Red Stick, Night Stick

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.

6 thoughts on “Red Stick, Night Stick

  1. Chalk this up as another of a bazillion reasons why, when my husband got a job in Red Stick post-8/29/05, we chose to live in New Orleans and he commuted back and forth daily until the past year or so. He says most of his Red Stick office mates can’t wrap their heads ’round why we aren’t living in Baton Rouge.
    Maybe we really DON’T want a high-speed rail line connecting BR & NO…

  2. Yes we do. I gotta haul my ass up there Thursday for a workshop. Would be a lot lot less crappy of a thing if all I had to do was hop a flying railcar. But thanks to PBJ that will never ever happen and now I’ve got to put another 80 miles on my 94 Tercel with a bad CV joint. Hope I’m not dead next week. But if I am, it’s the Governor’s fault and I’m coming for him… so long as his exorcist isn’t on call that day.

  3. Baton Rouge, sad to say, ALWAYS opts for petty and small-minded when given a choice. Sigh. Beaumont-Upon-Mississippi, or Starkville…but with less charm.
    Having said that, I’ll still vouch for Kip Holden, who’s a decent mayor and decent person. Full disclosure: I knew him way back when he was a reporter…not well, but well enough to say hello and chat a bit when running into him here and there.
    I won’t defend his remarks in the linked article, and his more infamous comment in 2005, but I will note that he is a politician, and I think political calculus played into particularly his reaction to what turned out to be an erroneous news report about “rioting” in downtown BR.
    As for the local police, well…I doubt it’s much different anywhere else…my personal encounters with them have been for the most part cordial, on the other hand, an older black guy whom I considered a friend was killed by the police in either 2000 or 2001…George James definitely had issues re: mental health, but he was in no way a threat to anyone…geez, barely a week previous I’d run into him at a local bar and dropped him off at the very house where the cops shot him…

  4. You know what? Not all of us in Baton Rouge were monstrous ogres, shooting at anything New Orleans. Some of us (many of us) opened our homes, our arms, our hearts to your fellow Orleanians to provide shelter and comfort, and aid. We put up with rude drivers who blocked intersections and shot the bird to us, we watched an enormous spike in violent crime and trusted our city leaders to protect both us and your transplants.
    We gave time and money to help in clearing and rebuilding your neighborhoods; we fed you and sheltered you and gave you what comfort we could: black, white, brown, whatever.
    You clean up your own police department. We’ll clean up ours.

  5. Din: What a classic summary of the BR mind set. You hit all the usual points; especially the stuff about outsiders butting out. Can anyone in BR take *any* criticism at all?
    Michael: I met Kip much longer ago than I care to admit when we were both students. He *is* a good guy as well as an excellent politician, which is why I write his comments off to expediency.
    Jeffrey: You’re driving that piece of shit to BR? Holy crap.

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