BALTIMORE, July 23 (UPI) -- Former Baltimore police officer Bobby Berger sought to revive a controversial blackface act to raise funds for Baltimore police but failed to get his program through.
Berger, 67, was fired from the police force in the 1980s after the NAACP protested Berger's involvement in blackface performances he did outside of the job. As the trial of six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray nears, Berger wanted to revive his controversial show in order to raise funds for the families of the police officers. Although he succeeded in selling 600 tickets at $45 each for a Nov. 1 showing at Michael's Eighth Avenue, the venue issued a statement Wednesday saying it would not host the event.
"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."
The vice president of the venue, Scott Wagner, explained that he had decided to let Berger host his event because he knew him personally and knew that the event was intended to help the families of the officers.
The NAACP, an attorney for the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police and an attorney for one of the officers all criticized the proposed show, claiming that it is a bad time to host a show of its nature and that such an event will not be condoned.
An article written by Black Entertainment Television (BET) called it "peak racism at its worst" and says Berger "still believes that painting his face black is an acceptable form of entertainment."
Although Berger did not comment on the venue's cancellation of his show, he had earlier stated that not a single bit of racism characterized his show. He added that many African Americans have viewed and enjoyed his performances in the past and that the reason he was doing it is becuase he knows what it's like to suddenly lack a paycheck from the police department.
The officers' trials are scheduled for October. They stand convicted of charges including second-degree murder and misconduct in office.
Berger's arguments over his blackface show began in 1981, when the police department first complained about his performances. A 1982 performance led to protests by the NAACP, which then pmropted the department to demand Berger cease his shows. Berger denied the demand and sued the department with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claiming a violation of free speech. Although he lost in court, a federal appeals court later ruled in Berger's favor and demanded that the department rehire Berger and compensate him for more than $108,000. Once he rejoined in 1986, however, Berger was given a desk job and a lack of things to do, which prompted a second suit on his part that earned him another $200,000 in 1989.