Harry Lee, Outspoken Louisiana Sheriff, Dies at 75 , 2007-10-01
- From the New York Times (2007-10-02)
October 2, 2007
Harry Lee, Outspoken Louisiana Sheriff, Dies at 75
By ADAM NOSSITER
NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 1 Sheriff Harry Lee, a wide-girthed lawman in the
suburbs of New Orleans who became an outspoken voice for hostility to
this city and a magnet for the anger of its black citizens, died
Monday in Jefferson Parish. He was 75.
Sheriff Lee, who was in his seventh term in Jefferson Parish, just
west of New Orleans, had been battling leukemia for months. His death
was announced by his office.
In a state peopled with outlandish political figures, Sheriff Lee
easily held his own, a blunt-talking, 350-pound son of Chinese
immigrants who ruled his vast domain in the suburbs for decades while
proudly consorting with mobsters and infuriating the city at his
doorstep with pronouncements about black criminality.
Sheriff Lee always vigorously denied he was a racist. But with his
aggressive and loudly announced policing of blacks who dared to
cross the parish line from New Orleans into Jefferson, he seemed to
give voice to a heavily white jurisdiction that sent the Ku Klux Klan
leader David Duke to the State Legislature in 1989. This constituency
had voted with its feet decades earlier by abandoning the black-
In 1986, he drew national attention to his normally unremarked-on
kingdom of shopping strips and subdivisions when he announced, after
a spate of robberies, "If there are some young blacks driving a car
late at night in a predominantly white area, they will be stopped."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and
the American Civil Liberties Union immediately protested, and
chanting demonstrators gathered outside his office, but Sheriff Lee's
standing with his voters was only enhanced.
He continued to win re-election, sometimes crushingly, as in 1991 and
1995, when he won more than 70 percent of the vote. Only half-
jokingly, he referred to himself as a "king," and the digs at New
Orleans did not cease.
Still, he was a Democrat and an unbending friend of the disgraced
former governor, Edwin W. Edwards, jailed since 2002 on a corruption
conviction, two affiliations that otherwise would have been anathema
to Sheriff Lee's suburban white constituents.
And he never turned his back on a background that hardly seemed to
augur the glad-handing, tough-guy Deep South parish boss that became
his persona for the 27-odd years he was in the public spotlight here.
He was born in the back room of the family laundry business on
Carondelet Street in New Orleans in 1932 into an immigrant family
that spoke Chinese at home and were in a lonely minority in a
Southern city that has never had a large Asian population.
Sheriff Lee is survived by his wife, Lai Lee; a daughter, Cynthia
Sheng; and two grandchildren.
He graduated from Louisiana State University, and he became a trusted
driver and adviser to Representative Hale Boggs, one of the South's
few pro-civil rights congressmen.
When Mr. Boggs's plane went down over Alaska in 1972, Mr. Lee was in
the search party.
He was first elected sheriff in 1979, and although there were a few
close races subsequently, his closest battles were the very public
ones he fought with his ever-expanding weight, a subject of
continuing general fascination in a district that eats well and
Up to the end, Sheriff Lee continued to issue provocative statements
about race and crime.
In 2006, he stirred up a final firestorm when he said, discussing a
new plan to focus on violence, "We're only stopping black people."