Yesterday, the Baton Rouge Advocate ran a fascinating as well as appalling story about police misconduct and racism in BR post-K.
Baton Rouge police officers routinely harassed black people, resorted to unnecessary violence and conducted illegal searches in the days after Hurricane Katrina, out-of-state troopers claimed in reports recently released by the Police Department.
One trooper said Baton Rouge officers referred to black people as “animals” that needed to be beaten down. Troopers also reported that officers said they were under orders to make life rough for New Orleans evacuees so they would leave town.
State Police in New Mexico and Michigan cited a pattern of violence and discrimination when they pulled their troopers out of Baton Rouge after just two days of helping local police deal with an influx of hurricane evacuees in September 2005.
None of this comes as a surprise to those of us who spent any time in Baton Rouge in 2005. Dr. A and I were in exile for 6 or 7 weeks. We spent part of that time in Shreveport and Dallas where people were very sympathetic and friendly if you mentioned you were from New Orleans. We spent the last part of our exile in Baton Rouge where we were met with hostility and suspicion. Even in areas where there were very few poor New Orleanians, people kept asking: “When are y’all going home?” My stock response was to explain that it was the authorities who were keeping us out and that we planned to leave ASAP. Eventually, I stopped telling people I was from New Orleans, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of dealing with the hostility.
Baton Rouge was a seething pit of paranoia, fear and downright Xenophobia in September and October, 2005. They were convinced that they were being invaded by hordes of welfare cheats, gangbangers, liberals and whatnot
from the big evil city of New Orleans. Red Stick has always had an inferiority complex vis a vis New Orleans, which was covered with a patina of contempt in the wake of Katrina. The BRPD hasn’t kept up very well with the changes in its own community, which has grown from a sleepy mid-sized guvmint/college/oil biz town into a sprawling urban area with all the usual problems that were exacerbated by the influx of New Orleanians. They’ve spent the last few years fighting the Advocate over the information contained in their files on post-K police misconduct and now we know why.
It’s obvious that people in Baton Rouge still have a chip on their collective shoulder in their attitude about what happened in 2005. They did indeed have to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of housing indigent evacuees from New Orleans but they could have done so with a neighborly spirit instead of viewing outsiders with fear and loathing. I, for one, am grateful to the Advocate for pursuing the truth and hope that it may dislodge the chip from a few shoulders in the Baton Rouge area but I’m not holding my breath. Old habits, and biases, are hard to break.
UPDATE: I just re-read the article and the folks in power in Red Stick say: Same as it ever was, same as it ever was. A feeble excuse to post a certain Talking Heads tune.