Shortly after Democrat Sharon Weston Broome became mayor of Baton Rouge last January, her office was informed that the Justice Department was freezing payments and possibly canceling a grant that had allocated to the city over $3 million during the past five years to help reduce violent crime in Baton Rouge. The Department of Justice cited missed reports from the previous mayoral administration, as well as a near-complete lack of spending on social services—one of the requirements of the grant.
The grant had been funding an initiative known as Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination (BRAVE), which used data-driven models to identify youths at risk of committing violence and, supposedly, steer those youths towards social services, allowing them an exit from possible criminal activity. Another part of the grant was designated for increased policing in high-crime areas, with a special focus on breaking up gangs. Broome had run on police reform, and her new administration quickly came up with a plan to salvage the program, but it was too late. In June, the Department of Justice canceled the grant. Still, it allowed Broome to spend the remaining $1.7 million of the unspent funds on the social services for which they were originally intended.
Broome’s office began quickly distributing the funds to local service providers, focusing on mentorship programs, arts camps, and job-readiness trainings, many of which had been included in the original grant proposal. One of those grants was given to Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, a prominent member of the community who had been integral to the weeks-long protests that sprang up following the police killing of Alton Sterling the summer before. Reed was awarded a contract to offer counseling services to teens identified as being the most at risk of committing violence. A few weeks later, however, Reed became embroiled in controversy after remarks at a Metro Council meeting where, furious that the officers who killed Sterling have not been prosecuted, he declared the recent shooting of six Baton Rouge police officers a form of justice.
“The fact that our federal tax dollars have gone to someone like Arthur ‘Silky Slim’ Reed is downright repulsive,” said Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy after Reed’s comments. Following Kennedy’s lead, some on the right took aim at Weston Broome, a black woman, for putting Reed on the project’s payroll, while questioning why money from the Justice department was being spent on social services at all and not on law enforcement. By September, all of the social-service contracts for BRAVE had been canceled—leaving over a million dollars unspent.