Our View: Coleman’s appointment a win for all

We would prefer to discuss the pending appointment of Lt. Dana Coleman, who is black, as chief of the Houma Police Department without discussing the matter of race.

But particularly in current times, it is an element difficult to ignore, which indeed must not be ignored if we are to mark out progression as a society.

That having been said, Lt. Coleman has at all times proven himself a dedicated and driven public servant, who has worked in the trenches of law enforcement and has an understanding of the diverse communities and people his officers are policing.

When dealing with reporters, a task at HPD restricted to a limited few, Lt. Coleman has been courteous, answered questions honestly and promptly, and evinced little of the defensiveness journalists tend to routinely encounter. Reporters deserve no special treatment. But with Coleman there is a very real sense that he shares what information he can out of a sincere desire to inform the public at large of what they are entitled to know.

Houma’s outgoing chief, Todd Duplantis, has been helpful in spreading HPD’s message to the public as well, indeed it was under his orders that Coleman was working. It should be noted here that while Duplantis departs at a difficult time, after losing a lawsuit brought by one of his officers, his own record for leading the department – other than wholesale muzzling of officers to a point of oppressiveness – has many bright spots. Elements of the HPD forged by Duplantis will hopefully last for a very long time.

The intense recruitment of community members to work more closely with the police along with some well-done detective work in many cases point to a police department Houma should already be proud of.

The appointment of someone like Coleman to now take the reins is icing on the governmental cake.

There is no known evidence that Coleman’s selection was based on anything other than an outstanding record of service and an ability to lead.

The ugly head of race relations, nonetheless, still looms within the picture, and that is neither the fault of Coleman, Claudet or anyone else in local government. That is where the element of race comes into the discussion.

Terrebonne Parish has a record concerning race relations that is far from sterling. Palaces of the wealthy were built with slave labor. Slave labor brought the Good Earth’s sugar crop to harvest until emancipation.

Jim Crow was well-nourished; with separate drinking fountains and separation on public transportation well in place. During the time of the civil rights movement workers on local plantations feared registering to vote.

Interviews with long-time residents have unearthed stories of how, in years gone by, the Houma Police Department was seen as more of an oppressive tool than an agency dedicated to protect and serve both white and black citizens. Huge economic disparity continues to this day.

But Houma’s past aside – a shameful past that it shares with Louisiana and the rest of the South – clear signs of progress not only become visible, but persist.

Former Assistant District Attorney Juan Pickett’s ascent to the district court bench last year is one example. Against a backdrop of controversy related to the judgeship issue, Pickett ran unopposed, and so got to take the oath of judicial office before a proud mother not only as a judge, but the 32nd judicial district’s first black judge; Dana Coleman will now be chief of police.

The accomplishments of both men were achieved without favor. They were achieved because the content of their characters, alluding to the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., superseded any question of race.

Both of these achievements speak well for a place that is not content with mere tokenism but with choosing who shall hold key positions without regard to race.

In that sense Dana Coleman’s appointment speaks well for his own qualifications, as well as for the community that chose to recognize them.

Terrebonne Parish has a long way to go to right the wrongs of the past. But these recent developments show that we are already well on the road to doing so.