Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Racist Sheriff

Via Feministe:

The Sheriff of St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana (a parish is like a county) caused a bit of an uproar when he said that men with dreadlocks could expect to be getting a visit from sheriff's deputies.

This has been

widely blogged about.

an LA Times article mentions that the reason the deputies will be visiting men with dreadlocks is because a murder suspect who is at large in the parish fits that description. This is a key bit of information that other bloggers seemed to have missed, because the legitimate pursuit of a murder suspect is a reason to go asking questions to a small group of possible suspects.

I pulled up the 2000 U.S. Census data for St. Tammany Parish The Census also provides data broken down by race. I can't seem to make the link work, but you can click the link to "fact sheet for a race, ethnic or ancestry group" at the top right of the general fact sheet to navigate to this.

This says there are 12786 black people in the parish, minus 1408 who are 65 and over, and if you divide that by half, because the number includes women, you see that there are fewer than 6000 black men in the Parish between the ages of 18 and 65. Although I don't know the local tastes of St. Tammany, I know that dreadlocks aren't generally a particularly common hairstyle, and some men with dreadlocks could possibly be eliminated from suspicion on other factors like height, weight or age.

It's very possible that the number of black men with dreadlocks in St. Tammany Parish is probably not more than a few dozen, rather than the hundreds or thousands, and if that's the case, it might not be unreasonable to ask them some questions in the course of a murder investigation. Dreadlocks are a fairly distinctive characteristic, and while they are racially indicative, the number of men with dreadlocks is going to be a very small portion of the number of black men generally, and that descriptive factor might be enough to make the pool of suspects very narrow.

So is the sheriff a racist asshole? Maybe. I have no idea whether he's harassing blacks in his Parish. But it looks like his statement about what might be a legitimate investigation was mischaracterized to make it look like he's harassing black men because he doesn't like their hair.

So, like, don't believe everything you read on Blogs. Especially this one.

EDIT: The suspect they are pursuing has killed four people.


Blogger Urthwalker said...

Thanks for that bit of information on the Sheriff's statement. This definitely lends a bit of context to his statements.

However, after watching the clip again, I can't say that I am persuaded that his statement is worthy of parsing further. He repeatedly refers to people as 'trash' who are leaving NOLA and living in trailers and they are not welcome in 'his' parish, etc.

There may have been some legitimate context in his mind (prior to his statement) that somehow justified his stance on profiling. However, the statement is over 3 minutes long, during which time the focus is never once placed on the pursuit of an actual crime, but just a general intolerance of dreadlocks and 'chee-wee' haircuts (what are those anyway?).

Again, I very much appreciate your contextualizing of this issue for us. Nevertheless, I just can't see how this mitigates his comments.

urthwalker (The Hindsight Factor)

7:23 AM  

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