Can Baton Rouge’s Black Community Be Saved From Its Own Leadership?

The question in the headline is certainly a harsh one, and Lord knows it’s going to engender the usual stupidities and claims of racism. We’ll head that off very quickly by saying that Baton Rouge is a city guilty of nearly criminal (and perhaps there’s no nearly about it) underachievement. And that cuts across racial lines.

The mostly white people who ran Baton Rouge during the latter part of the 20th century were responsible for it falling behind peer cities like Little Rock, Austin, Raleigh and others in so many ways – transportation, business, economic development, infrastructure, education, poverty, crime, you name it. Baton Rouge’s business community, which is mostly white, is pretty sclerotic; it depends on the petrochemical industry and the ability to service those big industrial plants along the river, and other than that it’s a whole lot of government work those companies are doing.

We don’t make a lot of finished goods here, we do very little high-tech work, there’s virtually no domestic banking or finance. It’s just a whole lot of underachievement.

So we could ask a question in the headline about the white community in Baton Rouge and it would be a valid thing to do.

We’re focusing on the black community in Baton Rouge, though, for two reasons. One, the black power elite is who runs this town now. That’s been increasingly true for 19 years since Kip Holden’s initial election as mayor in 2004. Holden came to power with the blessing of the business community in South Baton Rouge, and while he catered to business as much as he needed to in order to hold power, it was Holden’s people who were ascendant.

And since Sharon Weston Broome succeeded Holden in 2016, that process has been accelerating rapidly. Broome’s people (meaning her ruling cabal) run this city, and for the most part they’re black folks from North Baton Rouge.

Sure, there’s a white district attorney. He’s toothless. There’s a white sheriff, and in the unincorporated parts of East Baton Rouge Parish where the sheriff’s department is the chief law enforcement agency, there is some semblance of law and order. And the Metro Council has a majority of seven white Republicans to five black Democrats, but you wouldn’t know it because most of the big issues that go before that body are decided in the minority’s favor thanks to the constant capitulation of two or three of those Republicans.

The active ingredient in Baton Rouge politics is the black community. If that wasn’t true Alton Sterling’s family would have received nothing rather than the $5 million the Metro Council gave them. Allie Rice’s killer would have been found and prosecuted. Frankly, the disparate reactions to those two deaths tell you all you need to know about who runs this place.

But exactly who runs this place? It isn’t enough to say “the blacks.” Which blacks? What organizations drive things?

Does the NAACP drive things in Baton Rouge? Most people would tell you they’re relevant, if not dominant, in the political conversation. That’s arguable, as a lot of these things are. But local NAACP head Eugene Collins seems to be a relatively ubiquitous political presence.

So if he’s a credible representative of the black community in Baton Rouge, what does it say that this has happened?

Some community leaders call Marvin Payne a positive influence in Baton Rouge, but on Tuesday afternoon he turned himself in at the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail for an active warrant on drug charges.

Payne has a criminal history dating back to 2008. His arrests range from possession of drugs, weapons and second-degree murder. These new charges stem from a major¬†drug bust in Zion City.¬†Payne’s lawyer, Harry Daniels, told WBRZ Tuesday afternoon that these new charges are bogus.

“We’ve learned that Mr. Payne has an arrest warrant for some charges that we believe are false,” Daniels told WBRZ.

Deputies say they seized a large amount of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and firearms while executing search warrants in Zion City. Payne’s arrest report says he is accused of having two cooking containers coated with fentanyl residue, and a kitchen cabinet coated with both cocaine and fentanyl residue.

Arrest documents from 2021 say Payne was a leader of a gang called “5400 Boys.” It says Payne was accused of distributing heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances.

An indictment from February 2022 says Payne was involved in the second-degree murder of Jordan Jenkins.

The head of the local NAACP, Eugene Collins, defended Payne after his latest arrest, pointing out that the organization awarded Payne the Presidents Award just last year.

This is going to blow your mind…

“I chose to give him that award, fully knowing all of that,” Eugene Collins said of Payne’s record. “Not only do I not regret giving him that award, I look forward to the day he is released, so we can do more good work, and maybe give him another one.”

Collins also noted Payne has given back to the community of Baton Rouge, including helping young people get into trade schools and advocating against violence in Zion City.

So you’ve got a gang-banger who’s cooking, assumedly, fentanyl-laced crack in the middle of a drug epidemic which is absolutely wrecking the streets of Baton Rouge and particularly the streets of North Baton Rouge where the black community is close to 100 percent of the population, and the head of the local NAACP is so deep in bed with the guy that he’s publicly crooning about what a great dude he is and giving him more awards for “philanthropy.”

Is Eugene Collins on Marvin Payne’s payroll? Does drug money finance the Baton Rouge NAACP? Has the leadership of the black community in this town sold out its people for filthy dope and blood money?

I’m asking. I don’t know the answer. It’s the kind of question which quickly comes to mind seeing as though murderers and drug dealers are lionized by civil rights organizations in this town.

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And Marvin Payne isn’t the first such “hero” to be feted by Eugene Collins. The posthumous rehabilitation of Sterling, a career criminal and sexual abuser (including of children) who was almost certainly fronting for drug dealers the night he drew a pistol (illegally owned, by the way; something the gun-control-loving folks among the black Democrat cabal Collins clings to won’t talk about) on another black man and then died fighting with the police who were called to arrest him in response, was just one other example.

So here’s the question: does anything happen to Eugene Collins for white-knighting for Marvin Payne? It’s only a courageous stand taking up for his pal if he actually risks something. But if nobody on Collins’ board is put out at all over the NAACP’s imprimatur being doled out to murderers and drug dealers, then isn’t it reasonable to infer that this is what the NAACP supports?

Is Payne an innocent man? Not from the looks of things. He might be innocent of the “bogus” charges his attorney is decrying, but the guy is quite apparently a drug dealer.

Or maybe he’s just drug dealer adjacent.

And why is that acceptable to the black community in Baton Rouge? The supposed “good guys” who do such awesome work in the community as to pick up awards from the NAACP get busted with coke and fentanyl residue all over their kitchens and everybody just yawns.

If that’s what the black community is in Baton Rouge, if this is its best and brightest and these are the people with the influence and political power to “get things done,” then no – there is no saving that community. There’s a reason those neighborhoods continue getting worse; everybody who’s a quality individual coming out of them will evacuate as fast as he or she can before the filth covers them and chokes out whatever positive character they might have.

Better to get the cheapest apartment in Denham Springs that you can than remain in Zion City. Or Scotlandville. Or the Bottoms.

Everybody knows this. Everybody understands it. Nobody wants to talk about it. But what you get for remaining silent is Eugene Collins singing the praises of Marvin Payne as the disorder, chaos, violence and filth accumulates all over Baton Rouge.

You can’t have leadership like this. You just can’t. Not if you actually want your community to have a future.

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