If You Want To Know What Sharon Weston Broome Is Going To Do With Race Relations In Baton Rouge, We Have Our Answer…

…and something tells us the results won’t be all that good.

We’re not going to do a deep dive into this. It speaks for itself. Instead, we’re going to let you read what the subcommittee of Baton Rouge’s new mayor-president’s transition team wrote in the section entitled “Race Relations” – in full. The whole thing is excerpted below.

Read it all, and ask yourself a few questions, including:

1. Why would the members of the transition team’s Sub-Committee on Race Relations believe the beneficiaries of “white privilege” in South Baton Rouge would have any interest whatsoever in “acting against that privilege” as they describe it? Why would they believe this is a recommendation it makes sense to make?

2. Why would anyone in support of a St. George incorporation believe an honest compromise could be made with a mayoral administration which puts on paper the material we’re excerpting below?

3. Exactly what does it mean to suggest “redeveloping whole neighborhoods” as a means of furthering race relations?

4. What’s in this report that middle-class black people living in South Baton Rouge would find useful?

Anyway, here it is, in all its glory…

Race Relations

Co-Chairs: Dr. Albert Samuels, Ms. Michelle Gieg
Committee Members: Sister Judith Brun, Errol Domingu, Jared Loftus, Bishop Robert W. Muench, John Noland, Joseph Possa, Sadie Roberts-Joseph, James Santiago Vilas

The Race Relations Transition Sub-Committee began its work with three core principles:

1. Race is a social construct.
2. Race is an issue that has meant (and means) different things to different people over time and by geography.
3. Race in America—and therefore in Louisiana and in Baton Rouge—is deeply rooted in institutional slavery.

Knowing this, the Sub-committee approached its work in crafting the recommendations in this report through the following lens: First, what issues are we currently facing in our city that are most tied to race? Second, if we look deeply at the issues through the lens of race relations, what recommendations most align to dismantling the systems of privilege that currently allow race to dictate outcomes?

Put simply, the Sub-committee believes that Baton Rouge is plagued by our racial divide. People with privilege must recognize it, understand it, and act against it in order for our city to move past the divisive lines history has drawn. Baton Rouge must all identify where structural racism and white privilege create a system of preference in economic, political and social systems. We all must actively create offsetting systems that level the playing field for people of color, especially those living in poverty.

We must all acknowledge the past wrong-doing and its effect on the present, and look to the future. The Sub-committee hopes that future is one where citizens meet in the middle as opposed to extending invitations to the other side. No one should have to be “converted” as much as encouraged to become aware of a different perspective. Baton Rouge aspires to be a city that seeks out our differences and learns to appreciate them, that acknowledges our history yet seeks to create a brighter tomorrow for all of its citizens, and that is a beacon of light to other cities facing their own race-related issues. Baton Rouge should act as an example of what TO DO as opposed to what NOT TO DO.

As a transition committee, we recognize that race is difficult to discuss in the public domain, but it is the “current” that underpins everything. This Sub-committee has chosen three issues that are bringing the “current” of race to the surface: St. George Breakaway Movement, Neighborhood Redevelopment and City Policing. This report further details recommendations in each of these three areas.

Background and Vision

Historical Context: Race, The American Dilemma

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. . . . . .

It is no small matter that when Thomas Jefferson penned the famous words in the Declaration of Independence, chattel slavery of men and women of African descent in the newly christened nation had already been legal for more than a century. European observers of the American Revolution that was transpiring an ocean away could not miss the irony of a struggle justified in the name of universal human liberty being led by slaveholders. The French nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting the United States in the 1830’s, called the institution of slavery the most “formidable threat” to the future of the nation in his classic work, Democracy in America.

A century later, following a brutal civil war, Reconstruction and decades of both de jure racial segregation in the South and de facto racism in other parts of the country, Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal (1944) echoed Tocqueville’s assessment. The “American dilemma,” Myrdal writes, is essentially a moral one: it represents the contradiction between our nation’s ideal of equality for all and its history of systematic racial discrimination against African Americans. While significant social and economic progress has been made since the civil rights revolution of the 1950’s and 1960’s, substantial gaps in equal opportunity across racial lines remain stubbornly resilient in the United States. Given the historical sweep of the race problem, it would be shocking if Baton Rouge, Louisiana, did not face significant issues with regard to race relations.

The term “race” has no biological significance. The Human Genome Project has demonstrated conclusively that there is no biological basis for the belief that there is a “natural” foundation for racial distinctions: Researchers have found more genetic similarity within so-called “races” than within “races.” Moreover, the term has been defined differently over time and across nations, and even differently within the same nation. (For example, the term “white” in America encompasses groups such as Jews, Poles, Greeks, Czechs, Italians, and others who have not always been considered “white.”) Thus, race is a social construct that has varied greatly over time and cultural contexts.

For our purposes in this report, what is relevant is how race has been defined in the United States. In our country, race refers to specific, physical characteristics that are believed to be evidence of inherent and permanent differences among men. These differences are held to be so significant that human beings may be legitimately divided into separate categories based on their possession of these characteristics.

Most prominent among the physical characteristics relied upon to designate difference is skin color—hence, the categories “white,” “black,” “red,” and “yellow.” Racism is the worldview that arbitrarily assigns a hierarchy to these racial categories and asserts the inherent superiority of those who are members of the favored caste. It provides the rationale for members of that caste to monopolize the lion’s share of the economic and political power of society and to dominate other socially significantly arenas within the nation.

In the United States, the “white” race occupies the top rung on the ladder of racial hierarchy. Thus, “whiteness” represents the cultural norm of American society. Members of all other racial groups are measured by the extent to which they conform with, or deviate from, the “objective” standard of white Americans. White supremacy is the worldview that assigns preeminence to characteristics shared by members of the white race and provides the ideological justification for their overwhelming domination of the nation’s economic, social, political, and cultural institutions. Whites achieved their exalted place in the American racial hierarchy as a result of the need to justify the institution of slavery in the English colonies that would eventually become the United States of America. The eminent historian Edmund Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom (1975) traces the origin of the American idea of race to the colonization of seventeenth century Virginia. After several failures, fits and starts, Virginians resorted to chattel enslavement of Africans as a solution to the persistent problems associated with labor shortages, growing economic demand, and social unrest from landless, disenfranchised poor English indentured servants.

The English colonists of Virginia, of course, were hardly strangers to the concept of social inequality. The aristocratic, hereditary monarchy from which they emigrated personified inequality as a social norm. Indeed, had it been possible for the colony’s masters to simply transplant the identical social hierarchies that they were familiar with in England, there is little reason to believe that they would not have done so. However, creating a civilization out of the Virginia wilderness required a stable labor force that could be more ruthlessly exploited than the type of drudgery that English peasants and urban dwellers were accustomed to. Moreover, it was difficult to reduce English indentured servants to slavery (which had disappeared in most of Europe by this time) because even though they were used to being treated as the inferiors of the noble class they nevertheless had some consciousness of having “rights”—no matter how imperfectly they may have existed in reality. The shift to reliance on African labor solved the problem in a number of ways. Slavery created solidarity between the poor and the slaveholding aristocracy by creating the category of “whiteness,” hence bestowing upon poor whites a social status that they could have never achieved in England. As a result, poor whites had a vested interest in maintaining the racial status quo and thereby aligned their sympathies in the main with the slaveholding class as opposed to the enslaved Africans. In effect, race served as a new form of aristocracy in that it shared the same basic premise—the belief in both the inherent and permanent nature of social inequality and class difference. Therefore, no matter how trying the hardships that the poor white man might be required to endure in the New World, he could take solace in one certainty—at least he wasn’t black. Whiteness meant that one can never be a slave.

Thus, when the Founders proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” their words presumed a social consensus on the doctrine of white supremacy. The same Thomas Jefferson who penned the familiar words in the nation’s founding document also wrote Notes on the State of Virginia (1782) in which he openly speculated about the natural inferiority of blacks when compared to the white race. In this regard, Thomas Jefferson was not alone: He personified the soul of a nation. Rather than viewing the inconsistency between the Founders’ ideals of universal liberty and the reality of slavery as a puzzling moral contradiction in their thinking, it is best understood as a house built on the foundation of the doctrine of white supremacy. This doctrine never contemplated incorporating African Americans as equals, entitled to full citizenship in the new nation they were forging.

However, ideas have consequences, and sometimes they have reverberations that extend far beyond what their original adherents and practitioners may have intended or ever contemplated. This is true of the Declaration of Independence. As a practical matter, it is merely academic who the “men” were that the Founders intended their declaration of universal liberty to apply to at that particular moment in history: What matters is that they said “all men are created equal.” By using such universal language, the Declaration serves as an open invitation to every group of Americans who legitimately believes that they are being illegitimately excluded from the mainstream of American society and unfairly deprived of the bounty of America.

As a consequence, black protest movements spanning from abolition to the Black Lives Matter movement today have been spared the task of either importing a theory of revolution from abroad or developing their own. Rather, they need only invoke the nation’s own founding documents to support their cause. Thus, David Walker merely had to say, “Are we not, men?” or Sojourner Truth could ask, “Ain’t I a woman?” It is both noteworthy and not accidental, for example, that Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech draws inspiration from the Declaration of Independence, not The Communist Manifesto. Indeed, the issue of “race relations” in the United States boils down to the ongoing struggle to square America’s social reality with its founding ideals.

This report represents one more step in that ongoing struggle. In our case, it is an attempt to move the Baton Rouge community closer toward the goal of building “a more perfect union.”

An Access Divide

We believe that there is a serious “Access Divide” in Baton Rouge that is rooted in issues of race. Put simply, the geography of our city is divided along racial lines. In addition to this, income inequality in our city is divided along racial and geographical lines. Thus, there exists what is popularly known as a “North” and “South” Baton Rouge. These communities within our city are largely known for how they are different. While “North” Baton Rouge is known for being predominately people of color, “South” Baton Rouge is known for being mostly white. While “North” Baton Rouge is known for being predominately underprivileged, “South” Baton Rouge is known for being mostly privileged. While “North” Baton Rouge is known for being under-resourced, “South” Baton Rouge is known for being well-resourced. In recent years, several issues have heightened this divide, and have created a perception that the community north of Florida Boulevard is less worthy of investment. For example, the proposal to move the Baton Rouge Zoo to South Baton Rouge, the closing of Earl K. Long Hospital and the Baton Rouge General Emergency Room in Mid-City all highlight this problem. This sits on top of what we see as a 50-year investment gap in the neighborhoods north of Florida Boulevard.

This divide is the base from which racial problems in our city manifest themselves. Essentially, if a person in Baton Rouge lives in either “North” or “South” Baton Rouge, they are able to opt-out of understanding or experiencing the area in which they do not live. This lack of human understanding, which can be attributed to structural racism3 and white4 privilege , leaves us largely unaware of our collective experience as citizens in this community.

Put simply, our committee believes that people with privilege must recognize it, understand it and act against it in order for our city to move past the divisive lines history has drawn. We must all acknowledge the past wrong-doing, its effect on the present, and look to the future. We must all identify where structural racism and white privilege create a system of preference in economic, political and social systems. We all must actively create offsetting systems that level the playing field for people of color, especially those living in poverty.

The Sub-committee recognizes that race is difficult to discuss in the public domain, but it is the “current” that underpins everything. Therefore, the Sub-committee has chosen three issues that are bringing the “current” of race to the surface:

• Issue 1: St. George Breakaway Movement
• Issue 2: Neighborhood Redevelopment
• Issue 3: City Policing

Proposals for New Initiatives

Issue 1: St. George Breakaway Movement

Why is this issue connected to race?

The campaign by a citizens’ group in the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish to incorporate a separate city after two failed legislative efforts to create an independent school district has drawn national—and unflattering—attention to the Baton Rouge community. The proposed city, if created, will be named St. George. It would instantly become the fifth largest city in Louisiana with over 107,000 residents.

In 2013, an economic study commissioned by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce documents the wide disparity that exists between the per capita income of the proposed city of St. George and the city of Baton Rouge. The average per capita income of residents of St. George is over $88,000. Meanwhile, the average per capita income of Baton Rouge city residents stands at over $58,000—a $30,000 difference. Additionally, the proposed city includes three of the wealthiest subdivisions in the state of Louisiana: Westminster, Shenandoah and Oak Hills Place.

More than 70 percent of the population in the proposed new city is white, whereas 55 percent of Baton Rouge residents are black and 40 percent are white.

The study also warns that the incorporation effort, if successful, will reduce the revenues of Baton Rouge’s city-parish government by an estimated $53 million. Such a scenario would force city leaders to propose either dramatic tax increases, drastic budget cuts to city-parish services, or some combination of the two.

Seeking to “head off ” the renewal of the campaign to incorporate the city of St. George ranks as one of the priorities on which Mayor-President Broome’s administration should focus. The Sub-committee believes that a fight over St. George would be an unmitigated disaster at a time when the Baton Rouge community desperately needs to strive toward pulling together. If the St. George movement succeeds, it will serve to further exacerbate racial tensions in Baton Rouge, not alleviate them.

Proposed Initiatives

  1. Make every effort to sit down with the organizers of the St. George incorporation movement with the aim of finding common ground that will both satisfy supporter concerns without compromising the interests of the rest of the parish. The Mayor-President and her team should take the initiative to meet with the St. George petitioners to seek solutions to the outstanding issues. It is hoped that such outreach will be received as good faith efforts that can set the stage for open, honest dialogue about the future of our parish. Hopefully, the organizers can be persuaded that a breakaway effort would be needlessly divisive and disruptive— particularly in a community still reeling from the impact of the August 2016 floods. Furthermore, a rerun of this controversy will damage Baton Rouge’s national reputation and hamper the city and the region’s ability to market our community as a good place to locate businesses and attract and retain top talent.
  2. However, if compromise with the organizers of the St. George movement is not possible, their effort must be defeated. Should an all-out campaign to defeat the incorporation campaign become imperative, the following steps should be followed:
    1. Currently, a small minority of the parish’s citizens would have power to visit economic carnage on the rest of the parish. The Mayor-President should lobby the Louisiana legislature to change the law regarding the minimum threshold required to bring an incorporation vote to the ballot. This could happen in one of three ways:
      1. Current law requires petitioners obtain the signatures of only 25 percent of the registered voters in the proposed area in order to force a vote. We propose to increase the percentage of petitioners required to force a vote on the issue.
      2. There is currently no deadline or set time period for the petition to gather the requisite number of signatures once started. The Subcommittee propose a mandated timeline for petition completion (ideally 180 days).
      3. Once successful, only the voters in the proposed area can vote on incorporation. The administration should seek to amend the law to require that any vote on St. George incorporation allows all voters in the parish to participate.
    2. The administration should reassemble the political coalition that successfully defeated the St. George campaign in its first effort.
    3. The administration should engage in a public advertising campaign to persuade the public that the incorporation of St. George would be disastrous for East Baton Rouge Parish. In particular, data from the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 study should be utilized to highlight the massive economic repercussions that a breakaway would have on the City-Parish’s finances as well as its prospects for economic development. Additionally, information from Together Baton Rouge’s 2014 study can and should be highlighted to point out that the proposed St. George school district would be far costlier and far more disruptive, both to the citizens of Baton Rouge and St. George, than its organizers have been willing to acknowledge.
    4. The administration should rebut the “pet” talking points of the breakaway proponents:
      1. Example 1: The St. George organizers deny that their residents will experience significant increases in their property taxes if they incorporate because their area generates so much sales tax revenue that property tax increases are not necessary. The experience of the breakaway districts of Central and Zachary contradict that argument. That is patently nonsensical.
      2. Example 2: Even if incorporation is successful, that does not assure the residents of St. George that they will get a school district in the end. St. George would still have to go to the state legislature to seek approval to create a school district. Once adopted by the legislature, the measure then must be approved by the voters as a constitutional amendment. Therefore, the incorporation of St. George and the establishment of the school district are actually two separate processes. They are not the same, as some supporters of the petition drive seem to believe.
      3. Even if an incorporation vote takes place and succeeds, the actual “divorce” between Baton Rouge and the new city of St. George, in all likelihood, could be tied up in litigation that could drag on for years. This controversy will enrich lawyers on both sides of this case for an indefinite amount of time into the future.
  3. Most important of all, craft a positive vision of a confident, inclusive, optimistic, Baton Rouge to counter the negative, divisive character of the St. George movement. Former Mayor-President Kip Holden got it right in 2004 when he campaigned on the slogan “One Baton Rouge is Better.” The administration needs to develop a catchy, easy-to-remember slogan that encapsulates the Mayor’s President to build an inclusive, progressive Baton Rouge. This will appeal to all voters, and give people a reason to advocate for the collective.

Issue 2: Neighborhood Redevelopment

Why is this issue connected to race?

Generational poverty self-perpetuates. It deepens and sustains our racial divide. Products such as food and shelter will not end generational poverty. Relationships are at the root of human change. Redeveloping whole neighborhoods will revitalize relationships and create changes needed for a more inclusive city. As stated in our definition of the problem, Baton Rouge is a community divided by race along geographic lines roughly demarcated into what is known as “North” and “South” Baton Rouge. “North” Baton Rouge is a community with several neighborhoods in which the conditions and lack of access to proactive services sustain our city’s divisions along racial lines.

Proposed Initiatives

  1. Properly fund the Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority (RDA) and give it the necessary support it needs to bring impact to the city. Historically, the Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority (RDA) has invested in the five council districts represented by African Americans. Its priorities are blight removal, employment growth, and a promotion of a general climate to increase economic growth and development. The RDA began with an $80 million new market tax credit. It received about $7 million from the Capital Area Finance Association (CAFA) and $3 million from federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).
    1. The administration should fund the RDA with the following levels of support: $1 million in year one, $2 million in year two and $3 million yearly thereafter.
    2. The administration should charge the RDA with the following initiatives to better whole neighborhoods throughout the city:
      1. Implement Land Banking, so that whole areas can be re-thought and redeveloped over time through pooling adjudicated property
      2. Address Blight, so that blighted neighborhoods are reimagined in partnership with the neighbors in that area
      3. Increase Capital Access, so that we can reverse years of disinvestment
      4. Create Opportunistic Projects, so that we can replicate successful redevelopment in other American cities (such as the Entergy site on Government Street)
      5. Utilize Tax Incentives, so that individuals and businesses who are willing to invest in neighborhoods that they may ordinarily dismiss

Issue 3: City Policing

Why is this issue connected to race?

The Sub-committee understands that it was tasked with the issue of how to better address and improve race relations within the City-Parish. It also understands that there is a separate committee established to deal with the Baton Rouge Police Department. Our team has taken the approach of how to possibly improve Race Relations within the Baton Rouge Police Department and the community.

One cannot watch the cell phone video of Alton Sterling’s death and not conclude that something isn’t right. Sterling’s death brought to the surface the difficult reality our community faces as it relates to race and racism. This is a divisive and difficult topic, as it’s couched in deep-seated mindsets and habits among the public and the police force. The Sub-committee is recommending systemic changes in the way that our community polices and views policing so that we may, in time, create a more inclusive and aware system.

“There can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race or poverty. But with all, we accomplish all, even peace.”
W.E.B. DuBois

Proposed Initiatives

  1. Mayor-President Broome should be part of the conversation related to the Alton Sterling investigation verdict. The Sub-committee suggests that the MayorPresident be a key voice in helping our community cope with the verdict, no matter what the result. Baton Rouge should use the verdict as a platform for tough conversations about race and policing, like the forum Together Baton Rouge on Police Reform on January 31st.
  2. Leverage the Mayor’s appointee to the Civil Service Board as a crucial representative. The Civil Service Board is comprised of one member from the BRPD, one from the BRFD, two from the community and one from the Mayor-President’s office. The Subcommittee believes that the overall makeup of the police department is comprised of good people wanting to do good work. However, the good work that they do is being tarnished by the actions of a few “bad apples.” It is our understanding that these “bad apples” are known to many, but have been largely left to go free because of how difficult it is to terminate someone when the need arises to go before the civil service board.
    1. The administration should appoint a person of sound judgment who can approach complicated decisions from an unbiased perspective.
    2. The administration should ensure that all officers be informed that they will be held accountable for their actions, regardless of race and the color of the alleged perpetrator, and that there will be stricter discipline for those few that don’t follow proper protocol.
    3. The administration should establish measures of accountability ensuring transparency in all levels of operation.
    4. The administration should audit the documentation practices of incidents and employment expectations at the BRPD so that proper documentation is always accessible and up-to-date.
  3. Shore up body camera logistics. It is imperative that ALL police officers on-duty have a body cam operational at all times.
    1. The administration should ensure that guidelines be put in place IF the cam is turned off or falls off.
    2. The administration should ensure that any mishaps be placed in an officer file for future reference.
  4. Increase activities that promote diversity and inclusiveness among the police force.
    1. The administration should hold an annual bi-racial training session for all officers. This training should cover conflicts, best practices and de-escalation of situations.
    2. Wherever possible, officers of different race and/or backgrounds be placed in patrol teams together, or covering adjacent areas of the city-parish.
    3. Officers are to have a constant visual of their purpose, “to serve and to protect” the community in which they work. Through education, the department will realize the diversity of the population, including ethical, educational, economic, and other variables.
    4. The administration should increase funding for more competitive pay (as compared to state police or other high paid municipalities), while simultaneously increasing focus on recruiting more officers of color.
  5. Build a greater sense of public trust in the police.
    1. The administration should make use of public service announcements, ministers, community leaders, media, Mayor-President Broome, and all others to actively profess and educate that without police and security, we would have anarchy; that community policing is needed and required so that residents feel comfortable knowing and going to report crime to “their” officer; that each community be respected by all who live and patrol there. Some ways in which this could happen are:
      1. by “Putting Feet on the Street,” parking the patrol car and walking the beat, enabling officers to break down walls of fear and build relationships of mutual respect;
      2. by increasing the number of bicycles on patrol, improving health and fitness, building stronger community relations and possibly leading to improved youth involvement;
      3. by creating easier access and safety for reporting suspicious drug-related activity in neighborhoods;
      4. by re-implementing the Neighborhood Watch Program; and
      5. by having group conversations, where people and police listen to each other and establish common grounds.

This report was assumedly written by Albert Samuels, a political science professor at Southern University who served as a co-chair of the transition team’s race-relations subcommittee. It is emblematic of the cultural Marxism Samuels has on offer whenever he chooses to pontificate on race relations or any other topics, whether on social media or in op-eds or other fora for public discussion. That Broome and her transition team would publish it as an official statement of her administration’s intentions is instructive, but not surprising – the Director of Transition for the team, LSU law professor Christopher Tyson, raised eyebrows by calling the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Stephanie Riegel a racist last week for having suggested individual agency and behavior had something to do with inequality of outcomes in town.

To see the entire 154-page collection of reports from the transition team, click here.

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