On the afternoon of May 2, 2013, Baton Rouge police kicked in the door of 6349 Flag Street, a faded blue shotgun house set atop cinder blocks and surrounded by a chain-link fence and scorched grass. The neighborhood, an unincorporated sliver east of Airline Highway, is almost entirely Black. One in three live below the poverty line. There are a couple of churches, a dollar store and a high school spread among the low-flung homes.
Fifteen narcotics detectives and patrol officers — foot soldiers in America’s Sisyphean war on drugs — were looking for a local man who, one informant had assured them, was trafficking crack cocaine and armed with an assault rifle.
Police in SWAT gear stormed the house. Neighbors gathered along the fence, blocked by a phalanx of cops. They heard a commotion from inside, then muffled screams, then nothing.
Less than 15 minutes after police went inside, paramedics came out with a 32-year-old Black man on a stretcher and loaded him into an ambulance. The man’s mother looked on from behind the fence, shocked and confused, pacing back and forth as she begged for one of the officers to explain what had just happened. She received no answers.
Around 2 a.m., a local television station reported a statement from the Baton Rouge Police Department: A man “was in distress” after swallowing drugs when detectives arrived to execute the search warrant and he had died. “No foul play is suspected,” the sheriff’s office said.
Police did not announce what their raid had yielded from the house that day: one marijuana blunt, two cell phones, $231 in cash and “one small suspected crack cocaine rock.” The critical facts about what happened in those 15 minutes were held close by police and would go unexplained for years.
The narcotics officers who had answers knew better than to speak about them publicly. But in private conversations at police headquarters, in jokes among those who were in the house, that day had a name:
The Flag Street Massacre.
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