I couldn’t shake the sight Tuesday night of a photo of a woman screaming in agony at the lifeless body of her 15-year-old son laying in the street next to a curb in Baton Rouge.
Her face bore what could only be unimaginable pain and disbelief. Police say Bobby Duncan Jr. was shot to death while riding a bicycle. Who gets shot riding a bicycle?
Do you think about that in your community? Some do. A lot don’t.
That photograph moved me to put my old reporter shoes back on. I went to the site of the killing, near the corner of South 18th and Louisiana Avenue.
The blood stains were still on the ground Wednesday evening where he fell and died.
Looking at the stains drew me back to the photo of the mother and Sgt. L’Jean McKneely Jr., the Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman who was touching her shoulder. There are no Academy Award actors who can portray the devastation in the photo.
“What you saw was a time after she first saw him,” said a woman who lives in the area. “You should have seen her before that.”
McKneely, who was trying to console the mother, said, “To see the pain in her face on losing child ... then to hear her say, ‘I have lost my child. What’s next for me?’ That was painful for me, too.”
The veteran police officer, who has witnessed similar situations, said, “There’s not much you can say or do.”
The conversations I had with the neighbor and a few more people showed the horror of what happened and the fear that holds people in the communities where such tragedies occur.
While the people I interviewed were eager to talk, they didn’t want their names used. “Oh, no,” a woman said.
While all of the intellectuals, politicians, news commentators and others have their say, what counts are the voices of the people who live in the neighborhoods where the dead bodies of children come to rest.
The woman I spoke with is a voice you rarely hear. “Don’t talk about making the streets safe. Do something,” she said. But, like most folks, she did not have the medicine to cure the ailment. But she begs for help.
“There are usually a lot of children on the street playing, riding their bikes and scooters. There are people walking to the store,” she said. “It could have been worse.”
A young woman stopped by and walked me over to where the 15-year-old lay dead. People said it was lucky that no one’s house was hit by stray bullets. The result could have mirrored the recent shooting in Plaquemine where a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed when bullets tore through the walls of his home.
While we were talking, an ice cream truck, its loud horn calling, came rolling north, down South 18th Street.
“That’s the first time that an ice cream truck has come down this street this year,” the older woman I spoke with noted.
As the ice cream truck passed, I noticed something. There were no children on the street and none coming out of the houses to chase the truck. It was a nice, warm and bright evening, but there was not one child on the street.
“It’s too early,” the resident of neighborhood said. “They’re afraid.”
But the woman and a man who lives in the neighborhood predict that something else will play out in next several days.
In some neighborhoods, such an event would rock the core of the community and there would loud protests and a call to action by the neighbors. In a day or two, these two residents predict, everything will be back to normal.
The woman shot a little bug spray to chase the gnats and mosquitoes away, then pointed out, “It will look like nothing happened.”
The man sitting nearby, sipping a large soft drink, chimed in. “It’s like they are saying: ‘Thank God it wasn’t one of mine (killed).’ People are going to go on with life like nothing happened.”
The mayor’s office, police department, other local law enforcement agencies and community groups have instituted programs to engage several neighborhoods, hoping to stem the carnage. But the violence and crying persist. It’s tough.
But, people like the woman I talked to don’t think enough is being done. “Who really cares about what happens around here?” she asked.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.