Now Louisiana Officials Find Themselves In Hot Water Over a Blackface Photo

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Posted: Feb 12, 2019 9:50 PM
Now Louisiana Officials Find Themselves In Hot Water Over a Blackface Photo

Source: Pexels

Back in 1993, two Louisiana narcotics officers wore blackface to go undercover. They crumbled up chalk and pretended it was crack cocaine in an effort to convince people in a black neighborhood they were drug dealers, the Washington Post reported. 

“Not only do they not know we’re cops — they don’t even know we’re white!” then-Detective Frankie Caruso told the Advocate newspaper.

A picture of the two officers, referred to as "soul brothers," appeared in a department yearbook that has since surfaced. The picture is confirmed to be of Crimestoppers coordinator Lt. Don Stone and now-retired police Capt. Frankie Caruso.

The Baton Rouge Police Department and the city's mayor are now apologizing for the undercover tactics used back then. 

"Blackface photographs are inappropriate and offensive. They were inappropriate then and are inappropriate today. The Baton Rouge Police Department would like to apologize to our citizens and to anyone who may have been offended by the photographs," Police Chief Murphy Paul said in a statement.

According to Paul, his team can't conduct an investigation because the department is "bound by the Louisiana Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which places a timeline on administrative investigations related to officer conduct."

He did, however, make it known that his officers no longer use these type of tactics. 

"Today, we would not allow our officers to wear blackface in an official capacity under any circumstances. We have policies in place to prevent our officers from engaging in this type of behavior both on and off-duty," Paul said.

East Baton Rouge Mayor President Sharon Weston Broome shared Paul's sentiments. 

"It has come to my attention that a photo circulating on social media depicts Baton Rouge Police Department officers wearing what appears to be blackface during a department-approved undercover operation which took place in 1993. While this may have been department-approved 25 years ago, that does not make it right," Broome said in a statement. "Blackface is more than just a costume. It invokes a painful history in this country and it is not appropriate in any situation."

Part of the reason officers were forced to dress in blackface, according to the Advocate article from 1993, was because the department had very few black officers. There were only two and they were known in the drug community. 

At the time, the department said the sting was a success (from WaPo):

In the photo, one wore denim on denim over a white hoodie, with his hood slipped over a white baseball cap and his fingers contorted into some apparent gang gesture. The other let the right strap of his denim overalls dangle from his shoulder and a yellow bandanna dangle from his pocket. Both wore sunglasses. Both looked perversely tan.

Once at the scene, according to the 1993 account, the officers attracted 10 buyers in less than an hour, issuing court summons instead of making arrests, because — at the height of the war on drugs — the local jail was full. When one woman drove up to the undercover officers, seeking crack, one of the officers yelled, “We got one!” as he held up her two $10 bills.

Another man in his 50s attempted to pay with food stamps.

Caruso and then-Police Chief Greg Phares defended the decision, saying their goal at the time was to get drugs off the street. Caruso said it was one of the many different undercover getups he had. He said he also posed as a gay man, a biker and a prostitute.

"You got to dress the part," Caruso said. "It wasn't done offensively."

"I have no problem whatsoever with that these officers did," Phares, who currently serves as chief deputy at the East Feliciana Sheriff’s Office, told the Advocate. "For anyone to try to make this some sort of racial issue two decades or more later is just beyond ridiculous.”

This is the latest picture of people dressed in blackface to come to light. Previously, it was discovered that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) had a yearbook photo of him dressed in blackface.