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N-word, other racist language found in Baton Rouge Police Dept. emails

LOUISIANA WEEKLY — Just three months after a judge lifted a 39-year-old consent decree requiring the Baton Rouge Police Department to seek more diversity in its ranks, social justice proponents discovered emails to and from BRPD officers containing racist, vulgar language. The uncovered communications, which were sent in 2014 and 2015, placed the city of Baton Rouge and the BRPD on their heels at a time when they hoped to move on from a devastating history of racial and ethnic prejudice that culminated in 2016 with the shooting death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers.

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By Ryan Whirty

Just three months after a judge lifted a 39-year-old consent decree requiring the Baton Rouge Police Department to seek more diversity in its ranks, social justice proponents discovered emails to and from BRPD officers containing racist, vulgar language.

The uncovered communications, which were sent in 2014 and 2015, placed the city of Baton Rouge and the BRPD on their heels at a time when they hoped to move on from a devastating history of racial and ethnic prejudice that culminated in 2016 with the shooting death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers.

On Sept. 10, a collaborative composed of a Harvard University faculty member and a private law firm released emails they uncovered after a 2018 public information request seeking all uses of the n-word within communications to and from BRPD accounts.

According to a press release issued last week by William Most, a New Orleans attorney representing two plaintiffs in current lawsuits against the police department, he received a response to his public-records request in March.

The filing of the request and subsequent investigation was a joint effort between Most and Thomas Frampton, a fellow at Harvard Law School, and the Systemic Justice Project at Harvard. According to the press release, the request for the communications in question was made during an investigation by Most and Harvard not related to any legal action.

Among the collected emails received by Most were messages involving the accounts of two BRPD officers that made frequent use of vulgarity and the n-word that revealed significant hostility toward Baton Rouge’s large Black community.

“I had one f***king module left and now I’ll probably have to start over. F***king n***er,” stated one email from one of the officers to U.S. Army personnel.

Another email, this one between a Baton Rouge officer and an officer from another law enforcement agency featured a multi-sentence, grammatically-challenged, racist screed riddled with spelling errors against members of the African-American community.

“Don’t need to be sorry for nothing!!!” it stated. “My Blood is Boiling but I will kill them with kindness no n***er will ever bring me down .. Lol sorry it’s just they have Nothing better to do!! And he is like ovious married freaking titty baby motor cycle c*** s***er”. [All comments within the emails have been written verbatim, except for the censoring of the n-word and obscenity.]

Another message within the same email chain stated, “They wonder why their called N***ers!! I am f****ing PISSED!!!.”
Most told The Louisiana Weekly that since he and Frampton released the redacted emails to the public, the reaction from the community has been angry resignation at what many in the city’s Black population believe has come to be the status quo in Baton Rouge.

“People seem to be mostly reacting with anger – but not surprise – at the behavior of these officers,” he said.

Frampton said in the press release that such language and missives could directly affect the way BRPD officers investigate cases and charge suspects, especially people within minority communities. Frampton said the emails reveal a possible lack of objectivity and fairness among police officers.

“The East Baton Rouge District Attorney should have a plan in place to notify criminal defendants and their attorneys,” he said. “These sorts of emails call into question the credibility of the cases these officers have worked on.”

However, Sgt. L’Jean McKneely, a spokesman for the BRPD, noted that while the department has more than 600 officers on its roster, only two of them were found to use such language.

McKneely also said city officials on their own conduct periodic reviews of communications to and from all BRPD officers so the city can root out any such attitudes as soon as possible. He added that the discovery of the emails in question will be used by the BRPD and city as an impetus to further address racial animosity and bias among police officers and to continue to strengthen the relationship between officers and the community.

“It has caused awareness and discussion of these types of incidents,” McKneely said. “It’s an awakening that has brought these incidents to the forefront of our minds, and it makes us more proactive in our efforts to educate, No. 1, and encouraging our officers and let them know that this type of language is not acceptable in any way, shape or form.”

McKneely said since the uncovering of the emails in question, the officers involved have been questioned by BRPD Chief Murphy Paul and undergone an administrative review. McKneely added that Murphy ordered the two officers – whose names have not been released – to training programs that teach understanding and stress that such language and hostile attitudes are not acceptable.

Paul did not respond to a request for comment from The Louisiana Weekly. The BRPD union also didn’t answer an inquiry from the paper.

However, Most said that when he presented the involved emails to Paul, the chief’s response was largely positive and stressed the education and training of BRPD officers as a means to continue mending the fractured relationship the department has with the Baton Rouge community.

But most added that much more needs to be done.

“I find the seriousness of Chief Paul’s response encouraging,” he said. “But I also hope that this is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation about what we expect from the officers who serve our communities.”

Such sentiments have perhaps been heightened recently with the lifting of a four-decade consent decree requiring the city to make its police and fire departments more diverse and representative of the city’s general population.

The decree was lifted by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, asserting that the city had met the directives imposed by the decree that was imposed in 1980 and pushed Baton Rouge – as well as dozens of other municipalities across Louisiana – to become compliant with federal law concerning hiring and promotion of members of the departments.

While many of the other municipalities affected by the decree have steadily had the order lifted by courts over the last two decades, Baton Rouge lagged behind the progress shown by other towns and cities. The decree prohibited the cities from using discrimination along racial and gender lines when recruiting and hiring new police officers and firefighters. The order required that municipalities create and show paperwork during such hiring efforts as proof that diversification progress was being made.

The consent decree included guidelines for making the departments more representative of the community at large, calling for the hiring of equal numbers of white and Black officers and firefighters, as well as the addition of more women to the forces. The cities were also told to end the use of gender-specific titles like “policeman” and “fireman” and instead employ more gender-neutral terms.

McKneely said the BRPD has steadily worked toward the goals outlined in the decree, and multiple chiefs and administrations in the ensuing years have strived to meet the directives. McKneely said that process has been continued by Paul, who began his tenure as chief in January 2018, less than two years after Baton Rouge resident Sterling, a 37-year-old African-American man, was shot and killed at close range by BRPD officers in July 2016.

Sterling’s death led to several high-profile, heated demonstrations and protests by members of the public and clashes between protesters and police officers that exacerbated an already tense, distrustful chasm between the public and BRPD that had been splitting Baton Rouge since the days of Jim Crow segregation.

Sterling’s death helped fuel a nationwide movement, including the high-profile Black Lives Matter effort, toward awareness and rejection of bigotry, callousness and anger displayed by law enforcement agencies across the country.

McKneely acknowledged that more progress needs to be made by the BRPD to rectify past sins and eliminate distrust and antagonistic relations between the department and the public. However, he added that much progress has nonetheless been made over the past four decades.

“We feel this is a constant work in progress,” he said. “We are being progressive with our actions. We are taking steps to make our relationship better, to share ideas and communicate better. We want to raise people’s consciousness of what’s going on with the department and with the public, so we can together have a better relationship.

“Every police agency faces these issues [such as the racist emails],” he added, “but we are meeting it head on and not hiding from it.”

Most, the attorney involved in civil rights litigation, expressed cautious optimism about what might result from the emails controversy.

“In recent years, the City of Baton Rouge has not treated all its community members with the full constitutional protections they are entitled to,” Most said. “Hopefully this story, and others, sparks a conversation about how the City and police can do better in the future.”

This article originally published in the September 16, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

This article originally appeared in The Louisiana Weekly.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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