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Louisiana police apologizes for 1993 blackface drug trafficking, but the officers stand by policy

Two Baton Rouge, La., police officers are seen wearing blackface as part of an undercover narcotics operation in 1993. The photo of the two officers popped up this week.
(The Rouge Collection)

Two white, undercover Louisiana narcotics police officers – armed with finely chopped chalk as a crack-cocaine-stand-in – covered their faces in black make-up and on the streets of a predominantly black neighborhood in Baton Rouge, in the hope to fool drug buyers.

Now, in the midst of national scandals involving blackface, the Baton Rouge Police Department is apologizing for the tactics used in the February 1993 “department-approved action.” But two of the officers involved in the 26-year-old program.

The Louisiana operation came to light after photos with some of the police in blackface in a police yearbook have surfaced online.

“Blackface photos are inappropriate and offensive. They were inappropriate and inappropriate today,” police chief Paul Murphy, who is black, said in a statement on Monday. “The Baton Rouge Police department would like to offer my apologies for our citizens and for anyone who may be offended by the photos.”

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In the photo, first published on Saturday by the local news site of the Rouge Collection, one of the police is seen wearing a blue jeans with a denim jacket over a white hoodie and white baseball cap and is making an apparent gang sign. The other driver is wearing denim overalls with a yellow bandana hanging out of his pocket.

Both wore a pair of sunglasses on, and looked extremely tan.

The caption on the photo reads: “The Soul Brothers.”

In an article of the Lawyer of the newspaper in 1993 – the year of the blackface functioning – then-Det. Frankie Caruso said the lack of diversity within the department played a large role in why the ministry approved the operation.

He said that the department’s two black narcotics officers were also “well known” in the environment, that is the reason why his wife, him and his white partner, who as a Lt. Don Stone, black, the Washington Post reported.

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“Not only do they not know that we are the police — they don’t even know we’re white!” Caruso told the newspaper the time.

Caruso and then-the police, Greg Phares, defended their tactics, tells the Advocate on Monday that it was only done with the intention to get drugs off the street, and not to degrade or make fun of black people.

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

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East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said in a statement, according to the Lawyer, that while it was a department-approved undercover operation for more than 25 years ago, “is not the correct one.”

“Blackface is more than just a costume,” she wrote. “It evokes a painful history in this country, and it is not suitable in every situation.”

Paul said that there is no administrative consequence against the Stone, which is still working at the department, because of a statute of limitation of internal officer investigations.

He also said, however, there are now a policy in order to prevent officials from engaging in such practices.

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This blackface scandal is the latest to hit the national radar last month after rampant displays of blackface by the leaders in Virginia and Florida, which recently has been rediscovered in the university’s yearbooks dating back decades.

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