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Chief says he’s sorry for post but won’t concede it’s racist

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana police officer who shared a racist image on Facebook and was nearly driven to quit his job amid the resulting furor in 2017 has since become the police chief in his small town. And he says he’s developing social media policies that would result in termination for officers who make similar mistakes.

Wayne Welsh was assistant chief in the southwest Louisiana town of Estherwood when he shared a post depicting a white woman pushing a little girl’s face into bath water. The caption: “WHEN YOUR DAUGHTERS FIRST CRUSH IS A LITTLE NEGRO BOY.”

In an interview with Nola.com|The Times-Picayune , Welsh said he’s sorry the meme caused people to think Estherwood is racist.

However, he still doesn’t concede that the meme was racist.

“This part could be considered racist,” he said, pointing to the meme’s caption during an interview with Nola.com. “That’s what people are telling me. I don’t think it is, because we don’t have that problem here. It don’t mean that to me. It’s just something somebody said, like a joke.”

Welsh said the furor over the post prompted him to offer his resignation.

Accounts differ on how matters played out. Welsh said the mayor of Estherwood at the time rejected the resignation. The mayor said he left the decision up to the then-police chief.

Ultimately, Welsh was suspended without pay for two weeks.

The spotlight on Estherwood, a predominantly white town with a population of less than 900, eventually faded. Then, last spring, the police chief resigned and the mayor made Welsh acting chief. Welsh was elected to the job without opposition in November.

“It’s disturbing to me,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit advocacy group that tracks cases of bias and seeks to fight prejudice. Concerning Welsh’s Facebook post, she added, “I’m sorry to know a public official would put that out and he didn’t resign – he’s been elevated. People of color should be wary to come through that town or do business in that town.”

Michael McClanahan, president of the Louisiana NAACP, called Welsh’s rise to police chief troubling, but not surprising.

“What I take from all of this is when I go through that little town, I better be doing five miles below the speed limit, and I better go through there in the day time and not darkness,” he said. “And tell all my family the same. Don’t stop at no store, just go through there and keep going.”

NOLA.com ‘ The Times-Picayune reviewed hundreds of pages of police reports, traffic tickets and municipal citations issued by the Estherwood Police Department between 2016-18 and found no apparent pattern of racial discrimination. For example, out of 381 tickets – many traffic violations – written by Estherwood police officers last year, 300 were issued to white people.

Welsh recently underwent training required for new police chiefs in Louisiana. He said the classes will help him draft new policies, including social media guidelines, for his staff: one full-time, paid officer and four part-time volunteers.

Those new policies, he said, will include what to do if another member of his department does something similar to what he did.

“It’ll be an automatic termination,” he said, “because we don’t want all this to happen again.”

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