Since 2007, St. Anna’s has listed, as best we can, all of the murders in what is recognizably “New Orleans,” including parts of Jefferson Parish. The goal of this public display of names, ages, and manners of death are to remind us all of the human loss and of the nature of that loss.
Since we began listing the names of victims our community has lost 2,417 lives. Yes, that is a large number. The number of U.S. personnel who were killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to mid-2019 is 2,372. We have killed 45 more humans in six years less time than the war in Afghanistan.
While murders in 2019 went down, WWL News reported 16 homicides this January, meaning New Orleans will see a sharp increase in murders in 2020 if the trend continues.
Larry Hughes Jr., age 20, was shot down in his driveway at home at 10:45 p.m. on Aug. 27. He was a graduate of Landry/Walker High School and a cashier at Popeye’s.
The person who shot Larry was only 18 years old. What could have possibly turned such a young person, with so much life ahead of him, into a murderer?
No one is a “born killer.”
We have not yet done the real work of undoing the societal causes of violence.
When any life in any measure is not dignified as a matter of civic, state, regional, or national policy what follows is poverty: economic poverty, social poverty, and spiritual poverty.
How can we, as a community, expect any different behavior to develop than violence when we ourselves perpetuate violence in our conversations and vocabulary with words of hate and division?
As long as we remain vigilant, aware and intolerant of the language of homophobia, misogyny, racism, and cultural biases, then the acting out of physical violence is held in check. This is not a claim that social or societal violence, economic or racial or otherwise, does not remain a constant in our lives. But it does argue that when we introduce violent language into our national conversation and “normalize” it, physical violence is encouraged and in fact, grows.
Thus, in a way, we must all begin to bear responsibility for the death of Larry Holmes and the 2,400 other deaths that surround young Larry. If we can begin to think like that, we begin to have that shift that Jesus called the Kingdom of God being at hand. If we can respond with tears instead of defenses, if we can begin to understand mutuality instead of radical individuality, if we can begin to understand our commonality, then the Kingdom of God is near.
Too often it feels like we are in a never-ending critique of our racial and or cultural identity. Yet, critiques can be a healthy thing. Take a risk and begin to confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed; by those things that we have done and those things that we have left undone.
Then let’s begin to act and in acting, begin to live again.
The Very Reverend William H. Terry is rector of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans.