A successful undercover drug operation has turned into a public relations disaster for white police officers who donned blackface to pose as crack dealers in this affluent retirement haven.
Officials of the mostly white police and sheriff's departments say they were only trying to meet the expectations of the mostly white buyers who cruised the predominantly black River Park neighborhood looking for crack cocaine.But residents say the police crackdown, while well intended, perpetuated "racist assumptions" about drug dealers.
Community leader Fran Haugabrook said the officers' philosophy appeared to be, "This is what a drug pusher would look like. In other words, a drug dealer is black."
"It's a mockery, man," said James Whittaker, a 30-year-old airplane mechanic who described the night he spotted something strange about a man who appeared to be dealing drugs on the street.
It was a white man with black makeup smeared all over his face, the St. Petersburg Times reported Saturday.
Police Kevin Rambosk said officers did not do all that badly because the operation netted at least 30 arrests.
But officials canceled the operation when it attracted unfavorable attention from news organizations in late August.