Group seeks apology from Cooper for ‘black mafia’ comment _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- From left, Jamal Taylor, Chris Williams, Pastor Carl Sonnier and Marja Broussard conduct a press conference on problems in the Lafayette Parish School System Thursday outside the Clifton Chenier Center in Lafayette.

Some members of Lafayette’s African-American community Thursday called on Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper to apologize for the “black mafia” comment he made earlier this month, which Cooper has said was a reference to the influence a small faction of the black community has on elections.

“We found that comment to be derogatory” and that it suggests illicit activity, said Chris Williams, who heads the United Ballot, a political action committee. “We ask that the superintendent would issue an apology … a heartfelt apology.”

Williams said the comment was aimed at those who hold different opinions from Cooper, adding that his comments set a bad example for the community’s schoolchildren.

Williams and three others spoke at a press conference late Thursday to publicly admonish Cooper and call for an apology to the African-American community.

Earlier this week, Cooper issued a one-page statement seeking to explain what he meant when he used the phrase “black mafia” at an event earlier this month.

Cooper said it was an “off the cuff” remark that was not a comment on race. He said it was his intention to call out what he perceives as a small faction of black community leaders who have influence on elections, specifically the District 4 School Board race. In that race, incumbent board member Tehmi Chassion, who has been one of Cooper’s most outspoken critics, faces a new challenger, Erica Williams.

Both candidates are black.

The United Ballot PAC supports Chassion, as well as Elroy Broussard, who has challenged District 3 School Board incumbent Shelton Cobb. Cobb is a supporter of Cooper and his policies.

Chassion’s questions in January 2013 about the hiring of Thad Welch led to the board’s eventual reprimand of Cooper for continuing to employ Welch. A vote to launch an investigation of Cooper followed.

At Thursday’s press conference, Lafayette Parish parent Marja Broussard and Takun El Shabazz, president of the Community Council of Black Elders, criticized the superintendent for what they said was his lack of commitment to improve schools in north Lafayette.

El Shabazz said there is a “continuing decline of schools in the majority-black districts on the north side of town” and questioned the district spending money on specialty curriculum programs, such as foreign language immersion, yet failing to purchase black history books for schoolchildren.

When asked if he’s met with Cooper to discuss his complaints, El Shabazz said there was a recent meeting on the educational needs of African-American children in the district, but he’s seen no results from it.

“As a community we have been faced with nice words … but no will,” El Shabazz said.

Former Lafayette Parish teacher Jamal Taylor said Cooper’s attempts to clarify his comments added insult to injury.

“They’re disgusting,” Taylor said of Cooper’s comments released earlier this week.

Efforts to reach Cooper for comment following the press conference were unsuccessful.

In his statement released earlier this week, Cooper said that in his 43 years as an educator he has “worked successfully with children of all socioeconomic backgrounds and races, and I have championed for those students.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.