New Orleans zoo cancels pro-police promotion, citing 'divisive' potential

Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson called the Audubon Nature Institute's decision "disappointing"

By Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS  — After drawing up plans to offer discounts to anyone wearing blue to show support for the New Orleans Police Department, the Audubon Nature Institute announced Tuesday it was canceling the six-day promotion, citing feedback that "this event could be unintentionally divisive."

A statement from a spokesperson for the Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas said the purpose of hosting Blue at the Zoo from May 11 to May 16, alongside the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation, was to "promote and foster positive interactive experiences" with the Police Department. But an announcement last week of the promotion as well as a planned news conference triggered "feedback ... from members of our community and from persons outside of our community" which convinced Audubon to scrap the idea, the statement said.

The Blue at the Zoo promotion would have offered discounts to anyone wearing the color synonymous with law enforcement.
The Blue at the Zoo promotion would have offered discounts to anyone wearing the color synonymous with law enforcement. (New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation)

The cancelation comes less than a year after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who's since been convicted of murder. Floyd's killing, recorded on video, prompted widespread protests and calls to reform U.S. law enforcement.

Locally, the New Orleans police leadership has repeatedly said the agency years ago adopted many of the reforms that protesters in other cities are demanding, such as use-of-force restrictions and transparency mandates. Many of those policies were embedded in a federal consent decree that has ruled the Police Department since 2012, although some were undertaken voluntarily.

Audubon's statement Tuesday hailed the Police Department as "a nationally recognized leader in law enforcement reform" and pledged to continue working with the agency as well as the Police & Justice Foundation to find other ways to support officers. But the statement said, Audubon additionally supports "holding law enforcement accountable for any and all unethical and unlawful behavior" and vows to "promote healing between law enforcement and the community."

Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson called Audubon's decision "disappointing."

"This event ... was an excellent opportunity to connect with our community on a personal level," Ferguson said. "Anyone looking at the issue objectively would see that our department is the model for the implementation of the constitutional policing reforms the public is demanding. Despite the cancelation of this event, we will continue to find ways to work with our community to build a stronger relationship and be the department they deserve."

In New Orleans, the protests in the wake of Floyd's murder were mostly free of the clashes that many other cities saw. An exception was when the Police Department used tear gas and rubber projectiles against protesters on a Crescent City Connection approach on June 3.

Some of those protesters filed a federal lawsuit last month against the agency, saying police had "no legitimate basis" to break up the large crowd marching near the bridge. Ferguson has defended his officers' handling of the episode, saying they were "provoked" by a small group of agitators at the front of the protest line.

The Blue at the Zoo promotion would have offered 20% discounts at zoo and aquarium concession stands and gift shops to anyone wearing the color synonymous with law enforcement. The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation is a nonprofit that supports the Police Department.


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