New Orleans police officers, those who didn't desert, have seen long hours and little sleep since Katrina. Many officers lost their own homes, and their families were evacuated.
Whatever could go badly for New Orleans police has gone badly. Yet, that's still no excuse for the collapse of professionalism that was captured on tape outside a French Quarter bar Saturday night by an Associated Press Television News producer: police brutally beating a 64-year-old man who resisted arrest on public intoxication.
The amount of force appears way out of proportion to what was needed to subdue a man of that age. The tape shows one officer repeatedly beating the suspect on the head until he's taken to the ground with blood streaming down his arm, after which another officer knees and punches him.
Making matters worse is that the officers are white and the beating victim, Robert Davis, is black. This is the kind of ugly incident that lends credence to long-standing charges that police are brutal and racist. It breeds distrust, which is why police beatings - especially white-on-black beatings - are intolerable and inexcusable.
Police will never be trusted by poor blacks as long as these incidents keep happening. Davis isn't the only one bruised by this outrage.
Three of the New Orleans cops have been identified and are facing battery charges. That's fine as far as it goes, but there were five police present at the scene, and two of them reportedly were federal officials. Why aren't they charged?
How this case is resolved will affect police-race relations in Louisiana and nationwide. Police frustration is no excuse for beating people up - not even in post-Katrina New Orleans.