Magazine article The Crisis

Baton Rouge Police Accused of Abuse after Katrina

Magazine article The Crisis

Baton Rouge Police Accused of Abuse after Katrina

Article excerpt

After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of evacuees from New Orleans, sought refuge in nearby Baton Rouge. La. The stress of the resulting population explosion may have become too much for some of the city's police officers.

Baton Rouge NAACP President Kwame Asante estimates that in the first 60 days after the hurricane, the branch received between 50 and 75 complaints of police misconduct. Callers reported police officers using offensive language, detaining people longer than usual, handcuffing and slamming people onto cars, and striking and tasing people without justification. Most of the complaints were made by African Americans, Asante says.

The local NAACP moved quickly to bring these complaints to the attention of Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff, as the influx of so many African American evacuees had already heightened racial tensions in the city.

"This type of police action could have exploded into a worse situation," Asante explains.

On Dec. 17. the branch sponsored a forum where the public could voice their concerns to city authorities, including Chief LeDuff and City Councilman Byron Sharper.

"As a councilperson. I definitely need to be a voice if we have Black persons who are being mistreated by police officers." says Sharper, who represents a primarily African American district.

Meanwhile, the complaints the branch received gained further corroboration. In October. New Mexico and Michigan police reported witnessing police misconduct while assisting Baton Rouge officers after the hurricane. As a result, both agencies pulled their officers from the city within days of their arrival, and New Mexico authorities plan to submit a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Law enforcement officer[s] hold themselves to higher public standards and higher public scrutiny," says Peter Olson, communications director for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety about their complaint. …

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