Louisiana police officers defend wearing blackface in 1993 for a drug operation

While the Baton Rouge police department is apologizing for the controversial tactics it used in the 1990s, which were “department-approved,” two white officers are still defending the fact that they put on blackface to perform an undercover drug operation in a predominantly black neighborhood in Baton Rouge, La. in in 1993. In lieu of cocaine, the two officers displayed crushed-up chalk in an attempt to lure unsuspecting buyers.

Photos of the two police officers wearing blackface came to light after a police yearbook surfaced online. The caption of the photo read, “The Soul Brothers.”

“Blackface photographs are inappropriate and offensive,” Police Chief Murphy Paul, who is black, said in a statement on Monday. “They were inappropriate then and are inappropriate today. The Baton Rouge Police Department would like to apologize to our citizens and to anyone who may have been offended by the photographs.”

In an interview with the Advocate in 1993, then-Detective Frankie Caruso said that he and Lt. Don Stone wore blackface because there were so few African-American officers in the department. The Washington Post reports that two black narcotics officers were too “well-known” in the area. Caruso’s wife put makeup on her husband and on Lt. Stone.

“Not only do they not know we’re cops — they don’t even know we’re white!” Caruso said at the time, according to the Washington Post. On the evidence of the photos, that seems unlikely.

Both Caruso and the police chief at the time, Greg Phares, who now serves as chief deputy at the East Feliciana sheriff’s office, said that the officers decided to wear blackface in order to get drugs off the street, and not to disparage black people. “I have no problem whatsoever with what these officers did,” Phares said. “For anyone to try to make this some sort of racial issue two decades or more later is just beyond ridiculous.”

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, however, said that the fact that the incident took place more than 25 years ago does not make it right. “[Blackface] invokes a painful history in this country, and it is not appropriate in any situation,” Broome said.

According to Chief Paul, Stone, who is still employed with the department, will not face any consequences, given the statute of limitations on internal officer investigations.

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