EVENT - Vinnie's Looters

Timeline: Tuesday, August 30, 2005,  8:00 AM CDT
Location: South East Louisiana

No, I didn't sleep late.  I want to start here, however, and we'll talk about what I am doing in Houston a little later.  Here's a photo for you from this morning:

Katrina Boat Launch

That's the down ramp off the I-10/I-610 split, which you can easily find on the map below by finding the word Metairie and following I-10 just past the 10 symbol.  You see where it makes that right hand turn down towards the city?  That's the spot. 

I want to leave the rescuer's to their work for now and go visit a place that is actually high and dry.  Algiers Point, Louisiana.

Algiers Point

I'd tell you that Algiers Point is any other neighborhood, which it is.  Some time in the 1970's, Algiers Point grew out of the larger community of Algiers and the community began to focus on the historic value of the neighborhood.  Everybody started fixing up their houses and showing some local pride.  They managed to form the Algiers Point National Historic District.  Some of the houses and other buildings predate the American Civil War, but most were built right after the 1895 fire which destroyed hundreds of structures in the area.  The neighborhood has several bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.  It is a neighborhood full of character - and characters.  One of the characters we're going to meet is Vinnie Pervel, who has become somewhat famous in some circles.  He is surrounded by a cast of other characters - most of them his neighbors, but some others of unknown origin.

The Austin American-Stateman ran an article on September 12, 2005, which documents an interview that provides a dramatic view of today's events.  I have reproduced the article below.


Armed Militia Protects its New Orleans Neighborhood
Cox News Service
Monday, September 12, 2005

NEW ORLEANS -- The Algiers Point militia put away its weapons Friday as Army soldiers patrolled the historic neighborhood across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter.

But the band of neighbors who survived Hurricane Katrina and then fought off looters has not disarmed.

"Pit Bull Will Attack. We Are Here and Have Gun and Will Shoot," said the sign on Alexandra Boza's front porch. Actually, said the woman behind the sign, "I have two pistols."

"I'm a part of the militia," Boza said. "We were taking the law into our own hands, but I didn't kill anyone."

She did quietly open her front door and fire a warning shot one night when she heard a loud group of young men approaching her house.

About a week later, she said, she finally saw a New Orleans police officer on her street and told him she had guns.

"He told me, 'Honey, I don't blame you,' " she said.

The several dozen people who did not evacuate from Algiers Point said that for days after the storm, they did not see any police officers or soldiers but did see gangs of intruders.

So they set up what might be the ultimate neighborhood watch.

At night, the balcony of a beautifully restored Victorian house built in 1871 served as a lookout point.

"I had the right flank," Vinnie Pervel said. Sitting in a white rocking chair on the balcony, his neighbor, Gareth Stubbs, protected the left flank.

They were armed with an arsenal gathered from the neighborhood: a shotgun, pistols, a flare gun and a Vietnam-era AK-47.

They were backed up by Gregg Harris, who lives in the house with Pervel, and Pervel's 74-year-old mother, Jennie, who lives across Pelican Street from her son and is known in Algiers Point as "Miss P."

Many nights, Miss P. had a .38-caliber pistol in one hand and rosary beads in the other.

"Mom was a trouper," Pervel said.

The threat was real.

On the day after Katrina blew through, Pervel was carjacked a couple of blocks from his house. A past president of the Algiers Point Association homeowners group, Pervel was going to houses that had been evacuated and turning off the gas to prevent fires.

A guy with a mallet "hit me in the back of the head," Pervel said. "He said, 'We want your keys.' I said, 'Here, take them.' "

Inside the white Ford van were a portable generator, tools and other hurricane supplies. A hurt and frustrated Pervel threw pliers at the van as it drove off and broke a back window.

Another afternoon, a gunfight broke out on the streets as armed neighbors and armed intruders exchanged fire.

"About 25 rounds were fired," Harris said.

Blood was later found on the street from a wounded intruder.

Not far away, Oakwood Center mall was seriously damaged in a fire caused by vandals.

"We were really afraid of fires. These old houses are so close together that if one was set afire, the whole street would all go up," Harris said. "We lived in terror for a week."

Their house is filled with antique furniture, and there's a well-kept garden and patio in back.

"We've been restoring this house for 20 years," Harris said.

There are gas lamps on the columned porch that stayed on during the storm and its aftermath. The militia rigged car headlights and a car battery on porches of nearby houses. Then they put empty cans beneath trees that had fallen across both ends of the block.

When someone approached in the darkness, "you could hear the cans rattle. Then we would hit the switch at the battery and light up the street," Pervel said. "We would yell, 'We're going to count three, and if you don't identify yourself, we're going to start shooting.' "

They could hear people fleeing and never fired a shot.

During the days, the hurricane holdouts patrolled the streets protecting their houses and the ones of evacuees.

"I was packing," Robert Johns said. "A .22 magnum with hollow points and an 8 mm Mauser from World War II with armor-piercing shells."

Despite their efforts, some deserted houses in the neighborhood were broken into and looted, Pervel said.

Now the Algiers Point militia has defiantly declared it will not heed any orders for mandatory evacuation. The relatively elevated neighborhood area is across the Mississippi River from the city's worst flooded areas and has running water, gas and phone service.

"They say they're going to drag us kicking and screaming from our houses. For what? To take us to concentration camps where we'll be raped and killed," Ramona Parker said. "This is supposed to be America. We're honest citizens. We're not troublemakers. We pay our taxes."

"It would be cruel for the city to make us evacuate after what we've been through," Pervel said.

The roof was damaged on her house, and the rains left "water up to my ankles," Boza said. So she moved into her mother's home nearby.

She said she still has 42 bullets to expend before she'll be forcibly evacuated.

"Then I hope the men they send to pull me out are 6 feet 2 inches and really cute," she said. "I'll be struggling and flirting at the same time."


A Reuters report of Wednesday, September 21, 2005 by Andy Sullivan provides some additional detail.  Again, I have reproduced the report below.


After the storm came the carjackers and burglars. Then came the gun battles and the chemical explosions that shook the restored Victorians in New Orleans' Algiers Point neighborhood.

"The hurricane was a breeze compared with the crime and terror that followed," said Gregg Harris, a psychotherapist who lives in the battered area.

As life returned to this close-knit neighborhood three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, residents said they hoped their experience could convince political leaders to get serious about the violence and poor services that have long been an unfortunate hallmark of their city.

"I think now it's a wake-up call," Harris said.

After the storm, the neighborhood association had to act as law enforcement and emergency response unit as city services collapsed and the police force was unable to protect them.

Citizens organized armed patrols and checked on the elderly. They slept on their porches with loaded shotguns and bolted awake when intruders stumbled on the aluminum cans they had scattered on the sidewalk.

Gunshots rang out for days, sometimes terrifyingly close.

For Harris, the first warning sign came on Tuesday, the day after the storm, when two young men hit his partner, Vinnie Pervel, over the head and drove off with his Ford van.

"A police car drove up behind me and saw it happening but he didn't do anything," said Pervel, who heads the 1,500-household neighborhood association.

Then residents heard that police vehicles were being carjacked and looters were taking guns and ammunition from nearby stores.

"We thought, 'Perhaps this is going to get really ugly,"' said Gareth Stubbs, a marine surveyor who lives across Pelican Street from Harris and Pervel.

A Texas woman who runs a Web site called served as a link between those who stayed and those who had left. With her help, they stockpiled an arsenal of shotguns, derringer pistols and an old AK-47.

They were put to use the next day.

"Some looters came up and pulled a gun on the wrong group of men," said Harris, who said he did not fire a gun himself and declined to say who else was involved in the battle.

"Two men were shot right there," Harris said, pointing down the street as he watered his rose bushes. "One was shot in the back, the other in the leg, and the third I was told made it a block and a half before he died in the street. I did not go down to see the body."

The next day a nearby stockpile of chemicals exploded, shaking the houses and sending a fireball 300 feet into the sky. The fire burned for another three days, Harris said.

"For five days we didn't need FEMA, the Red Cross or the National Guard," Harris said. "The neighborhood took care of itself."


Vinnie didn't just make it into the paper.  He's also a chapter in a book:

Thank God I Had a Gun - True Accounts of Self-DefenseThank God I Had A Gun True Accounts of Self-Defense By Chris Bird

You can visit the website and find a copy of the book by clicking on the cover image.  It's a pretty good book.

Chris gives us a little preview, and I have reproduced some of the Privateer Publications web page here, and interspersed my comments in red

“What Katrina demonstrated is that we’re just one disaster away from anarchy. Many police officers simply fled the city and many who remained were part of the problem, not part of the solution. And anyone who tried to ride out the storm was left to fend for themselves,” says Bird. “And that includes protecting themselves from the thugs who were stealing cars and roaming the streets looking for dry, empty houses to loot.”

Chris starts off a little dramatic, but what he says is essentially true.

Bird points to the story of Vinnie Pervel, a gay rights activist & local contractor in New Orleans who up until the aftermath of Katrina, didn’t like guns and was uncomfortable having a weapon in the house. After being hit in the head and carjacked, Vinnie became a believer in armed self-defense. “That experience transformed Vinnie,” says Bird. “He went home, found an old shotgun that belonged to his partner and for the next few weeks, Vinnie, his family and a neighbor stood armed watch over their home and street to protect themselves from the criminals who were trying to take advantage of the disaster. They knew the police weren’t going to help them; they had to rely on themselves for protection.”

This provides a perspective not available in the original article.  Vinnie is not a man prepared.  He doesn't even own his own gun.

Vinnie got out of his van and put his keys in his pocket. He noticed a lavender-colored Geo Prism, driven by a young black woman, had pulled in right behind him. He was paying attention to the Prism when he became aware of two young black men at the front of his van. They were about nineteen years old, both wearing long white T-shirts that reached to their knees, black jeans, and white tennis shoes. They were about Vinnie’s height – five feet eight inches – and a little lighter than his hundred and sixty pounds. Both wore their hair in long cornrows.

The Prism drove off as the men started asking questions. Vinnie recalled the conversation.

“How do we get out of here? We want to evacuate,” one of the men said.

“If you go right down this road here you can catch the ferry by the ferry landing; they’re evacuating free,” Vinnie said.

“You don’t realize, we have children.”

“They take children as well.”

At that point, Vinnie noticed that one of the men was holding one hand behind his back and he could see the end of what looked like a sledge-hammer handle.

This definitely provides more information than the original article.  If we take it at face value, Vinnie has a very serious lapse of what we call 'situational awareness'.  How can he be so aware of so many details, but manage to completely miss two young men getting out of a clown car with a big stick? 

We also get a better glimpse of Vinnie's attackers.  If we are to believe the account at face value, then perhaps these aren't just random thugs.  Maybe they aren't bad guys at all.  Maybe they're just desperate people willing to do desperate things to get themselves and their children out of a bad place.  We're going to revisit that before long, but while a lot of the sensation revolves around bands of roving thugs and professional 'gangs', if you examine each account what you frequently find are common people driven to desperate means out of desperate circumstances.  I say that not by way of any excuse for their behavior - on the contrary I'm telling you this because I want you to be ready to encounter such people after any SHTF event because you will encounter them.  Just ask Vinnie.

He was afraid the men meant to harm him so he turned away from them intending to yell to a group of about a dozen friends and neighbors who were at the end of the block. The group consisted of men, mostly armed with shotguns, and their wives. Vinnie knew them because they were all members of the neighborhood association.

Now we add to the mix a group of neighbors, standing around with shotguns and chewing the fat with their wives.  Less than a block away, they all fail to notice Vinnie's plight.  While Vinnie is getting murdered, they have no watch strategy at all.  A couple of neighbors with guns do not a militia make.

Before he could open his mouth, one of the young men hit him in the back of the head with his fist, and Vinnie went down. As he fell, he hit the front of his head on the edge of a brick planter that was on the sidewalk. The other guy stood over him with a three-foot maul in his hand.

OK...  Pop quiz.  From reading all the accounts, was Vinnie hit with a handle, a mallet, or with a fist? 

“Just stay down. We want your truck, the keys to your van,” the man demanded.

Is this the behavior of hardened thugs?

Vinnie told him the keys were in his pocket. One of them took them, got into the van and cranked it up. As soon as it was running, the other guy ran to the passenger side and got in, and the van took off south on Belleville. As they drove away, Vinnie’s fear gave way to anger.
“At the time I had a pair of pliers in my hand ‘cause that’s what I was cutting the gas off with. I just stood up and I flung the pliers and knocked out the back window of the van,” Vinnie said.

“I hit right in the middle of the back window and busted it out. The guys both turned around and looked at me because they thought I was shooting at them. They almost hit a tree but they just managed to turn left, go down another block, and turn right.”

Vinnie yelled to the group of friends and neighbors for help. They piled into a truck and drove towards him but Vinnie was chasing after his van and had made it another block when he saw a black police officer in uniform sitting in an unmarked white Crown Victoria. He told the officer the two men had stolen his van and hit him in the head. The officer said he would go after them.

“He turned around and went the other way.”

The cavalry manages to arrive late.  We'll deal with the behavior of the officer later. 

He was the last police officer Vinnie and his friends would see for ten days.

Is anyone genuinely surprised by that?  You shouldn't be.

“I went home, told Gregg what happened, and he freaked out. My Mom freaked out, and I guess I freaked out ‘cause I went upstairs, and I got the gun, and went on my front porch upstairs off my bedroom. I sat on my second-floor balcony with the gun.”

Suddenly this doesn't seem like the competent neighborhood militia we heard about in the first article.  It's a bunch of people freaking out.  People with guns.  Traumatized people.  People unprepared to face the evolving nightmare.

The assault and the hijacking of his van was the defining moment for Vinnie Pervel. In those few minutes, he went from being a supporter of gun control to an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment. He realized why ordinary law-abiding citizens needed guns to defend themselves. He had just seen that residents could not rely on the police for protection or even to stop crime when it was happening. He was hearing random shots being fired, mostly across the river. He knew that with the break down of law and order, ordinary citizens would have to provide their own security. And that didn’t mean burglar alarms and deadbolts: it meant guns...

Very prosaic, but nearly guaranteed to be bullshit.  Vinnie didn't suddenly become a Second Amendment supporter, able to quote the wisdom of great men in the defense of a philosophy of self determination.  Vinnie was scared shitless and decided to arm himself because S was HTF and his self preservation instincts over-rode his liberal philosophy.  I actually wonder why Chris includes this in his book because Vinnie is such a poor example.  Vinnie can't say, "Thank God I had a gun!", because when it counted, he didn't.  Oh...  Wait...  Maybe that's why Chris includes him in the book...  Interesting.

I put this page here because I want you to think about something.  You may not like guns, and I respect that.  I'm not going to try and change your mind today - but I want you to start thinking about Vinnie.  I also want to point out that 90% of the people who come to my 'self defense' and 'rape prevention' seminars have recently been the victims of violent crime.  Only rarely do people take any personal responsibility for their own safety and security until something bad happens to them.  You aren't going to learn very much from such a seminar, no matter how much effort I put into it.  Why do I do it?  Because those seminars serve the same purpose as this web page - to start you at least thinking about the fact that one day the only person between a desperate person and your family, your health, or your wealth might be you. 

As part of your ACTION Plan, you need a solution set for this problem. 

So, how about it?  What do you do when 911 stops working?  You better answer quick.  Here come some more thugs, and this time they want your car - and they think your 15 year old daughter is pretty cute too, and maybe they'll take her for a little ride.



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