Activists worry new 'strike force' to combat violent crime could turn Baton Rouge into a 'police state'

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An effort to change Baton Rouge's violent streak is falling under scrutiny, with some fearing it could create a "police state" in the capital city.

Announcing the so-called "strike force" last week, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana said it was about helping people "living as hostages in their own homes" due to the recent uptick in violence.

However, some community activists said there could be major side effects. Reginald Pitcher, the executive director of the National Alliance for Social Justice, worries that the strike force could cast a wide net, unfairly hurting innocent African American community members.

"You substitute one hostage taker, which is supposed to be the criminals, for another which is going to be the hyper-aggressive police officers," said Pitcher, who visited the courthouse Friday in hopes of meeting with Corey Amundson, the acting U.S. Attorney.

"We're going to be the one that's stopped and frisked. We're going to be the ones arrested. We're the ones that have increased police records," Pitcher said.

A combined effort of local and federal law enforcement and prosecutors, the strike force aims to cut back on the recent rash of violence across the capital city. Speaking at a community meeting earlier this week, Amundson defended the initiative.

"It's not about putting black folks in jail, it's about putting violent offenders in jail that are menacing communities that are made up of hardworking, decent black folks," Amundson said.

Still Pitcher said he believes simply fighting crime is not the answer. Instead, he said they should invest more in African American communities to help improve schools, expand healthcare access, and more.

"Unless we do that, then we're just whistling Dixie," Pitcher said.

In an interview Friday, Amundson said he does not disagree with Pitcher on that point, but said improving schools and the like are not under the control of the U.S. Department of Justice.

During the news conference, Pitcher also called out the mayor directly for endorsing the strike force.

In a statement, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome responded, saying in part that "Addressing crime in our community is not an either-or solution.  We must provide services, economic opportunities, and present viable alternatives to all citizens while protecting their lives and welfare."

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