There are times when you receive great news, but you don’t know quite what to do with it.
Your doctor says that life-threatening disease you have is not as bad as first thought. You feel better about yourself, but you are concerned you are still sick, and it could get worse.
A few days ago, East Baton Rouge Parish residents received the good news that the number of murders in the area fell to an astoundingly low number, and that it follows a trend of fewer people killing each other on our streets. Props to Baton Rouge.
More specifically, the number of homicides fell from 78 in 2015 to 61 in 2016. By any measure, that is incredible news, unless a family member or friend was part of the 61.
Given the eye-popping and tragic homicide numbers and increases we have seen in major cities such as New Orleans and Chicago, Baton Rouge gets a gold medal. Think about these numbers. The Wall Street Journal claims there were 762 homicides in Chicago in 2016, the most the Windy City has seen in two decades. New Orleans saw the number of killings rise from 164 in 2015 to 176 in 2016.
Before we celebrate our situation too much, we have to ask a question. Did the displacement and rebuilding caused by the historic flooding and the police shooting of Alton Sterling play roles in reducing the number of killings in the parish?
Various Baton Rouge officials, from the district attorney to chief of police, are touting programs and community involvement that they have initiated as part of the reason for the declining numbers.
We hope all of their programs did play roles in the improvement, and that it has some long-term benefits.
Maybe some credit should be attributed to the ongoing dialogue throughout Baton Rouge communities, from the churches, to community and social groups.
Maybe years of preaching are reaching our youth. Maybe all of the community effort is paying off. If it is, then it has to be sustained and built upon.
I do, however, agree with EBR Police Chief Carl Dabadie concerning a possible contributor to the decline in Baton Rouge. He said the giant flood this summer and the resulting damage to houses may have contributed to reducing the violence. His theory is that some folks were too busy with rescue and rebuilding efforts to kill each other.
Even as the good news breaks, there are still too many broken hearts in the African-American community, as young people find ways to shoot and kill each other for the slightest provocation.
For instance, the death of Richard D. Phillips was totally avoidable. According to law enforcement officials, the 20-year-old was shot to death May 3 during an argument over a party poster.
If those unbelievably wrongheaded actions can be reduced, the homicide rate in East Baton Rouge Parish will continue to show slow decreases.
The uneasy part of the numbers is that few people like to discuss the fact that nearly all of the murder victims and the perpetrators were African-American. The reasons for the killings are varied: poverty, proximity and frustration. But the reality about who are the killers and the victims is undeniable.
Even as the killings continue to be troubling and scary, it is heartening that the numbers are falling. The homicide rate has an effect on education, economic development and the daily life of families. A steady diet of falling numbers will be a boon for all of us.
Just maybe, we’re doing something right. Maybe the preachers and teachers, community leaders, and youth-oriented programs are hitting home. Things are good right now, but we know homicide rates can be cyclical, meaning 2017 could bring horrid winds of change.
I’d rather like to think that Baton Rouge has a chance to do better.