Though many media outlets – starting with local New Orleans TV stations – yesterday reported that “martial law” had been declared in New Orleans, the Louisiana attorney general has confirmed that is not the case, saying no such term exists in state law.
Even so, Friday, three days before hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast, Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency, which gives authorities widespread latitude to suspend civil liberties as they try to restore order and bring victims to safety. While not technically “martial law,” the emergency designation gives some of the same powers to government officials.
Under the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act of 1993, the governor and, in some cases, chief parish officials, have the right to commandeer or utilize any private property if necessary to cope with the emergency, explained the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Media organization apparently confused action taken under the emergency declaration or the curfew that had been declared with an actual “martial law” declaration.
A quick Google news search reveals many news stories referring to martial law, some citing local New Orleans television stations.
“Demonstrating yet again how poorly media can perform in emergencies, the Louisiana attorney general (and governor’s office) has clarified that “martial law” has not been declared in New Orleans (or anywhere else in the state),” wrote Andrew Sommers on about.com.
When martial law is in effect, military officials take over the administration of justice in times of emergency when traditional law enforcement are in capable of meeting demands.
Totalitarian governments often impose martial law, sometimes permanently, imposing military tribunals in place of courts.
Those wishing to contribute to hurricane relief efforts can donate to the American Red Cross online or by calling 1-800-435-7669.