoed his career at NOPD, although Buckner stayed on until his retirement in 2002. After Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Texas, where he became a criminal justice instructor. He surely had much to teach.
Buckner, whose father had died in police custody, was a 9-year veteran officer when he came forward under a promise of immunity for his own actions. A deeply religious man, he wrestled with turning on his fellow cops, friends said, but couldn’t look away from clear wrongdoing.
“The truth was out there in the community because people knew these things were going on. There were too many stories. But knowing it and proving it were two different things,” said civil rights attorney Mary Howell, who represented abused Algiers citizens in the case. “It’s because of Oris’ testimony that it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Oris’ message was always the same: Evil can only happen when good people remain silent,” Howell said. “Not only did he believe it, but he lived it, and he put it into practice.”