New Orleans Politician Joseph Giarrusso

Associated Press
Friday, December 23, 2005

Joseph I. Giarrusso, 82, a segregation-era New Orleans police chief who later became a populist politician with a following among blacks and whites, died Dec. 21 in New Orleans. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Giarrusso ended four decades of public service in 1997 when he resigned a mostly ceremonial post coordinating the city's criminal justice agencies under Mayor Marc Morial. But during his day, Mr. Giarrusso was considered a power broker in New Orleans politics.

In 1979, he once carried a shotgun into City Hall to dramatize his call for a better-armed police force. And in 1985, he knocked Hank Braden, a former state senator and an adviser to then-Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, to the floor of Ruth's Chris Steak House with a punch.

He managed to shed the Jim Crow image fashioned during his term as police superintendent, from 1960 to 1970, evolving into a fierce defender of the city's working class as an at-large City Council member from 1976 to 1994.

His friends and family said he fought to live down one of the worse moments of his tenure as police chief, the expulsion of black protesters from a whites-only cafeteria in the City Hall basement. In an image that would be replayed in countless documentaries, officers dragged the Rev. Avery Alexander, a prominent civil rights leader and future state representative, up a flight of stairs, one step at a time.

"He had the unfortunate experience during the 1960s of enforcing state segregation laws, and I think he probably looked back at a later period in his life and saw there was much wrong with that period," said former mayor Moon Landrieu, a friend and ally of Mr. Giarrusso's.

Mr. Giarrusso, a New Orleans native, was the youngest of 11 children. During World War II, he was an enlisted radioman aboard Navy bombers and patrol planes. When the war ended, he joined the city's police force.

After distinguishing himself as head of the narcotics squad, in 1957 Mr. Giarrusso was appointed deputy police chief by Mayor deLesseps Morrison.

His brother, Clarence B. Giarrusso, was a former New Orleans police superintendent.

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