In the wake of protesters’ calls for his resignation and media noting his unusual absence after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge police officer, Mayor Kip Holden says he refuses to use the incident for political gain, as he believes other politicians have, and that his office has done its part by turning the investigation over to federal authorities.
Holden also says he is a “multidimensional mayor” who is well attuned to what’s going on in Baton Rouge, but he cannot focus solely on one event.
Holden says he has not been involved in the protests or rallies or even spoken to Sterling’s family because he wants to remain impartial and not strike a negative chord with police.
“At the end of the day, I’m still Melvin ‘Kip’ Holden, mayor,” he says. “I’ve got a chief of police and police department under my jurisdiction. I don’t want to set off a reverse firestorm by bashing police officers just because we had an incident with two.”
Following the Tuesday death of 37-year-old Sterling, media outlets have called attention to the mayor’s relative silence on the issue as protesters in and outside of Baton Rouge swarmed the city to decry police shootings of black people. Protesters have also taken notice of Holden’s absence at rallies and events. Some have begun calling for his resignation.
However, Holden says these events “have been dominated by political people who unfortunately want to use this terrible incident to feather their own nest. I won’t be a part of that.”
Two days after the shooting, Holden flew to Washington, D.C., for a meeting about TramLinkBR with U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and Carolyn Flowers, acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.
Holden says it was a high-level meeting, where he was able to stress the importance of securing federal dollars for the tram, which would link LSU to downtown Baton Rouge.
“It went extremely well,” he says. “We feel optimistic about our chances.” By August, he says, the city will find out whether the tram will be included in the president’s budget.
But community activists have criticized Holden’s trip to D.C. as his city was left to deal with the aftermath of the Sterling shooting.
Holden maintains that he has already taken the proper steps to address the issue and will continue to work with city leaders as protests go on. His office quickly contacted federal authorities to handle the investigation after the July 5 shooting.
“We asked the Justice Department to come in because we didn’t want to be accused of covering up anything,” Holden says. “We don’t want to be accused of being biased, so we got an independent party now handling everything.”
Even so, he says, people still are not satisfied with his response. As for whether the mayor will attend any upcoming protests or rallies, his answer remains constant.
“Why should I put my hand in a hornet’s nest?” he says.
Mike McClanahan, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP, says he has not reached out to Holden, but knows of others who have tried and come up empty.
“He doesn’t talk to them or anyone that I know of, and it’s a sad commentary because we want leaders to lead,” McClanahan says.
He and other community leaders are appreciative of the leadership shown by Gov. John Bel Edwards during the last week. The local NAACP leader says Edwards has acted like a surrogate mayor and provided leadership that the city needs. “We just appreciate some calm in the midst of the storm,” McClanahan says.