Criminal justice reform activists are accusing Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s chief of staff of wearing blackface in a photo taken at a religious retreat.
The photo was publicly posted on Facebook in 2018 by MCAO Chief of Staff Candice Copple.
Hey @AllisterAdel, we saw your Chief of Staff, Candice, erased this picture of her in Blackface off FB today. But that won’t erase the anti-Blackness inside the MCAO. This is who you tasked with overseeing 1,000+ employees?— Mass Liberation Arizona (@masslibaz) September 29, 2021
Another day, another reason to #ResignOrBeRecalledAdel pic.twitter.com/ovsZFXw2Eh
Through an MCAO spokesperson released a statement apologizing for the photo and said it was not intended as blackface.
“In 2015, I participated in a re-enactment depicting a historical event in my ancestors' lives,” Copple’s statement said. “In the 1830's time period we were portraying, mobs would often put mud on their face to conceal their identity. Taken out of context, I can see how this picture could be misconstrued. While not intended as blackface, I am sensitive to the history of black Americans and I am deeply sorry to anyone who may have found this photo offensive. I didn’t realize the picture was still on my personal Facebook page and it has been removed.
But Lola N’sangou, executive director with Mass Liberation AZ, said that’s an illegitimate explanation
“We know what blackface looks like,” N’sangou said. “(Copple) had every opportunity while she’s putting that makeup on her face to look at herself in the mirror. She had every opportunity to reflect. She knew exactly what she was doing.”
Mass Liberation AZ recently launched a “Resign or Be Recalled” campaign against County Attorney Allister Adel.
The main reason behind the effort to remove Adel stems from her office’s role in falsely charging dozens of protesters last year.
The most notorious example involves Phoenix police and county prosecutors colluding to invent a gang and claiming protesters were members.
“This is another opportunity MCAO is trying to take to avoid accountability,” N’sangou said.
ABC15 was also emailed a copy of Copple’s photo Tuesday evening.
The station then found the picture in a “featured” photos section on Copple’s Facebook page.
ABC15 reached out to MCAO and Copple about the photo early Wednesday morning.
The picture was removed shortly after.
In comments underneath the Facebook photo’s post, Copple wrote that she played the role of a “robber at trek.”
Trek reenactments are special events within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Here’s how the church describes the Trek reenactments in a set of official guidelines published in 2017: “From 1856 to 1860, about 3,000 Latter-day Saints pulled handcarts across the American plains to gather in the Salt Lake Valley These pioneers trekked more than a thousand miles through heat and cold; through mud, sand, and sometimes snow; and through rivers and over mountains They faced trials that required great faith and perseverance. To help youth learn from the experiences of the hand- cart pioneers, stakes and wards may choose to plan handcart trek reenactments for youth conferences.”
The guidelines do not include details about members playing roles with darkened faces.
The church also states that “reenacting deaths or violence — including mob violence — is not to be included as part of treks.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to comment on the photo without more context.
County Attorney Allister Adel also released the following statement in support of Copple.
“Candice has a long history of service to this community. She is kind and thoughtful and would never intentionally seek to offend anyone. Outside of her county employment, she volunteers, mentors, and seeks to improve the lives of others. I am proud to have her as a member of my team.”
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.