Eight unrelated shootings in East Baton Rouge Parish over 10 days in late June left a senseless and bloody trail of bodies. Four lives blown away. Fourteen others are still with us, but forever scarred by gunshot wounds.
These shots rang out across the parish. The bloodletting wasn’t contained to “one of those” north Baton Rouge Zip codes. You know the ones. The ones where when trouble strikes—as it far too frequently does—many of us cavalierly chalk it up as the predictable casualty of a gang respect war or some drug deal gone bad.
Truth is, only one of the killing zones during the week-plus shooting spree was inside the city limits. But, honestly, when it comes to dead, location doesn’t matter.
A body with a bullet through the head dumped at a BREC park in suburban Kenilworth is just as needlessly and tragically dead as one gunned down in Zion City.
As June gave way to July, a midsummer surge of gun violence averaging nearly two blood-stained victims a day got so nuts our bitterly divided parish came together in fear, frustration and anger demanding answers to these most basic of questions: 1) What the hell is going on in our parish, and 2) What are the mayor and law enforcement doing about it?
So how did Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, the leader of our city and parish, respond?
By hosting a community forum to “convey a feeling of measured calm” and declare, “Certainly we have challenges, but this is not Gotham City.”
Forgive me, mayor, but we’ve seen 164 people shot in this parish—including 37 homicide victims—in the year’s first six months. Maybe we do need Batman.
Think of it this tragic way: We’re averaging just over 27 people shot—killed or not—each month, not far from one a day.
And we’re supposed to take comfort in the fact, as the mayor and Police Chief Murphy Paul suggested, that our homicide rate is down 11 bodies from this time a year ago?
In times of trouble, few things give the appearance of doing something, without actually doing anything, than a public forum.
A few days later, after Metro Councilman Matt Watson—irritated that so much of the forum’s focus was on declining homicide numbers—began demanding answers about the rising number of nonfatal shootings, the police chief was much more expansive with his insights.
Acknowledging the troubling increase in shooting victims, Paul spoke of technology improvements that ought to make it easier for everyone along the law enforcement chain to do their jobs, made clear the need for more officers on the streets, and repeated the need for parents, friends, families and the community at large to do a better job dealing with “young black men involved in a culture of violence.”
A friend in the district attorney’s office was unwavering: “Nonfatal shootings, not homicides, are the best indicator of gun violence in a community.” He’s right. Should we feel better about life in Baton Rouge because would-be killers have bad aim, EMS personnel and doctors are really skilled, or the victim was “fortunate” enough to be shot near a hospital?
Public safety is the most important function of government. Who cares about world-class libraries and award-winning parks if people don’t feel safe in their own homes? And safe isn’t what they’re feeling when residents in more than two dozen neighborhoods that aren’t gated are willing to tax themselves ostensibly for extra police protection.
Baton Rouge has a serious problem and we need Broome to be a leader, not a cheerleader.
Right now, she’s the Kevin Bacon character in Animal House screaming, “Remain calm. All is well,” as all hell breaks out around her.
While Broome fiddles, the district attorney’s office, as well as law enforcement, are working behind the scenes on positive changes.
Not only is the police department now tracking nonfatal shootings—it would be nice if the sheriff’s office did the same—but law enforcement and the DA’s office will soon be on the same computer system. Shocking as this may be in 2019, it’s presently almost impossible for the sheriff, police and DA to share information because each collects data on crime and criminals on different software that doesn’t work well with other software.
I’m not joking.
There are also high hopes that the rollout of a Real Time Crime Unit, a Crimes Strategies unit and a grant from the Crime Gun Intelligence Center will enable officers to respond more quickly and effectively.
Moreover, Baton Rouge is in the early phases of looking at a hospital-based violence intervention program with the National Network of Safe Communities, which connects victims with law enforcement much more quickly.
And our police chief is right. Baton Rouge needs more police officers. Right now, the department is 70 officers short. New programs, targeted police units and federal grant dollars are great, but the value is ultimately reduced if Baton Rouge doesn’t have enough officers on the streets.
Still, government can’t solve the problem. This one falls on its citizens. We must do a better job of raising our children. Education must matter. The notion of disrespect being justification for a death sentence must end.
How many more of our friends and neighbors must be shot before Baton Rouge gets serious about crime?