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Post-Katrina 'vigilante' violence: rumor or fact?

The US Attorney's Office and the FBI are looking into allegations of roaming 'people hunters' targeting blacks in the floods and chaos of four years ago.

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Looters, rogue cops, rifle-toting vigilante militias, and homes protected by jerry-rigged alarm systems made of empty strung-together beer cans.

New Orleans in the immediate wake of Katrina was a surreal, dismal, and sometimes deadly place.

Four years after the flood waters receded, it remains a city inundated by doubt about those days of chaos.

Did vigilante bands of roaming "people hunters" from a white neighborhood pass among the flood waters, shooting 11 black men, as one victim has alleged? A burnt car with a bullet-ridden body inside was found on the West Bank near the 4th District Police Station in the storm's aftermath. Police fired on civilians on the Danziger Bridge, thinking them looters, killing two.

What actually happened and who is culpable in these incidents is now the focus of probes by the US Attorney's Office and the FBI. Asked why investigations like these are just now being launched, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin recently explained, "We had a little event called Katrina."

Some New Orleanians believe the allegations point to "a broader pattern of violence ... that should reframe our understanding of the catastrophe," writes A.C. Thompson, a reporter with ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism venture.

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