There’s an interesting phenomenon playing out here in the next great American city of Baton Rouge: We’re embracing a life of self-absorption and isolationism.
Call it the #MeOnly movement.
I thought about this while reading Metro Councilman Matt Watson’s comments in our cover story on the rising popularity of neighborhood crime prevention districts. Told the city-parish could raise close to $19 million to fund police raises if every parish property owner paid the average annual crime district fee of $100, Watson—who last year floated a dedicated property tax idea to raise $14 million for raises—essentially said: It ain’t gonna happen.
Why? Because, as Watson explains, people will pay taxes that directly benefit them but aren’t so keen on ponying up for the benefit of others.
Sure, we distrust the council, but the reason special taxing districts and independent taxing authorities are so popular is because small groups of people get together on off-date elections to make sure the stuff they care about gets incredibly well funded.
As for the other stuff, like a functioning street grid … or a highly paid police force? Those are someone else’s problems.
There’s exactly zero evidence these crime prevention districts do anything to actually reduce crime, but residents in 27 districts spread across the parish are willing to self-tax themselves as much as $500 per year just to feel safer than the rest of us.
Ever wonder why this town is littered with gated subdivisions, single-entrance neighborhoods and sidewalk-free developments? Because the people who live there want to keep everyone else out.
Hidden beneath the smiling veneer of the distinctly Southern “How’s your mom’n’em?” is a bubbling cauldron of New York-style “fuhgeddaboutit.”
I’m not suggesting the “me first” doctrine is unique to Baton Rouge—hell, our president is the living embodiment of gaudy self-absorption. No question, it’s a mindset sprawling across the country, thanks largely to the coddling, “every kid gets a trophy” way we baby-boomer parents raised our millennial children.
Yet, what we’ve got here is a roux of isolation: Combining our centuries-old racial divide with the school desegregation white flight of the 1970s and ’80s, an exorbitant fear of crime and an East Baton Rouge Parish population that’s essentially 50-50 black-white, according to the Census Bureau. Pour that over a parish torn between conservatism and liberalism as well as an African-American population loudly demanding to be heard and the result is a very spicy gumbo of division, isolation and self-interest.
No doubt, we’re still an exceedingly polite and cordial group. Yet hidden beneath the smiling veneer of “How y’all doing?” and the distinctly Southern “How’s your mom’n’em?” is a bubbling cauldron of New York-style “fuhgeddaboutit” whenever anyone dares whisper the concept of “greater good.”
The St. George movement may have begun as a quest to break free from the Baton Rouge public school system and create an independent school district, but it has since become something larger. Those most passionate about independence zealously believe our city-parish government spends money inefficiently and doesn’t direct enough of that wasteful spending to their suburban hamlets. Downplaying every negative fallout, supporters ardently believe a limited, largely privatized government focusing exclusively on their needs is the way to go.
Criticize if you want, but does anyone believe the best interests of East Baton Rouge are what’s driving those north Baton Rouge state legislators who are floating bills at the State Capitol that would 1) prevent the parishwide BREC from ever moving the Baton Rouge Zoo from its current Greenwood Park home, or 2) stack the local parks commission with representatives exclusively from north Baton Rouge?
Let’s also consider suddenly everywhere black activist Gary Chambers and his call for voters to reject a portion of a school tax renewal because not enough of the resulting revenue will be spent building schools north of Florida Boulevard. This despite Chambers acknowledging the desperate need for new schools in the southern suburbs, where shockingly few schools exist.
Sharon Weston Broome ran for mayor promising to work for all citizens while uniting a fractured parish. She’s been in office for just over a year and the divide, discord and parochialism has only grown worse.
I’m not sure how “great” that makes us as an American city, but, to paraphrase former NFL coach Bill Parcells, we are what our record says we are.