A campaign ad accusing Democrat John Bel Edwards of planning to release “thugs” from prison, suggests that Louisiana is in for a bitter, highly negative battle in the runoff for governor, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said he was taken aback to see an ad so aggressive and negative so early in the race. The ad, released Monday by Republican Sen. David Vitter’s campaign, appears aimed at stoking fears among white voters that Edwards will unleash dangerous black criminals into safe neighborhoods, Pearson said. An ominous-sounding announcer, whose voice is played over a crackly soundtrack, warns that Edwards would release “5,500 dangerous thugs” as it shows an image of a black man in the foreground as a white man sips from a beer bottle behind him.
After “thugs” was used to describe rioters in Baltimore this year, Columbia University Prof. John McWhorter told NPR that “thugs” is a “sly way of saying, ‘there go those black people ruining things again.'” The Vitter campaign said the ad is designed to highlight comments Edwards made about the need to reduce the state’s prison population, which is first in the nation for incarcerating people on a per capita basis. “I have never supported reducing our incarceration rate by releasing criminals from jail, as the smear ad suggests,” Edwards said. “Rather, my statement about inmates in the speech referenced was about reducing the prison population through long-term solutions without harming public safety.” He said those solutions would include “pre-trial diversion programs, reform sentencing for non-violent offenders, and increase the use of specialty courts.”