Former Baltimore police officer Bobby Berger on the surface seems to have good intentions. After all, he wanted to have a fundraiser for the six cops who are accused of assaulting and basically killing Freddie Gray. However, Berger wanted to perform in blackface and sold 600 tickets at $45 a piece, raising $27,000. This is the same racist act he performed in the 1980s that got him fired from the police force after the NAACP protested.
Michael’s Eighth Avenue, the venue that was booked, canceled the event after learning about Berger’s blackface act. A statement on the venue’s website reads, “No contract was signed with Mr. Berger. Michael’s does not condone blackface performances of any kind. As an event venue, it has not been the practice of Michael’s Eighth Avenue to pre-approve entertainment that is planned as part of a contracted event. This policy will be carefully and thoughtfully reviewed.”
Ivan Bates, one of the lawyers for accused officer Sgt. Alicia D. White issued a statement in which he called the planned performance “racist and in poor taste.” Bates went on to state, “My client will not participate. We will not accept a single solitary dime from this sort of action… This is the type of racist behavior that we do not need and do not want.”
Berger stated to the media before learning of the show’s cancellation that there was no racial overtone in his blackface performance and that thousands of Black people have seen his shows and enjoyed them. Berger went on to state that the reason for the fundraiser was because he knew how it felt to be suddenly out of a job. “I’ve been through what they’re going through and I know they need the help,” he said. “Look at yourself as having a wife and two kids and a mortgage and school payments and everything that comes with it, and a guy comes up to your desk and says, ‘We’ve got to let you go.’ How do you survive?” stated Berger.
When Berger first started doing his routine in the ’80s, he refused a Baltimore Police Department order to stop performing in blackface. His refusal led to him being fired; however he sued because he said it was a violation of his right of free speech. Berger was successful and got his job back in 1986 but was not issued a badge or a gun. So he sued again and was awarded over $300,000 in back pay and legal fees.
Berger states that his act is a tribute to 1920s film star Al Jolson and his famous song “Mammy” as well as minstrel performances.