On August 2, 2010, the city of Shreveport, Louisiana suffered a horrific tragedy. “It was the worst day of my tenure and one of the worst of my life,” recalls former, two-term Mayor Cedric Glover, who is now serving in the Louisiana State House of Representatives. “I will never forget that day,” he says, with a knot in his voice.
A 15-year-old boy named DeKendrix Warner was playing in the water. That day the heat was unbearable, so his family and a group of friends trekked through a small path that opened up into what seemed to be a perfect spot alongside the river.
DeKendrix sauntered in and then suddenly the floor collapsed beneath him. He couldn’t swim. He plunged underwater, and instinctually, heroically, his cousins and friends rushed into rescue him. But they too, all six of them, could not swim either.
A bystander was able to rescue DeKendrix, but his three cousins- 13-year-old TaKeitha Warner and her brothers JaMarcus Warner, 14, and JaTavious Warner, 17, died. So did their friends, the three Stewart kids: Litrelle, 18; LaDarius, 17; and Latevin, 15.
Rescuers spent more than two hours before they could recover all of their bodies. Glover stayed by the families the entire time and watched as the final body was pulled from the river. It was the little girl. She looked like she was calmly asleep.
All six of the victims were African-Americans, all under the age of 18.
In the upcoming weeks and months, the city was forced to confront an important truth: Shreveport is a majority minority city with a population that flirts with the number 200,000. It was built by the timber and oil and gas industries and on the banks of the Red River.
Yet as the tragedy of August 2nd demonstrated, far too many of Shreveport’s young black and brown children could not swim. They were never taught. For most, they didn’t grow up with a swimming pool in their backyards or the backyards of their neighbors.
The events that day had a profound effect on Glover, who was only two months away from a successful re-election campaign.
Cedric Glover became Shreveport’s first African-American mayor two days after Christmas in 2006. And even though he had served in the Shreveport City Council from 1990 to 1996 and then in the state legislature for the next decade, he was perceived by many as somewhat of an unknown entity, maybe even a threat to the predominately white political and business establishment that had maintained power since the city’s founding in 1836.
Shortly after his election as mayor, there were panicked rumors of a proliferation of home listings in Shreveport and home sales across the river in the predominately white Bossier City. The rumors weren’t true, but they were a perfect metaphor for the white community’s anxiety and apprehension over how their city’s first black mayor would govern.
Glover wasn’t unknown, of course, but he was certainly unmistakable: At least 6’6″ tall, barrel-chested with a baritone voice made for the radio, his presence is immediately known in any room.
During his first term, he brought in new leadership at the police department, and crime dropped dramatically and across the board, a trend that would continue throughout his next four years. In 2011 and 2012, there were fewer homicides than any year since 1970.
Although crime prevention would remain at the top of his list, during his second term, Glover hoped to embark on a series of ambitious and catalytic reinvestment and development initiatives. He was a big man with big dreams: A new riverfront amphitheater and the beautification of downtown infrastructure, repaved and restored roadways and sidewalks throughout the city.
Shreveport is a city on a river, and for the river to be enjoyed, it needed to be both safe and a showcase.
But a small contingency of white conservatives, many of whom were not even from his city, battled him at every step. Glover was attempting to go big at a time when the state was led by a governor, Bobby Jindal, who wanted only to go small.
Even before his second term, the Pelican Institute, a newly-created conservative think tank based out of New Orleans and led by Northern transplants and allies of Bobby Jindal and his patron saint, Grover Norquist, issued a 36-page white paper that, among other things, blasted Glover and the Shreveport Development Authority for spending money on its downtown convention center, a new park at the location of an abandoned bus station, and a relatively meager $50,000 downtown trolley bus service. They criticized Glover for attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors over a weekend, which is notable because no other mayor in Louisiana was singled-out for their attendance. They went after Glover’s car allowance, a benefit that had been afforded to his predecessors, which, again, is notable because no other mayor was criticized.
When Glover placed bond initiatives on the ballot, his political opponents spent fortunes to ensure failure. It was an opposition inspired by the ascendant TEA Party movement. But their opposition to infrastructure spending was not categorical, for example; it was targeted.
And this is why a proposed dog park, of all things, became one of the most controversial and fascinating issues of Cedric Glover’s second term as mayor of Shreveport. It’s also what inspired the sheriff of Caddo Parish, Steve Prator, to “paint” (he publicly claimed to be the artist; others state that it was actually Prator’s wife) this “portrait” of his mayor, Cedric Glover, under the pretense of raising less than $2,500 for a pointless dog park charity:
This is the white sheriff’s portrait of Shreveport’s first African-American mayor: Glover as Gulliver, dragged to the ground, shit on his right shoe, ropes tied across his body, his head painted to appear disproportionately small, six snarling dogs at his side.
Sheriff Prater donated 75 prints, which he valued at $30 a pop, to the Shreveport Dog Park Alliance, an organization run by a woman named Cynthia Keith. According to multiple accounts, Keith is a close friend of the Caddo Parish Sheriff. Some had long assumed she was Prator’s employee, but although they work out of the same building, Keith is actually Caddo Parish’s deputy tax accessor. And this is how Keith dressed up for Halloween one year during Glover’s tenure:
While putting together this story, I spoke with six prominent African-American leaders in Shreveport, including former Mayor and current State Rep. Glover. None of them were interested in dignifying Sheriff Prator’s portrait or the Deputy Assessor’s costume with a response, but they each, separately, told the same exact story.
No one, they claim, was ever against building a dog park. But they all had two compelling arguments for this particular project.
Most astonishingly, the park was being proposed to be built directly adjacent to the location of the drowning tragedy. In its initial iteration, the park would have been constructed at the spot that first responders, law enforcement officials, Mayor Glover, and family members watched as their teenage children were pulled lifeless out of the Red River. The proposal may have been dreamt up prior to the tragedy, but the way in which proponents, including the Sheriff, continued to agitate for the park suddenly felt more than just disrespectful; it felt disdainful.
Prator’s portrait of Glover wasn’t just thinly-veiled racism disguised in the symbology of a children’s story; it also communicated a flippant disregard for the dignity of the lives of those black children who died that August afternoon.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how or why any city would so callously and so quickly seek to transform a public space that had been the epicenter of a community tragedy into a spot where (and let’s be honest) almost exclusively white people can walk their dogs and feel as if they’re somehow experiencing urbanity.
Thankfully, the location of the park was eventually moved, and today, directly north, there is a poignant memorial titled “Safe Harbor” that now dominates the landscape.
There was another compelling argument against this particular dog park project: In order to acquire funding for construction, proponents lobbied the Red River Waterway Commission for $280,000, which wasn’t even close to the total costs and which also directly undermined the efforts of the actual city government from receiving capital costs for higher priority projects that were actually located near the river and accessible to more than just residents who own a dog.
At the time, Glover and members of the Shreveport City Council believed they could easily convince a local business to cover the capital costs associated with a park’s construction, in exchange for some sort of naming right’s agreement, a model that had already been done successfully with Raising Cane’s in Baton Rouge. The city administration had hoped to request precious taxpayer dollars from the Red River Waterway Commission for projects that were vital and important to the entire community, which is sensible and prudent.
But that was naive, apparently.
The lessons are these:
White privilege gives permission to folks like Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator to paint a definitively racist painting of the first African-American mayor of a city with the second most number of lynchings in our nation’s history as a victim of a lynch mob of rabid dogs, without any criticism or outrage from the local media or the business community or his own political base. It means the Sheriff can actually sell his offensive “art” for a charity established on behalf of dogs.
White privilege allows that same Sheriff to set up a booth at annual barbecue event for law enforcement officers (an event, I’m told, is predominately white and will be scored this year by a panel of six white judges) and to depict the city’s African-American former police chief like this:
Notice the Prator sign in the background. I do not understand why he carried around toilets at a barbecue event. I have asked a dozen people who have attended this particular event. No one gets any other message than complete contempt and an utter lack of professionalism. Incidentally, prior to being Caddo Sheriff, Prator was Shreveport’s chief of police. Crime soared during his tenure, so voters rewarded him with the sheriff’s office. That’s white privilege.
White privilege means you can lament the loss of your “good” inmate labor and be almost immediately forgiven.
White privilege means this:
And one more thing: Since the tragic drownings in August of 2010, Shreveport has taught more than 12,300 children how to swim, and they have done it almost entirely with the assistance of donors and foundational support. Which is great.
Just imagine if you could do the same thing with a dog park.