Fundraiser for Baltimore 6 will feature blackface performance

UPDATE: Michael's Eighth Avenue, the banquet hall where the fundraiser was set to take place, announced in a Facebook post that the event will no longer be happening at the venue.

The post reads: "Bobby Berger will not host a fundraiser at Michael's Eighth Avenue for the six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. 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. Michael's regrets any concerns that the discussions of this event may have caused in the community."

 

A bull roast to raise funds for the six Baltimore Police officers charged with the death of Freddie Gray will feature a blackface performance, according to a post published in Ebony.

Senior editor Jamilah Lemieux obtained a picture of the flier for the event, set for Nov. 1 at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, touting a performance by Bobby "Al Jolson" Berger alongside a menu of pork dishes, cake, and beer.

Berger was once known as the city's "singing cop" for his performances in musical reviews, including renditions of Al Jolson routines done in blackface, according to an article in The Sun. The concerts got him into trouble with the department in 1982, which eventually led to police brass asking him to stop. Berger sued on First Amendment grounds, backed by the ACLU. He lost and was fired in 1984, but a federal appeals court later ruled in his favor.

Berger rejoined BPD in 1986, without a gun or badge, and was told to "relax and accept being paid for nothing." He again filed suit and won a $200,000 decision that also granted him full retirement benefits.

Reached by Lemieux, Berger insisted there's nothing racial about performing Jolson numbers and told her he had appeared on the Montell Williams show and performed for legendary boxer Joe Frazier.

A vice president from Michael's Eighth Avenue, Scott Wagner, confirmed the event is "tentatively scheduled," but said "with all this excitement we are addressing it. We are in no means on the side of anything."

Noting that his banquet hall hosts a variety of events, including gay weddings, Wagner added: "We're not in the business of judging people for what they think or what they do. We are in the business of serving people."

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