Four Louisiana police officers in the city of Baton Rouge are facing charges in connection to the torture and sexual abuse of a detainee at a secret torture warehouse known as the ‘Brave Cave.’ Two lawsuits and the separate testimony of a third victim describe a pattern of abuse and torture perpetrated by the now-disbanded anti-street crime unit of the Baton Rouge police. Rev. Alexis Anderson of PREACH joins Rattling the Bars to discuss the long history of Baton Rouge police terror against the local community, and what efforts are being made to fight for justice.
Studio Production: David Hebden
Post-Production: David Hedben
Mansa Musa: Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. I’m your host, Mansa Musa. We often hear about police misconduct. We had the upheaval of George Floyd, everybody got in the social justice space and police reforms were taking place. But then we find ourselves in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2023. Now mind you, we were talking about George Floyd not that long ago but we’re in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2023, and we had police continuing to run amok.
Here to talk about the state of Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Police Department and some of the fascist behavior that’s taking place within that department is Reverend Alexis Anderson. Welcome, Rev. Alexis, to Rattling the Bars.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Mansa Musa: Yes, ma’am. Tell our audience a little bit about yourself. We were talking earlier, you said you wear many hats so you can put them on and take them off as you go along.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Sure. So as I mentioned, I wear a lot of hats. I’m an ordained minister, I am the executive director of a ministry called PREACH, which stands for Presenting Resources Effectively Applying Christlike Humbleness. I am also one of the founding members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition. My work with this subject has been longstanding. But the coalition began essentially with the death of Lamar Johnson, who died in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. Since that day, we’ve looked at almost 70 people who have died, most of them in a pretrial facility, which is one of the deadliest in the country.
So in that work, we have obviously paid attention to everything that causes somebody to end up in that facility. Needless to say, because we have an abnormal number of policing agencies here, the Baton Rouge Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department, the LSU Police Department, the Southern University Police Department, the BRCC Police Department, and I can go on and on for at least 40 more places. All of those are part of why we have such a huge issue. And so the most recent thing is our finding out about the black sites. And these are not new. We have known on the streets that they existed for some time.
Mansa Musa: In that regard, because this is how it broke out, it came to my attention when I saw the letter that y’all sent to – You and several other organizations collaborated on this letter – Y’all sent it to now US Attorney Garland, and y’all made a renewed request for pattern and practices investigation of Baton Rouge Police Department. And in this request, y’all documented how y’all made this request to previous AGs. Y’all documented this from 2017 on out. Like you just said a minute ago, you have this myriad of police departments within Baton Rouge, and y’all made this request. Why do we find ourselves that in 2023 on the heels of George Floyd Baton Rouge seems to be stuck in a time warp? They not moving. Why is Baton Rouge in such a state like this when we see it, and as you well know, and y’all participated in it, this social upheaval?
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Yes, and you’re absolutely right.
Mansa Musa: Why’re we right here, right now?
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Because in some ways, nothing actually changed.
Mansa Musa: Yes, ma’am.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: And what I mean by that is that if you remember all the way back to Katrina in New Orleans, other police departments in fact filed complaints against the Baton Rouge Police Department for many of the behaviors they had, that because it is one of the larger agencies, these bad practices and these bad players moved from agency to agency.
Mansa Musa: Right.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: We had an article not very long ago about the use of these canine units on children. And if you’ve ever seen a police dog and how they are trained, the trainers wear a bunch of gear to protect them.
Mansa Musa: Right. That’s right. That’s right.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: So imagine those same dogs being set on African-American children. And all that ends up happening is essentially a little slap on the wrist, we change some policy, but the players never go away. And so we had the issue of the narcotics scandal, and many of the same players that are part of this Brave Cave situation were players again; The same what I call “moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” no real systemic change, no real holding accountable. So we are not surprised because we have known. Whether it was the police chase with cars in the middle of metropolitan areas resulting in people dying, whether it was the systemic attack of children, or whether it was the unlawful stops, this has been ongoing. And so the drip, drip drip has never stopped.
But one of the things that has happened, and it’s not just Baton Rouge but it is so tragic that on the heels of an Alton Sterling, on the heels of a Raheem Howard… You may remember that case, was a young man that a corrupt officer pretended that young man had taken a shot at him. And what people don’t remember about that case is that had that farce continued, they would have asked for the death penalty on that young man. And so these Brave Caves and these black sites – Which are not just against the law, period, they are against international law – Were a result of, quite frankly, decades of policing that gave an okay to these types of systems. And keep in mind some of the –
Mansa Musa: And talk about that.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: – Yeah.
Mansa Musa: Go ahead. No.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Well –
Mansa Musa: Not to cut you off, but talk about… Because that’s where I want our audience to get a picture of this here. Because we’re moving to say the highest police officer in the country, the Attorney General, can you come down here and intervene in this? But what about on the local level, like the local government, and then on the state level? Because they’re culpable in some shape, form, or fashion. The money for the police comes out of the state coffer or the local coffer. So who in that department is oversight, or where’s the oversight on the state and local level about these? Because like you say, this has been going on for –
Rev. Alexis Anderson: It has been going on for decades.
Mansa Musa: – Yeah. So where’s the disconnect in that department, in that area, Reverend?
Rev. Alexis Anderson: The disconnect becomes with the sheer fact that people believe that excessive policing is the same thing as public safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. The other piece is that – And let’s be honest about it – When you target poor areas and when you target primarily African-American young men that are in low and no-wealth communities, you count on people not necessarily caring. One of the things that has been so disheartening, if I can say that, has been the rallying around, as opposed to asking for accountability from either the mayor and our metro council and the people that are in charge of these agencies. There has not been the rallying around you would hope for.
And again, what I always say to people is that until it shows up at your door… I like to tell people that in these stories that we’re talking about, these are people who look like my brother, like my cousins, like my sons, like my grandsons, like my great-grandsons. And until we can get a community that will show up at the polls first and foremost because how you get accountability is through a vote. When you allow people to spend, for instance, the bulk of the opera money on increasing police but never holding them accountable, we have one lawsuit after another lawsuit after another lawsuit in this parish. And yet the accountability is not there. The atrocities that have been named – Which are many and specific, these aren’t antidotes, these are documented atrocities – They are bigger than what was in Minnesota; They are bigger than what has been seen in some of the largest cities in our country. And yet I suspect it is because we are in a very red state where our votes don’t have the same power, that our request doesn’t land in the same way.
But on the ground, grassroots, we are demanding accountability every single day. And there are multitudes of groups. So it is not just the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition. It is not just the Promise of Justice. It is not just the Southern Poverty Law Center; It is hundreds and thousands of families that have been victimized, and we know that. And I can’t stress enough, that one of the things that is so powerfully inspiring to me is that the two lead attorneys in this case are public defenders. And oftentimes we denigrate public defenders at every level because they’re under-resourced, they’re understaffed. But if it was public defenders that for their private practices stood up and took all the heat and all the abuse that comes with this. And it is people like Professor Armstrong at Loyola University with the Incarceration Transparency project that are bringing light to this. It is people like Professor Thomas Frampton who worked on this project long before this became a very public event. So we are grateful for those voices, but until people vote as if this was their child, their family member, it doesn’t change. And the reality is it doesn’t change until that happens.
Mansa Musa: And you know what? I want to talk about… Because this is like outright terror. And we talk about terrorism. When we talk about terrorism and we have all this international outcry about terrorism, let’s look at the terrorism that’s being inflicted on the Baton Rouge community, let’s look at the black site. Now I’m looking at some of the information that’s coming out there, how they denigrate women, how they take people to the black site, and pretty much whatever they feel like they want to do at that specific point in time, that’s what they do to them. But my question is, how are they able to get away with it at the level that they’re doing it because they didn’t take the position of, we doing this with impunity.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Oh, of course. If you never ever punish the people who did things and you never ever hold them accountable, whether it’s with a Brady list, whether it is putting them before a judge and holding them to those charges. Because even the officer that has been most named in these, charges are misdemeanors. It is one of the ironies of this work. And so even qualified immunity and all the other things that go along with protecting people in law enforcement from being held accountable for the decisions they make oftentimes. And again, many of these things are often co-signed by leadership.
And so whether it is… Well, we’ll change a policy as opposed to a stand down and saying, first of all, we’re going to hold the people who did the thing, to account. But secondly, we are going to say, systemically in all of our settings that we have to retrain our people because this is not the way we roll. Instead, there’s normally a press conference, there’s a delay, delay, delay. There is subterfuge. In many cases, there’s never ever anything other than the infamous internal investigation. And I like to tell people, I don’t let my children investigate themselves. Why would I let somebody who already has a record, a track record of not ever being an accountant? And then on the parish side, we have lawyers that just write checks. You tell that to the family of that grandmother –
Mansa Musa: Yeah. The kids that got people that got killed.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: – Yes.
Mansa Musa: Or like you say, sexually assaulted.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: When people hear that, and I say to them, I want you to understand something: After the Alton Sterling protest, there were people who were locked up, who were protesters, and they were locked up sometimes for a day, sometimes for a few hours. Most of those people still can’t talk about what happened to them after the abuse, the torture that happened in those settings. And then add to that, that this was parish-owned property. Somebody knew that people were being brought in and out of that place.
Mansa Musa: Oh my God.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: So the idea that there’s a single person, there is not. There is a chain of custody, of corruption, of complicity, of denial, and coverup. And until we get external eyes on these things… And again, keep in mind, this is Louisiana. So when you step outside of Baton Rouge and you look at which one of our agencies has a myriad of their own problems, then you go to the state police, well, the state police have Ronald Green. We have to have external investigations to even bring a modicum of objectivity to these issues.
Mansa Musa: Okay. In every regard, y’all reached out to the US Attorney General. We’re talking about an administration that speaks about and gives lip service to social justice and justice reform. And an administration that’s always in this space of we’re on the side of right, we on the side of good versus evil, for lack of better terminology. But why haven’t they come to the aid of the Baton Rouge community? This is well-documented. This is a culture of police. This is a culture of police misconduct, police abuse, and Gestapo-type text. Why do you think the US, the President of the US, and his representatives, why do you think they haven’t responded with a sense of urgency that is evidently needed?
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Because I believe that local officials have put their fingers on the scales, quite frankly, and said, oh no, no, nothing to see here. We got this. And nothing could be further from the truth. As I mentioned, we had teenage boys who were sexually assaulted after an unnecessary police chase in the middle of a municipal area and that didn’t raise the eye. Raheem Howard didn’t send the alarms. Alton Sterling did not send the alarms. A man was shot in cold blood in a Trader Joe’s parking lot and the police literally allowed the person who did it to walk away because they felt that the person who was killed, his life did not have value. And over and over and over again. And the answer primarily from local officials is there’s nothing to see. I believe because those officials are almost exclusively Democrats, they are not Republicans.
Mansa Musa: Oh, we already know that. And the ethnicity is also our color.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: What has to happen, I tell people all the time because somebody says you did it, didn’t make it so. We have got to start responding to the fact that these agencies have not earned our trust. We have to investigate. We have to authenticate. We have to implicate the people that we know. There are lawyers from the most high-level criminal justice lawyers to public defenders who have been told these stories for years. And yet these two wonderful, young, brilliant attorneys took it into their hearts to take the risk to try to end it. And what we’ve got to do as a community – And I’m talking about the larger community now – Is step up and support that investigative work and say to President Biden and say to the Department of Justice that you don’t know what you don’t know yet. And the only way we get there is if you will bring the tools of the US government to our own localized Abu grave because that’s what we have here.
Mansa Musa: Oh, that’s exactly what it is.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: We don’t know how many of these black sites we have. We can only estimate but we don’t know how many we have.
Mansa Musa: And then the other part of the realm is the black site aside but when you have the mentality that you can do whatever you want with impunity, you don’t need a black site. I pull you over to the site, shoot you, I pull you over to the site, take whatever you got, threaten to kill you, and keep it moving.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Yes.
Mansa Musa: What are y’all strategies going forward? If this request and this call for the AG office to get involved is not going to give you the response that y’all need in order to start getting some control over this Gestapo police. Going forward, what is the strategy of y’all going forward?
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Well, I will say at the grassroots level, we have what is a threefold strategy, and it doesn’t change based on the disaster. Can I say that?
Mansa Musa: Yes, ma’am.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: You change tactics in a war. You do not change your strategy to win. And our strategy to win is first and foremost, we must amplify and we must get these stories out. And so we are doing that at every single level. We must also encourage our people. And it is frightening because what I tell people is law enforcement knows who they target. We don’t. So the victims are very real and they have a very real reason to be terrified.
But with that being said, we are constantly pushing in the courtroom, we are watching the courts to see what these affidavits of probable cause are looking like. We are pushing in as many legal circles as we can get to get those stories amplified and codified and lawsuits moving forward. Third, we are asking our people to recognize the totality of these issues and start using their tools for voting. They have to. And while we don’t expect anything to be resolved in a day or two, because unfortunately – Whether it was Katrina, whether it was a narcotic scandal, whether it was Raheem Howard, whether it was a gentleman that was killed at an on and on and on – What we know is that we have to stay in the fight and we have to believe that we are the solution we are looking for. I’ve got a brand new great-grandson just born a few days ago.
Mansa Musa: Thank God.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: I wouldn’t want him dead right now, so it’s my job to make Baton Rouge better. And how I do that is I’m going to reach out to every grandmama I know, every great-grandmama I know
Mansa Musa: That’s right.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: Every young person I know. And I’m going to tell the story on street corners, I’m going to tell the story in the pulpit, I’m going to tell the story in the outhouse, I’m going to tell it wherever we need to tell it, but we are going to stay on point. There is an absolutely beautiful woman here. Her name is Linda Franks. Her 27-year-old son was killed in the jail. They can never be made whole. But what she never ever forgets is she never wants another family to know what she knows.
Mansa Musa: That’s right.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: I sit in the courtroom almost every single day and I tell people I sit there because God sent me there because I don’t want any other family to know the things that we know. I do not want to know that a grandmother my age can be stopped, stripped, and sexually assaulted by people who are using my tax dollars for the privilege of doing it.
I do not want not another 13-year-old boy, because I have grandsons in that age bracket, I do not want any of them to wonder if they do some minor incident, can they end up in Angola? And so I have to fight. The families here have to fight. We have got to build an army, but we’ve also got to have the same way that people rise up for all the other causes around the world who have got to care about a place that they may have never been. Most people know New Orleans, they know Mardi Gras, they know Jazz Fest. But what they ought to know is that Baton Rouge is one of the most over-policed with one of the highest death tolls in a pretrial facility with things that nobody would want done in their name. And so we need to make a clearing call to all citizens –
Mansa Musa: You had –
Rev. Alexis Anderson: – That if you have an injustice, you have got to speak to your government. And we need people to reach out. We need people to reach out to the Attorney General, to President Biden, to representatives in our legislature. And I understand our legislature right now is very red. That’s not my problem.
Mansa Musa: And we’re talking about a human rights issue. We’re not talking about a red state or a blue state. We’re talking about human rights. And we want our ordinance to know that we’re not talking about 1965 Bull Connor. We’re not talking about 1960 Jim Crow. We’re not talking about an era where they bombed the church and killed little Black babies. We’re talking about 2023 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where if you go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you’re subject to be pulled aside, taken to a black site, possibly sodomized, and then released if they feel like they want to release you after they did terrorize you and dare you to say something.
Reverend, you got the last word on this. How can we get in touch with you? Or how can we stay focused, and stay abreast of what’s going on? What are y’all doing down there and how can our audience support you? We’re employing our audience to really support this effort.
Rev. Alexis Anderson: First of all, thank you for this opportunity. You can reach out to our coalition at www.ebrpprc.org or you can go to our Facebook page by the same acronym, EBRPPRC, and keep up with everything that is going on. We have a running scroll of what is going on in the police department. We have a running tab of what is going on in the parish as a whole. You can also go on our Facebook page and we livestream the issues around our police department. We are showing up in meetings, we are showing up at our metro council, we are showing up in the streets, and we need people to show up in our government offices because at this point it is truly in the hands of the Attorney General.
What I believe is that in many towns across the country, not only southern towns but many towns around the country these same issues are occurring. They are occurring because in many ways we gave the right to use a gun and use a tool that has become so dangerous to the least of them. And I remind people with all due respect, you may honestly think, well, I’m not Black, I’m not poor, I’m not a young male. This isn’t my story. So let me begin with this.
Remember I told you that we had almost 70 people who have died in our pretrial facility since 2012? One of those people was a 73-year-old white male, a Navy veteran. They may not target you, but you might be collateral damage. And I remind people, if you have somebody in your family that struggles with behavioral health, that struggles with addiction, that finds themselves in Baton Rouge on the wrong side of Florida Boulevard, they might be collateral damage. They might not have been the intended target, but that won’t make them any less sexually assaulted, any less sexually abused, any less beat up, or any left for dead.
Mansa Musa: There you have it. The Real News, Rattling The Bars. We want our audience to be mindful of this here: that we’re talking about people in the US. We’re not talking about people in another part of the world. We’re talking about people in the US in a community that is being terrorized by the police on the hills of George Floyd. We had a George Floyd outcry. But as the Reverend reminds us this is post-George Floyd and pre-George Floyd. This has been going on forever. And we ask you to continue to support Rattling The Bars and The Real News and support this issue. It’s only because of people like Reverend Alexis that we are getting this information. Thank you very much and we ask that you continue to support us.