Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome,
It’s your turn to show the city and parish in strong symbolic ways, affirmed by new policies that Black Lives Matter. Demonstrations in Baton Rouge have been peaceful, but they are not just about George Floyd. They are not just about Alton Sterling and the unresolved civil case his family has against the city-parish for his unjust murder. The demonstrations are about the problems we still face as a community here in Baton Rouge with police.
While I recognize the gains under your leadership around police reform, there is still work to be done. Police have killed citizens during your term as mayor, Jordan Frazier was shot in the back in 2017, you were mayor. His killer then shot at another citizen and lied a year later. His killer is free still today, in part because of poor police work when he was questioned. Calvin Toney was killed by police in 2017. His killer is still a cop. We never saw video of what happened that night. John Payne was ran over by a BRPD Officer in 2018 that Officer got a traffic ticket and is still employed. Shermichael Ezeff was killed by an EBR SherIffs deputy in 2018. Ezeff was seeking help when a deputy killed him, the deputy is still employed. While the sheriffs department is independent of you, you’re still the president of this parish. The point to be made is, Black people in this city have been killed by police during your term as mayor and there is still progress to be made.
Mayors around the country are taking bold steps with city resources to send messages of solidarity to Black people. Mayor Bowser in D.C. has renamed a street Black Lives Matter as well as marked the road to the White House with a Black Lives Matter mural in the roadway.
Symbolic gestures are just that, symbolic. They send a message, a symbol like confederate monuments still send a message from the stains of the civil war. When do we as Black led cities begin to send our message? When do we send a message that Black Lives Matter in Baton Rouge? When do we build monuments to our ancestors and leaders who came before us? There are still streets in Baton Rouge named after confederate generals.
I’m asking that you as Mayor President take the lead and bring a measure before the council to rename all the streets in the South Downs neighborhood named after confederate generals. Not just rename them, but name them after Black leaders for equity and progress. For years these streets have honored the lives of men who betrayed their country in the name of slavery. The streets are a symbol of injustice and inequity. How long will we allow them to remain? While Mayors around the country are acting, Baton Rouge is meeting.
Either we are going to tear down white supremacy or we are not. As long as we leave these streets named after people who thought keeping Blacks as property was right, we are allowing white supremacy to be honored. There are no public schools in Baton Rouge named after Black leaders, yet Lee High was named in honor of Robert E. Lee. Who are we if we allow this to remain? Who are our leaders if they won’t take charge in making these stains of history remain in books and not on street signs or school buildings — to honor those who betrayed their nation to build another on the backs of Black bodies and racism.
We cannot stop with symbols Mayor, we must know that the gaps in policing in Baton Rouge will be closed before our next critical incident. We’ve seen Black life after Black life lost without justice. Now is the time to make bold changes, in both symbolic gestures of progress and serious policy changes, reforms to our local parish jail, and true accountability when police harm citizens unjustly. We must ask why are our police armed with rubber bullets or guns against protestors with signs and water bottles? Will you stand and say that we will NOT use tear gas in this parish against our citizens? Will you stand and say that we will demilitarize the Baton Rouge Police Department. Our local government should not be prepared for war against it’s citizens, it is NOT an army. It’s a police force, and unless we change the mindset, cops will think it’s acceptable to kill us — because they believe they are soldiers at war. They are cops Mayor. It is a job, and we should appreciate those who do it well. Yet because the “bad apples” remain, the bunch is to often spoiled. So we must ensure the protection of our people, by making sure they aren’t allowed to bring undo harm to Black people speaking truth to power.
You have the power to make bold changes, and show courageous leadership by helping remove these symbols and reforming our police department. I commit to doing everything I can to support the effort, but you have the power mayor to bring this before the council for a vote. If you bring the measure, the council will reveal who they are with their vote for or against name changes. This isn’t a matter of what the residents on those streets desire, this is about what we stand for as a city, and who we will be in our future.
You control DPW, Mayor Bowser painted Black Lives Matter on the road to the White House, surely we as a city could paint it in front of Lee High until the name is changed. Removing the names of Lee, Pickett, Stuart, Stephens, Ross, Hood, and Whitehaven give us an opportunity to begin to correct the practice of honoring those who upheld white supremacy. I hope you will show the rest of the country that white supremacy is coming down in Baton Rouge. We welcome that kind of change.
Join me by emailing Mayor Broome and encouraging her to bring the changing of the street signs before the metro council in Baton Rouge. Email at Mayor@brla.gov