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Michael MV Mitchell, center, speaks beside Veda Washington Abusaleh, left, and Sandra Sterling, right, in front of the Triple S store on the one year anniversary of the death of Alton Sterling, Wednesday, July 5, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

I was at a restaurant Wednesday when friend and Baton Rouge radio talk show personality Jim Engster, sitting at nearby table, smiled at me and directed a woman standing near him to address a question to me. (I’ll return the favor, Mr. Engster.)

The woman wanted to discuss the Alton Sterling shooting. Wednesday was the anniversary of his shooting death by police.

She asked: “How could a 200-pound man and another man be on top of Sterling and not be able to stop him from getting a gun out? Couldn’t they have wounded him?” Good questions.

Now, I couldn’t shake it. The Sterling shooting was on my mind.

Around dusk on Wednesday, I drove by the Triple S Mart, a little grocery store on North Foster Drive. With Sterling’s face painted on its wall, the Triple S is a shrine marking the place where Sterling was shot to death a year ago in a scuffle with two Baton Rouge Police Department officers

There were a few people speaking to a sparse crowd about the shooting and leadership in the community. I expected a lot more folks to be there to mark the event. It was near dark, so maybe I missed the crowd, I thought.

I studied the site where officers said Sterling, while on his back wrestling with them, was reaching into his pocket for a gun. During the scuffle, Officer Blaine Salamoni stuck his gun near Sterling’s body then fired one shot, then another, then another, then another, then another and then one more into Sterling’s chest area and back. This came after Salmoni allegedly cursed at Sterling and threatened to shoot him in the head if he resisted arrest.

Let’s be clear, the Sterling shooting, while a tremendous human tragedy for all sides, caused people to look at low-income areas in the African-American community across Baton Rouge. It opened the eyes of some as to the plight of communities virtually ignored by local government and powerful city decision-makers.

What they found were enclaves in need of most everything, including jobs, city services and hope. You know, the stuff that costs money. As the late great author James Baldwin said, “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

For the past few years, there has been a running battle over the St. George community threatening to leave Baton Rouge to start its own city. The Eden Park area where Sterling was killed seemed to some to have been kicked out economically.

Admittedly, some of the damage done to the area was self-inflicted. That’s not even debatable. But the root cause was when businesses like banks, car dealerships and others left and were replaced by small corner groceries and bars.

100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, a civic giant in the African-American community, renovated an old bank building and turned it into its office. But there are iron gates surrounding the premises. 

After the Sterling killing and the ensuing street demonstrations, several community organizations met with various African-American groups, joined hands and sang “We Shall Overcome” at joint church services, suggesting there was change afoot. But change, other than a lot of meetings and talk, has been minuscule at best. Just like the last words of that verse "We Shall Overcome," change is going to come “some day.”

Some community organizers thought they were making headway with all of the meetings and good feelings. But there is no cavalry coming to save them. Their sounds of pain are being drowned out by the sounds of bulldozers, cranes, steel beams and concrete being poured far south of them.

The Eden Park residents near the Triple S Mart vented their hurt and anger but did not participate in the violent demonstrations. Their payoff was what?

No matter what the decision is in this case, those city officials, the mayor’s office, community do-gooder groups and the alphabet soup agencies like BRAC, BRAF etc., have to commit dollars and cents to a plan of action to improve communities like Eden Park.

But it's a two-way street. The community has to find committed leaders who are willing to stay the course after the media has moved on to other stories. They have to be part of developing strategies for business development, infrastructure improvement, and building relationships with the public and private sector to help young people and the unemployed become job-ready.

Expressing disappointment is fine as long as you figure out a way to turn anger into something better.

I kind of like Baldwin this week. Another of his quotes makes sense here. “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Email Edward Pratt, a former Advocate newspaperman who writes a weekly column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.