JONESVILLE, La. — Sunday sermons had just ended when residents of this river town learned that a lone black gunman had killed three police officers in Baton Rouge. Before the news could sink in, a profane message appeared on Facebook.
“Hey Mr. Bulls--- president,” it began. “When are you going to grow a f---ing pair. And tell it like it is. These are terrorist. That have declared f---ing war on my brother. (White police officers) enough is enough.”
The author was Skylar Dore, Jonesville’s white chief of police.
The post instantly cleaved the community in two. Many black residents, who make up 70 percent of Jonesville, saw it as a racist rant. Some whites defended Dore, saying he had the right to speak his mind. Two days later, the majority-black town council fired the young chief.
If his post had stirred anger, then his firing provoked outrage. Dore received encouragement, even employment offers, from across the country. But he also received death threats. When a friend organized a march on Dore’s behalf, the sheriff persuaded him to call it off for fear it could turn into a shootout.
Today, Jonesville remains on edge. Some whites think the town’s black officials are putting political correctness ahead of public safety. Some blacks see ugly hints of the racial violence that has long haunted the Deep South in Dore’s profane post and the online debates that followed.
In Jonesville — as in many places across the nation — both black people and police feel under attack.
Dore says he is not a racist. He says he is fighting for his First Amendment rights.
“I was upset with the president. Quite frankly, I still am,” he said, saying President Obama failed to act aggressively against black nationalist “terrorists,” such as the Baton Rouge shooter, Gavin Long. “I’m a police officer. I’m a chief. But I’m also an American citizen, and I have just as much rights as any other American citizen.”
His critics, however, say Dore’s post not only exposed his racist views but also raised questions about his past, including ones tied to unsubstantiated allegations that he caused the death of a black man in custody. That the majority-black town had entrusted Dore with the badge compounded the sense of betrayal.
“This has brought out the real intentions of people, what they really think and really feel,” said Sharon Stevenson, a black resident who led the campaign to fire Dore. “The mask has come off.”
Jonesville sits at the crux of four flood-prone rivers, surrounded by fields of cotton and soy and the occasional old plantation house, a vestige of the slavery-based economy that once enriched white families. Towering Native American mounds that once stood here are now small piles, their dirt long ago appropriated for construction projects.
The town of 2,200 has also shrunk — by half since a clothing plant closed in the late 1980s.
“There’s nothing here. There’s no jobs,” said Dore, who runs FleX Fitness, the town’s only gym.
Dore is built like an Olympic wrestler, with bulging arms covered in tribal tattoos. He grew up in New Iberia, the heart of Cajun country, and says tragedy in his youth pushed him to become a cop. First, his older brother was killed by a drunk driver. Then his mother drowned in an auto accident that Dore insists is an unsolved murder.
Dore took a job at the Iberia Parish jail, then became a police officer in the nearby town of Baldwin. There, he had his first brush with controversy. In May 2012, Dore was leading Damon Abraham to a holding cell when Abraham, a black man wanted for failure to appear in court, bolted. Dore chased him through the streets and into the woods, where he used a stun gun on Abraham at least twice. Back in the jail, Abraham stopped breathing. Dore performed CPR, but Abraham died.
Several witnesses told investigators that Dore used the stun gun on Abraham while he was handcuffed. One said Dore also threatened to arrest his “black ass.” In a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, Abraham’s family called it a “clear-cut murder of an innocent man.”
But Louisiana State Police found no probable cause to arrest Dore, and Dore says he did nothing wrong.
“If anything, I was too nice,” he said, lamenting his failure to handcuff Abraham from the start. “It bit me in the behind.”
Two months later, Jonesville hired Dore as a police officer. Last year, financial trouble forced the town to gut its police department. Dore went from being one of 14 full-time officers to being in charge of just two.
At 30, he was chief of police.
Dore was vacationing in Florida with his wife, who serves as the town judge, and his stepdaughter when he heard about the Baton Rouge shooting. Already upset about the slaying of five officers 10 days earlier in Dallas, he was devastated to learn that Matthew Gerald, with whom Dore had trained, was among the dead in Baton Rouge.
Dore immediately took to Facebook.
“How many police officers have to die trying to protect the citizens of this country,” he fumed. “Any other president would have declared full on war on this group. Since when in our f---ing history do we stand idle to the ambush murders of law enforcement. It has to STOP NOW!!!!!”
On the drive back to Louisiana, Dore’s phone began ringing. His post was spreading quickly. People in Jonesville and beyond were accusing him of racism.
Dore reread his post.
“I said, ‘Damn. That’s not how I meant for it to come out.’ ” Dore said that he was quoting Long, the Baton Rouge shooter, when he wrote “white police officers.” And that the “group” he mentioned was not the activist group Black Lives Matter but black sovereign citizens, the sometimes-violent separatist organization of which Long claimed to be a follower.
“When that Cajun blood gets a-runnin’, we get mad. The filter comes off. And I’m a hundred percent guilty of that,” Dore said. “I lost my cool, and I let my emotions get the best of me. But by no means am I racist. ”
Sharon Stevenson watched in horror as Dore’s post tore through Jonesville. She had learned about it from her youngest son, who worked out at Dore’s gym. That the post came from a man her son considered “cool” made it all the more shocking.
Soon, the comments on Facebook took a dark turn. Some black residents demanded that Dore resign. Some whites said he was a victim of a witch hunt. According to Stevenson, at least one commenter appeared to threaten violence against blacks.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “I said, ‘He is going to set a fire in this little town.’ ”
Decades earlier, Stevenson, 56, had been one of the first black employees in the local welfare office. The post reminded her of attitudes once expressed openly in Jonesville. Whites here overwhelmingly resisted desegregation, and the community had brushes with Ku Klux Klan violence, including the 1964 firebombing of a church not far from town.
Hiram Evans remembers seeing crosses burn. Now the first black mayor of Jonesville, Evans said he was “bewildered and surprised” when Stevenson called about Dore. Evans had taken a chance on the young white officer after the Baldwin incident. Now he wondered: Had he hired a racist?
Other black residents were wondering the same thing.
“A lot of people were upset that they hired him because he had already been accused of killing a black guy,” said Lucretia Duncan, a local event planner. “When he expressed his views about the president and his ‘white brothers,’ that kind of threw people for a loop.”
Two days later, the mayor summoned Dore to a public hearing. The hall was filled to capacity, and the atmosphere was tense. Stevenson and two other women called for Dore to step down, saying the black community could no longer trust him.
Dore offered an apology but refused to resign.
“I should not have allowed my emotions to get the best of me,” Dore told the crowd.
“I’m sorry, but you should have thought about it before you even hit those keys,” Stevenson replied.
The council voted to fire him.
Dore’s termination made news statewide. Within hours, he was inundated on Facebook with messages of support and job offers from sympathetic police departments in several states.
He also received “probably 50 different death threats,” he said.
“It’s a shame those whackos didn’t get you rather than [the] other officers,” one message said.
In Jonesville, his firing divided neighbors and co-workers along racial lines. People who once said hello to one another now looked the other way.
Tillman Jolly, a white carpenter whose Facebook page includes a photo of a gun atop a Bible, urged people to march to town hall and demand Dore’s reinstatement. Jolly thought Dore’s post had been “tough but fair” and that Jonesville had axed its best police chief over political correctness.
“The people in charge of Jonesville are 90 percent black,” Jolly said. “It pissed them off that he bashed their president.”
Within hours, more than 1,500 people had pledged to attend the Aug. 6 rally, including several motorcycle gangs. But then the Catahoula Parish sheriff called and said the state police believed “outside elements” planned to attack officers at the rally. So Jolly canceled it.
Dore approved of the decision. “I don’t want any more police officers being murdered,” he said. Besides, he said, it would be “suicide” to return to his old job. “I assure you I would eventually be shot and killed.”
While Dore said he plans to sue Jonesville for wrongful termination, the mayor allowed that Dore may not be a racist: “That’s a situation between him and God,” he said. But he said he does not regret firing his chief.
“We need to have this conversation,” Evans said. “Otherwise, we are going to continuously fuel the fire.”