4.10.2010

Baton Rouge mayor, police chief defends targeting of Katrina 'thugs'

By Jesse Muhammad

(FinalCall.com) - Amid the ongoing federal investigation into the actions of the New Orleans Police Department during Hurricane Katrina, Baton Rouge, La., is now on the radar for alleged harassment of Blacks seeking to escape the flood waters.

In reports released by the Baton Rouge Police Department, statements made by state troopers from New Mexico and Michigan accuse Baton Rouge officers of discrimination, illegal searches and using unnecessary force towards Blacks in the days following Katrina.

The out-of-state troopers were called in to assist with patrolling in September 2005 and after being pulled from duty wrote letters complaining that Baton Rouge officers were under direct orders to “make life rough” for New Orleanians seeking refuge in the city.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, who is Black, is publicly defending the actions of the officers.

“I was not going to let Baton Rouge be overrun by some people from New Orleans who were hell-bent on committing crimes,” Mayor Holden said according to The Advocate.

“If there's a blame to be placed on aggressive enforcement, blame it on me,” he insisted.

The mayor further declared that his overall plan for those he labeled as “thugs” was for them to have shelter in “a jail and not at the Red Cross.”

According to incident reports first obtained by the Baton Rouge-based Advocate newspaper, New Mexico troopers complained of unnecessary harsh treatment of prisoners, the use of inappropriate language, including calling Blacks “animals who needed to be beaten down.” One Baton Rouge officer is quoted as stating, “I don't agree with it, but as long as my Captain tells us to harass these people—I'll do my job.”

Nation of Islam student Minister Willie Muhammad of New Orleans and his family lived in Baton Rouge for nearly a year after Katrina and he heard the complaints of members of the Black community.

“This so-called aggressive policing was the mayor's way of making sure he protected the interests and eased the fears of his White constituency who voted him in. Since he is willing to take the blame, I hope he does not run when the lawsuits start coming in as well,” said Mr. Muhammad to The Final Call.

BatonRougePolice Chief Jeff LeDuff denies giving orders to run evacuees out of town but is defending the actions.

“We had a charge to hold the line and balance this city and keep it from being overrun and looted and fired upon,” said Chief LeDuff to The Advocate.

“This is a shame that two Black officials are pretty much justifying these corrupted orders given to harass us during Katrina,” said Linda Washington, who evacuated from New Orleans during Katrina and now resides in Houston.

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