Sterlington, Louisiana is one of those true southern towns where they like their tea sweet, their chicken fried, and the soothing hum of their loaded guns.
Just when you thought this idyllic slice of the South couldn’t get any more charming, enter Chief Barry Bonner of the Sterlington Police Department who orchestrated a photo op with a duo from his band of hulking enforcers. The photo combines the solemnity of the academic year’s beginning with the grace and dignity of law enforcement behemoths.
Behold this picture, a remarkable snapshot of quintessential Southern police grandeur. Two strapping white cops, decked out in their finest, are the stars of this visual spectacle. Look at them – adorned with their formidable protective vests that mean business and donning wide-brimmed cowboy hats that exude just the right amount of rugged swagger. These officers aren’t just here to keep the peace – they’re here to make a statement.
In an Aug. 9 Facebook post, the chief implored the fine folks of Sterlington to be courteous and patient during the school drop-off chaos, reminding them that it’s a team effort.
He wrote: “SPD wants to remind everyone that school starts back next week and are asking everyone to please be courteous and patient when dropping your children off at the schools. SPD will be out keeping things moving as quickly and smoothly as possible, but we cannot do it without your help and cooperation! Let’s make this a great start to an amazing year! God bless and stay safe.”
What better way to emphasize the virtues of patience, cooperation, and unity than by featuring a picture of his officers posing like they’re auditioning for a WWE tag team match? Because nothing says “smooth drop-off” like an officer holding a piece of portable furniture that’s usually reserved for backyard barbecues or wrestling matches gone awry. The juxtaposition is truly… well, bless their sweet tea-soaked hearts.
But, oh my, did the townsfolk and out-of-towners react! Let’s all clutch our imaginary pearls, shall we?
The comments section was a goldmine of imaginative responses, with guys and gals taking an unexpected detour into the world of criminal fantasies, prompting viewers to joke about committing crimes just to get patted down, arrested, or to get a piece of that folding chair action.
But what truly sets this image apart from your average photos of law enforcement attempting to improve their image?
It’s the pièce de résistance, the pièce that’s literally latched to their buckles: folding chairs. Yes, you read that right. A nod to a recent chapter in Montgomery’s tumultuous tale, a nod that comes in the form of an unassuming yet symbolic accessory. Yes, those humble foldable seats, latched proudly to their buckles, bear the weight of a deeper narrative.
It’s hard to ignore the underlying connotations tied to the folding chairs. For those who haven’t been in peach whiskey-induced stupor underneath a splintered woodshed all week, this isn’t just about chairs; it’s a powerful reference to the Montgomery riverboat brawl that broke the internet.
The folding chair became the unintentional symbol of resistance and defiance. In that incident, an elder affectionately called “Unc” by Black Twitter, used a folding chair to play whack-a-mole on a group of aggressive white folks who attacked the boat’s captain. This powerful act of solidarity resonated with many, particularly Black folks, who have historically faced systemic racism and violence.
The folding chair quickly become a viral meme on social media, a rallying point for those advocating for unity and pushing back against white aggression.
Now, as these two officers don their uniforms, each with a folding chair securely affixed to their belts, they are paying homage to that moment of valor. It’s a quiet nod to the power of Black unity and the resilience of a community that refuses to let division prevail. These officers, like the Reggie Ray who is now out of jail for wielding that chair, stand ready to defend, to ensure safety, and to provide a sense of comfort even in the face of adversity.
With their vests, cowboy hats, and the emblematic folding chairs, these officers carry the weight of history and the promise of a more just tomorrow. It’s a visual ode to Montgomery’s spirit – a town that doesn’t just remember its past; it learns from it and uses it to forge a brighter future.
So, good people, let us applaud these brawny sentinels of tradition as they stand there, champions of order and symbols of solidarity, and as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a community united against hate.
I’m just messin’ with Y’all.
Once again, these folks are playin’ in our faces.
While on the surface, this photo op may appear lighthearted, it’s crucial to recognize the underlying implications that make this image and its coded messages not funny at all.
The context of the Montgomery Brawl, where a chair unexpectedly became a symbol of resistance, defiance, and solidarity resonating primarily with Black communities who have endured historical systemic racism and violence, takes on added significance. This recent event underscores the complexities surrounding racial dynamics in Sterlington, a community with a population of over 2,000 residents, composed of 71% whites and 24% Black individuals. Within this context, the image of two white police officers appropriating this symbol, given their representation of a system with a history of perpetuating racial inequality and violence, takes on a subtle yet undeniable undertone, delivering what seems like a slick pointed jab.
There’s a broader trend where law enforcement agencies attempt to align themselves with popular social media trends to humanize their image and improve community relations. This has included videos of officers hugging and dancing with residents, giving away ice cream, or even kneeling in fake solidarity during Black Lives Matter protests. While these efforts might seem well-intentioned to some viewers, they can often come across as insincere attempts to trivialize deep-seated issues such as police brutality and systemic racism. These gestures fail to address the root problems and instead deflect attention away from serious concerns.
Police brutality, state-sanctioned killings, racially motivated violence, and racist treatment of Black children in school districts across this country are still pervasive issues. The notion that those who are meant to protect and serve are appropriating symbols of resistance, without genuinely addressing the issues at hand, can be is insensitive and dismissive of the pain and trauma our communities endure.
Furthermore, the timing of the photo in relation to a political rally cannot be dismissed. Just 24 hours before the riverboat incident that popularized the folding chair as a symbol of resistance, Donald Trump held a rally in Montgomery. Previous media reports have shown a disturbing correlation between Trump’s rallies and spikes in racist incidents during and after these events. This adds another layer of complexity to the discussion around the photo, as it raises questions about the motivations behind such displays.
The seemingly unassuming image of two white police officers donning folding chairs carries with it a subtle message that resonates differently with whites and Blacks.
For the predominantly white community of Sterlington, the image may bring a sense of reassurance and security. It conveys the notion that the police are prepared to handle any potential disruptions during school drop-offs, or if necessary, audacious Black folks who try to defend themselves, reinforcing the belief that law enforcement serves to maintain order and safety in the community. This reassuring message resonates with many, providing comfort to parents and residents who value a strong police presence as a safeguard.
However, the notion of “order and security” that the image may convey to the white community may not resonate in the same way among Black folks. Given the historical context of police violence and systemic racism, the conspicuous presence of police officers, particularly when accompanied by the co-opting of a symbol connected to recent acts of racial resistance, raises apprehension. The experiences of Black communities with law enforcement has often been marked by suspicion and mistrust, and this image can exacerbate those feelings.
Moreover, the use of the folding chairs as a symbol takes on an unsettling tone. It can be interpreted as a form of symbolic gaslighting, suggesting that the police are appropriating a narrative of solidarity without genuinely addressing the concerns and experiences of Black communities. Seemingly subtle messages and images can contribute to creating an atmosphere of mistrust, particularly within school systems where Black children often encounter racism, harsher punishments, and other forms of inequality.
Chief Bonner’s photo may have been intended as a lighthearted way to kick off the school year, but its implications are far from humorous. The appropriation of a symbol that represents resistance in the face of racial injustice cannot be separated from the realities of racial aggression. The photo op serves as a reminder that while humor has its place, it’s crucial to be mindful of the historical and social contexts that can turn seemingly innocuous images into controversy.
Dr. Stacey Patton is an award-winning journalist and author of “Spare The Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America” and the forthcoming “Strung Up: The Lynching of Black Children In Jim Crow America.”
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