Virginia deputy under fire after blackface Halloween costume photos surface

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — A sheriff’s deputy is facing heat from local activists after photographs surfaced of her in blackface.

“I was very concerned,” said Brian Smalls, President of the York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP chapter.

Smalls said that shortly after Halloween, a friend forwarded him Facebook photographs of York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Deputy Jean Browning dressed as Frederica Wilson, an African-American congresswoman.

“This is a serious situation, this is nothing to be taken lightly,” he said. “This is not a game, these are human beings, these are people that have feelings, emotions, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”


Smalls said he met with York-Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs on Monday, Nov. 6, to express his concerns.

“I think everyone who was present was in agreement that … at no point in time should this be acceptable in our community from anybody, let alone someone who’s in law enforcement,” Smalls said.

But Smalls said he was left under the impression that disciplinary action would not be taken, and he reached out to television station WAVY. He said that “at a minimum,” he felt Browning should be removed from her role as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education [DARE] instructor within local schools.

On Wednesday night, Diggs decided to hold a press conference and address the accusations.

He stated that Browning will be reassigned as a result of the situation; instead of working as a DARE instructor, she’ll be on courtroom duty.

Diggs said that Browning has been a deputy for 20 years, and worked as a DARE instructor for the last 10.

He said that she had attended a Halloween party dressed as Congresswoman Wilson with her boyfriend, who dressed as Donald Trump.

“The combined intent of the couple was to convey how funny it would be for two political figures, who were at odds with each other, to go to a party together,” Diggs said. “There was no intent to either mock or degrade Congresswoman Wilson or President Trump, or for that matter even to make any kind of political statement.”

Diggs said that Browning has never been accused of racial insensitivity and is a “kind and caring” person who regrets the costume.

“She realizes in hindsight that she should have used better judgment.”

Diggs shot down accusations that he never intended to take action, and said he was under the assumption that his office and the NAACP would meet again to discuss the matter.

“I felt that it was understood that I agreed that some type of corrective action would be taken in this incident,” Diggs said. “I did not hear back from the NAACP until 4:22 p.m. today when I was notified by email that they were putting out a press release.”

Both Diggs and Smalls told WAVY that the groups did previously discuss the possibility of teaming up on new training initiatives in light of the incident.

When asked Wednesday night if that partnership would still be possible, Diggs said “it’ll be more difficult – just leave it at that.”

WAVY reached out to Congresswoman Wilson’s office and was told she has no comment.

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