Baton Rouge's version of Mardi Gras raised eyebrows this weekend with floats mocking the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of Eric Garner.
At the city's annual Spanish Town parade, which celebrates Mardi Gras and is known for its raunchy humor, one float was emblazoned with the slogan "Pink Lives Matter." On the float's side, there was an image of a flamingo being beat up with police batons and wearing a sign that said, "I can't breathe." The slogan is the last words of New Yorker Eric Garner, who was killed by police; the flamingo is the parade's mascot.
Other floats in Saturday's parade joked about "Freddie Gray Goose"—mocking another black man killed by police—and some attendees waved Confederate flags, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported.
Bloggers and activists say the whole event was racist. Gary Chambers, the publisher of a local magazine who wrote about the float, told me he thought it went too far—especially during Black History Month.
"They make fun of everybody, but when you go to the point of mocking an unarmed African-American man who lost his life in the streets of this nation, I just don't find that funny," Chambers said. "Every year they do this… and we're supposed to be ok with it."
Each float is organized by different groups, and it's not clear who was behind the "Pink Lives Matter" float. Doug Cossman, a board member with the nonprofit that sponsors the parade, told the Advocate that he was sorry if anyone was offended but "we’re not about to start censoring anybody’s free speech rights.”
The problem wasn't just the parade, Chambers said, but larger issues of racism and inequality in Baton Rouge. The city's mostly black north side tends to get less resources and economic development than the mostly white south side, he said.
"Baton Rouge has long been a place where racism gets kind of covered over," Chambers said. At the parade, "they're showing you clear as day."
On social media, some defended the parade as satire. Others said it was offensive: