Many of us here in Acadiana think of Baton Rouge as that traffic-congested cultural wasteland we drive through on our way to New Orleans, a city with which we’ve long had an affinity because of our shared French heritage, similar cultural cachet and Catholicism in common. That’s unfair to Baton Rouge: there’s cool stuff there, great blues music, a downtown revitalization to rival Lafayette's and some truly nice people.
Yet it’s also a city that has been for 20 years undergoing the urban paroxysms of white flight and the concentration of poverty that have plagued many metropolises in the U.S. And for many in the capital region, this week’s killing of 37-year-old Alton Sterling by two white BR cops, while shocking, wasn’t surprising.
The left-leaning website Raw Story reminded readers on Wednesday that Baton Rouge, even before the Sterling incident, is still in need of some reconstruction. The site posted a photo collage taken at this year’s Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade (image above) showing a float teeming with inebriated white people mocking the Black Lives Matter movement, waving Confederate battle flags, depicting President Obama as a pimp and poking fun at high-profile cases of black men killed by police. And though a sizable stratum of the social culture in Baton Rouge might countenance casual racism, the city’s police department has a history of often brutal interaction with the black community.
The Times-Picayune’s Jarvis DeBerry notes in a post Wednesday evening at nola.com that Sterling’s death is far from the first time Baton Rouge Police’s interactions with the black community have been questioned, and not just by activists:
Many law enforcement officials came to Louisiana immediately after Hurricane Katrina to provide reinforcements, and one state trooper from Michigan said Baton Rouge police attempted to thank him for his help by letting him “beat down” a prisoner. A trooper from New Mexico wrote a letter to the Baton Rouge police expressing the concerns of seven New Mexico troopers and five Michigan troopers that Baton Rouge police were engaging in racially motivated enforcement, that they were physically abusing prisoners and the public and that they were stopping, questioning and searching people without any legal justification.
In case you weren’t paying attention, I’ll repeat it: The people accusing Baton Rouge police of brutality and racism were other law enforcement officials.
DeBerry doesn’t stop there — he’s just beginning — ticking off a litany of incidents and racist social media posts by Baton Rouge Police officers that suggest the Red Stick is a raw deal for many of its black residents.