Commentary

William Tate and Lamar Davis have some big messes to clean up | Tammy C. Barney

Scandals at LSU and Louisiana Police stink of sexism and racism

June 2, 2021 2:33 pm

William Tate was hired last month to lead the Louisiana State University system. Captain Lamar Davis began as superintendent of the Louisiana State Police in October. (“William Tate, IV” by downclimb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Photo of Davis was provided by the Louisiana State Police.

LSU and the Louisiana State Police, two prominent state institutions embroiled in separate scandals that stink of sexism and racism have something else in common: Black men have been hired to eliminate the stench.

The roads toward repairing all that ails these institutions are riddled with potholes, detours and dead ends. The two new leaders should buckle up because it’s going to be a wild ride.

The LSU Board of Supervisors made history last month by unanimously selecting William Tate as the first Black president of the university system. Tate, the former provost at the University of South Carolina, will oversee multiple campuses and serve as chancellor of the flagship campus in Baton Rouge. When he takes the helm in July, he also will become the first Black university president in the Southeastern Athletic Conference.

That’s a lot of firsts for Tate, 56, who will be responsible for attracting first-class researchers and research funding for the state. Tate wants to bring more Black and brown students, more rural students and more financially challenged students into the LSU system.

Before he can tackle any of those projects, however, Tate must change a culture  that led to the widespread mishandling of sexual misconduct and harassment claims. The U.S. Department of Education and the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children are conducting investigations, and a $50 million federal lawsuit has been filed against the university.

The allegations date back nearly 10 years when Les Miles, LSU’s former football coach, was accused of making improper sexual advances toward female students working in the football office. The university kept those allegations quiet and Miles kept his job. LSU Associate Athletic Director Sharon Lewis filed the federal lawsuit against LSU in April, claiming that members of the university’s athletic administration and football staff conspired to retaliate against her when she tried to report Miles’ alleged advances toward female students. 

According to an independent review conducted by the Husch Blackwell law firm, the LSU system of reporting was built to fail. The 148-page review said reporting policies were unclear, training was an afterthought, and the Title IX office, which handles sexual misconduct claims, was not adequately staffed nor given the necessary independence. The review also looked at cases against fraternity members and football players. One high-profile case involved former running back Derrius Guice, who the NFL’s Washington Football Team cut last year following a domestic violence arrest.

While Tate is wading into a toxic mess at LSU, the new State Police superintendent, Lamar A. Davis, has to reform the department that covered up for two years how Ronald Greene, a 49-year-old Black man, died while in State Police custody.

A native of Baton Rouge, Davis is a 25-year veteran of Louisiana State Police. He spent nearly 23 of those years as a trooper. Most recently, Davis, 50, oversaw the department’s business and technology section. Gov. John Bel Edwards chose him for the top spot in October over 15 higher-ranking majors and lieutenant colonels. Davis, the fourth Black State Police superintendent, pledges that his administration will be “built on trust, externally and internally.”

Davis, who was not superintendent in May 2019 when Greene was taken into custody outside of Monroe, has yet to build that trust. Troopers initially told Greene’s family that he died on impact after crashing during a high-speed chase. The initial state police crash report does not mention troopers using force or arresting Greene. Later, state police said in a statement that Greene, who lived in West Monroe, struggled with troopers and died on his way to a hospital.

Two weeks ago, the truth finally came out when the Associated Press released “leaked” videos of Greene’s arrest. Then – and only then – did Davis release the full body camera and dash camera footage of the incident. The extremely disturbing footage shows White troopers shocking, punching, choking and dragging Greene by his ankle shackles. Greene can be heard crying out for Jesus, referring to the officers as “sir,” and saying he was sorry.

State police did not open an administrative investigation into the troopers’ use of force until 474 days after Greene’s death. Greene’s family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the troopers involved in the incident. Greene’s death also is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

Like many Louisiana residents, I am proud that two Black men are leading LSU and the State Police. But I also wonder how effective they can be given these scandals and the normal scrutiny that Black men face when leading such agencies.  Still, considering where LSU and the State Police stand today, Tate and Davis won’t have to do much to make the institutions better than how they found them.

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Tammy C. Barney
Tammy C. Barney

Award-winning columnist Tammy Carter Barney earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans before starting her career at The Daily Comet in Thibodaux. She covered city government and education, wrote a column and was the first Black woman to work as the paper's managing editor. She worked at The Times-Picayune as a bureau chief, assistant city editor, TV editor and columnist and while there earned a MBA from Tulane University. She left The Times-Picayune for The Orlando Sentinel, where she served as an editor and wrote a weekly column for the lifestyle section. Her writing has won her multiple awards, including the prestigious Vernon Jarrett Award for Journalistic Excellence for a series of columns on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In addition to writing, Tammy is passionate about quilting and singing with the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Praise Team and Contemporary Choir. She also serves as chair of the New Orleans Human Rights Commission. For 17 years, Tammy was married to the late Keith G. Barney. She has one daughter and one granddaughter.

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