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.
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.