The media frenzy over historical photographs of people wearing blackface has spread from the Virginia State Capitol to the Gulf Coast where police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are apologizing for using the practice for undercover drug operations decades ago.
The 1993 photo surfaced on Saturday in local media outlets, and current Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul issued an apology in a statement on Monday.
“Blackface photographs are inappropriate and offensive,” Paul said. “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,” Paul said.
Paul also said in the statement that the officers were part of a “department-approved operation” in February 1993.
One of the men in the photo and then-police chief Greg Phares defended it; a fact buried deep in a Washington Post story published on Tuesday. Frankie Caruso was a detective with the department at the time.
The other police officer in the photo was Don Stone, who still works for the department, according to the Advocate, a local newspaper that ran it with a story on police drug operations.
The Advocate’s report noted that the department only had two “well-known” black officers.
The Post reported:
Phares and Caruso both defended the tactics in an interview with the Advocate earlier Monday, saying they only intended to get drugs off the streets rather than offend black people with their disguises. Caruso, who told the Advocate he also wore a gold tooth as part of his costume, said that wearing the disguise was necessary for his undercover work and that he had also dressed as a gay man, biker and prostitute while on the job.
“You got to dress the part,” he said. “It wasn’t done offensively.”
Phares, now chief deputy at the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office in Clinton, La., said he had “no problem whatsoever with what these officers did.”
“For anyone to try to make this some sort of racial issue two decades or more later is just beyond ridiculous,” he told the newspaper.
Paul noted in his statement Stone will not face discipline because the department can’t “apply existing policies to conduct that happened before the policies were in place.”
“We have policies to prevent our officers from engaging in this type of behavior both on and off-duty,” Paul said.
The Post story noted that Paul is black and that the white men in blackface in the old photo looked “perversely tan.”
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter