Spring Cleaning in Bunkie

Much has been accomplished since I introduced you to Bunkie, Louisiana.  A mid-March protest rally drew regional media attention.  Police Chief Mary Fanara has forcefully denied that her department conducts warantless searches, engages in racial profiling or files sketchy narcotics cases.  The only problem in Bunkie, Fanara asserts, is that drug dealers want to ply their trade without interference.

This is an effective, time-tested dodge; no one wants to be associated with drug dealing criminals.  However, most of the Bunkie residents who have reached out to Friends of Justice aren’t primarily concerned about family members; they care about their community. 

It is always easy to find lots of folks who are tired of property crime and open-air drug dealing (who can blame them).  But many of these people are also concerned about the lack of respect the Bunkie Police Force had consistently shown for poor, low-status Bunkie residents.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Louisiana ACLU, black residents in Avoyelles Parish are 1.26 times more likely to be arrested than white residents.  No surprise there; poor people are more likely to be arrested than their affluent neighbors and black residents are disproportionately poor. 

But in Marksville, black residents are 1.72 times more likely to be arrested than whites; and in Bunkie, blacks are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested by the Bunkie Police Department than their white neighbors.

Does Bunkie have a drug problem?  Of course it does–what town in America doesn’t?  But when the local cops are arresting blacks at almost three times the parish-wide rate, we have prima facie evidence of racial profiling.  Bunkie is not the crime capital of Louisiana.

Fortunately, there are strong signs that change is on the way.  The Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice saw my blog piece and decided to pay a visit to Bunkie (they were already in Jena, and Bunkie is less than an hour away).  Not surprisingly, the DOJ has been assured by Chief Fanara and detective Chad Jeansonne that all is well. 

At the very least, however, the Bunkie PD has a serious public relations problem.  It may be an exemplary police force in America; but that’s not how it is perceived by many residents.  Police officers have a sworn to duty to protect and serve everybody, and law enforcement can’t function effictively if the local police department is seen as a foce of occupation.

US Attorney, Donald Washington, recently signalled his willingness to attend a meeting of public officials and local residents on April 17th.  This is very good news.  I have no idea what Mr. Washington will make of the situation in Bunkie, but his mere presence signals to public officials that it’s time for spring cleaning.  Bunkie residents deserve a high level of professionalism, procedural integrity and simple respect from law enforcement.  A thorough airing of grievances, coupled with public assurances from public officials, might help Bunkie, Louisiana turn the page.

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