One phrase haunts both Law & Disorder and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, two television documentaries released this week featuring the work of Investigative Fund reporter A.C. Thompson: “Take back New Orleans.”

Law & Disorder, a PBS Frontline documentary, focuses on police misconduct in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, specifically on the murder of Henry Glover. While foraging for supplies for his family in the wake of the hurricane, Glover was shot in the chest, allegedly by New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Officer David Warren, now under federal indictment. Then, after passerby Will Tanner drove him to a nearby temporary police headquarters in search of medical attention, Glover, still in Tanner’s car, was driven away by two officers and abandoned on a levee in Algiers. The car was burned with Glover inside.

Glover’s murder was first reported in The Nation in December 2008, in a pair of articles that resulted from his collaboration with The Investigative Fund. (ProPublca provided additional support.) As U.S. Attorney Jim Letten explains in Law & Disorder, “[Thompson’s] article that identified the shooting death and burning of Henry Glover acted as an incredible catalyst and a lead for us in our investigation.”

The documentary places Glover’s murder within a long history of brutality and corruption in the NOPD and the hysteria that followed Katrina. Rumors of rape and murder in the Superdome propagated by Mayor Nagin, sniper fire on medivac helicopters alleged by the chief of police and a “looter’s free-for-all” proclaimed by the media writ large — all stories since discredited — led to a situation where the police were told to “take the city back” by any means necessary. As David Benelli, now a retired NOPD officer, explains in the documentary, “during the Katrina days, we weren’t living in the real world.”

But, as Spike Lee argues in HBO’s If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, “take back New Orleans” was always more than a police directive or a response to chaos, it was rhetoric laden with toxic attitudes about race and class. It was a turn of phrase that had real world consequences the moment the levees broke.

Lee tells the story of Donnell Herrington, an African American who was shot by white vigilantes as he and two black friends tried to reach an evacuation point in the predominantly white enclave of Algiers Point. Like the Glover murder, the shooting of Donnell Herrington was first investigated by Thompson and The Investigative Fund as part of a larger history of white vigilantism in the Algiers Point region during the aftermath of Katrina.

The episode is one of a series of vignettes Lee uses to explore post-Katrina recovery. In the film, Lee visually links the white vigilantism in Algiers Point with police brutality that led to the death of eleven citizens, all black, at the hands of several NOPD officers, all white.

As the documentary shows, it is not just that vigilantism and police brutality happened in parallel. Both happened as part of a larger series of conflicts that played out along explicit racial and class lines. From the closure of Charity Hospital and the demolition of four of New Orleans’ largest public housing projects, to the shootings documented by Thompson, Lee shows a post-Katrina recovery ignoring — or actively working against — New Orleans’ poor and minority residents.

While the sheer breadth of the four-hour piece means Lee’s documentary covers a lot of ground, by the end, one idea sticks: “Take back New Orleans” was never a mantra spoken by all, for all. It was a mantra of exclusion, the same rhetoric that compelled one Algiers Point militiaman to explain to Thompson that the group was on the prowl not just for criminals, but for anyone who “did not belong.” In the words of a white woman in the same neighborhood, “We take care of our own.”

Once the levees broke, Katrina became far more than a natural disaster. As If God Is Willingshows, it became a means to create a new New Orleans — a New Orleans that shut out poor black communities that had built bayou culture in order to allow a new, whiter, more developed city to emerge.

Law & Disorder uses a narrower scope that leads to a neater conclusion. Henry Glover’s death — and the ensuing cover-up — were the product of the terrible, racially fueled decisions of a group of panicked police officers. It was also the product of a police department, government and media who joined forces to convert black citizens from victims into targets.

Law & Disorder only gestures to the broader narrative that makes If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise so powerful. Yet it manages to reinforce a critical point: the cruelties of Katrina were not natural, in any way. I encourage you to take the time to watch both documentaries. Law & Disorder can be viewed online; If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise is still being screened on HBO.