Opinion: John Bel Edwards Doesn’t Care About Black People in Louisiana

There was a moment in 2019 when Governor John Bel Edwards realized that the state police were lying about what happened to Ronald Greene.

Governor Edwards received a special text the night Ronald Greene was killed. It gave him a friendly heads up that hey, one of our boys in blue may have had a hiccup, but they wanted to let the Governor know because they knew he’d understand and have their back. That’s what bros do. They get it.

And so, Governor Edwards – knowing for a fact that Ronald Greene had died as a result of his altercation with police, not a car crash – listened to the same press conference the rest of Louisiana did and he kept his mouth shut.

In that moment, Governor Edwards had a choice to make. A very clear, moral, ethical, political choice and he made one.

Instead of choosing to do the right thing – the thing he’s obligated to do as the state’s chief executive – and call out the public discrepancy between what he had been told and what was being said to the press, he kept his mouth shut.

He decided in that moment that he wasn’t no rat. In that moment, Governor Edwards decided to become a BRO instead of a leader. He chose to protect the frat instead of the people.

He did so knowing that a critical part of his base in 2015 were Black voters. He knew that Black voters expected – especially in moments like this – that when they support you, you’ll do the thing that’s in their interest when the time comes. And instead of feeling any sense of obligation to the very voters who sent him to the Governor’s mansion, he made a conscious political decision that Black folks – no matter what he did – would still support him because, you know, “where else they gonna go, amirite??

In that moment, Governor Edwards showed a complete and utter disregard for Black lives. He knew – perhaps moreso than any public official in America at the time – that the moment there were two stories in a police involved shooting of a Black man, that’s a red flag.

He knew – in the wake of the Laquan MacDonald shooting in Chicago that then-Mayor Rahm Emmanuel covered up until after he got reelected – that staying silent was an explicit slap in the face to Black people. He knew this when he decided that the support of his law enforcement buddies was more important than raising his hand and pointing out that someone lied about the death of Louisiana citizen. He knew that’s why Rahm Emmanuel doesn’t live in Chicago anymore and he still kept his mouth shut.

Governor Edwards looked Ronald Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, in the face and lied to her. I’m sure he even kept a straight face and everything. He might have even assured her that he “felt her pain” and that he would “do whatever he could” to bring justice to her son’s death. I can only imagine his reaction when he found out the truth. He was so “shocked” and “appalled” when news came out publicly that Greene had been the victim of a modern day lynching – so much so that you would never have suspected that he had known all along that his buddies on the Louisiana state police force had taken care of Ronald Greene, Goodfellas style.

He lied. He covered up lies. And these weren’t lies about campaign finance reports or ethical lapses with his staff – he lied to help cover up a murder and then spent 2019 and 2020 pretending like he was down for the cause. When people lie to you about the things they know are most important to you, they do not respect you and if you still let them off, they will never respect you.

I get the political risk here. We have a rare Democratic governor in the Deep South, standing largely alone against a Republican supermajority in at least one chamber of the legislature. We have a Republican Lt. Governor. There is practically no bench to speak of for 2023. So if we demand Edwards resign, that essentially means handing over the entire state government to Republicans. I understand.

But do we let everything fly because “Well, you see, the numbers are like this” and “Republicans are evil“, etc.? The Governor quite clearly showed he doesn’t care about the Black community. He doesn’t respect Black voters or Black people. He sees them as lesser than – a people who have no other choice than to support him and therefore he doesn’t feel any obligation whatsoever to fight for us. He thinks we’re simple, or worse, stupid. And to let him slide because of an argument we in Louisiana will make for literally every single statewide elected Democrat into perpetuity will only further reinforce to other like-minded politicians that Black people need them more than they are willing to fight for us.

When do we do the right thing? When do we stop getting into bed with people who don’t respect us and gaslight us instead? When are we willing to get disinvited to the dinner party for the right thing?

I get that some in the political class – particularly in the legislature – have gotten used to the proximity to power and with it, a fear of losing said proximity. But what’s the value of power when it’s wielded for evil?

What’s the point of power if you don’t use it to pursue justice?

Quentin Anderson is a senior editor with The Bayou Progressive. He also serves as Executive Chairman of The Justice Alliance as well as Creative Director for Anderson Creative LLC. In 2015, he led an advocacy campaign that curbed the school-to-prison pipeline in Illinois. In 2018, he came back home to Baton Rouge and promptly created the statewide social justice conference, the My Louisiana Equality & Equity Summit. When he's not trying to change the world, he's usually occupied with his precocious puppy, Geronimo Lewis.

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