A white Virginia sheriff’s deputy has been reassigned out of her job in the local school system after attending a Halloween party in blackface as part of a costume portraying Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).
Deputy Jean Browning is a 20-year veteran of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office in southeast Virginia, just north of Newport News, covering both York County and the city of Poquoson. Sheriff J.D. Diggs said in a lengthy news release that Browning was an anti-drug officer teaching the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in local schools for 10 years and was “known as a kind and caring person who would do anything for anyone.”
A photograph of Browning dressed as Wilson, wearing blackface, large glasses and a red hat similar to Wilson’s signature hat, began circulating on the Internet soon after Halloween. She was accompanied by her boyfriend dressed as President Trump, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap in the photo.
The local branch of the NAACP brought the photo to the sheriff’s attention, and Diggs said he met with members of the group on Nov. 6, then spoke by phone with the branch president the next day, asking for suggestions on how to handle the situation.
Diggs said he was still waiting for suggestions when the York-James City-Williamsburg branch of the NAACP issued a statement on Nov. 15, noting that, “For decades, blackface has been synonymous with hate, degradation, and bigotry.”
The NAACP called for Browning to be reassigned out of the DARE program and out of the schools completely. “It is inappropriate and disheartening when anyone mocks someone’s race,” the branch statement said, “but it is inexcusable when someone connected with our law enforcement finds it acceptable to paint their face to impersonate African-Americans.”
Diggs said he was surprised to receive the NAACP statement and disappointed that the group didn’t meet with him again to discuss corrective actions. He said that the idea for the Halloween costumes “was to convey the message of how funny it would be for two political figures that were at odds with each other to go to a party together. There was no intent to either mock or degrade either Congresswoman Wilson or President Trump, or for that matter to even make any kind of political statement.
“Based on all of the circumstances,” Diggs said, “and the need for the community to realize that the Sheriff’s Office takes race relations seriously, I have decided that it would be in the best interest for all concerned to reassign this deputy to another position within the Sheriff’s Office.”
Officials with the NAACP branch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.