In a year of political change for city-parish government in Baton Rouge, the candidates for mayor-president and Metro Council are not going to be short of promises to woo votes.
Unfortunately for the candidates, Raymond Jetson and other leaders are going to tee up for discussion one of the most difficult issues for Baton Rouge’s future.
We don’t know yet how candidates will address the issues surrounding the all-too-often violent ends of young black men in the capital city. What is more than clear is that with poverty stalking too many city neighborhoods, poor educations that make it difficult to get good jobs and a culture of gunslinging that would make Tombstone proud, answers are not going to be Twitter-friendly.
This is too tough for that.
The Rev. Jetson, pastor of Starhill Baptist, and other prominent black men called for an Urban Congress on African-American Males to convene April 16 to look at this issue, or rather issues. The gathering of 150 people will hear from some national speakers and identify programs, some of them perhaps already under way but needing a boost, to attack the problem over a longer period of time.
A working paper outlines some of the challenges facing young black men, and the outcomes if the hurdles are not overcome. Basic steps toward a better life, such as high school graduation, lags for students generally in East Baton Rouge Parish compared with the state as a whole. Some of the data will have to be updated, as graduation rates and the progress of students in the state on yardsticks like the ACT exams and Advanced Placement courses have picked up in recent years. Still, Louisiana is one of the perennial laggards in educational outcomes.
In a period of relative prosperity in Baton Rouge’s metropolitan area, unemployment in black families is several times that of white families, and even where the measures look good, other cities and states are posting much better numbers: Georgia and Alabama had much higher gains in African-American business ownership in a recent Census Bureau study.
The staggering rate of HIV/AIDS cases and other sexually transmitted diseases is a symptom of social ills that claims a large number of lives, but government faces big challenges in addressing these issues — much less the notion that young men should own high-powered handguns and use them to settle arguments. One study cited in the report found that homicides claimed the lives of young African-American men at a rate of 84.6 per 100,000 of the population, compare with 5 per 100,000 for white men.
Baton Rouge is hardly alone, as mayors and governors and police chiefs across the country — or as close as Mayor Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans — can testify.
It’s a big election year in Baton Rouge. What will the candidates say about these real but often intractable issues? The timing of the Urban Congress could not be more challenging for those wanting to lead the city.
RAYMOND LABORDE: The longtime legislator and former commissioner of the Division of Administration for Gov. Edwin Edwards was a popular man in the State Capitol. Laborde, who passed away Sunday, will be remembered this week as a passionate advocate and orator in the state House, but also as the man who won many lifelong friends with the easy manner with which he served generations of customers in his Marksville store. He will be greatly missed.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.