Scrolling through my social media list a little over a week ago, I bumped into a live feed that stopped me in my tracks. There was a woman pacing, arms waving and speaking loudly to a small group of people. It was riveting. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
I could make out the location. Very quickly I recognized the person speaking. The event was yet another balloon launch for a person killed in the Black community. This time it was a young man being given a sendoff by his family, friends and the community.
The group was honoring 34-year-old Jerome Kinchen who, according to police, was killed in a shootout on Gus Young Avenue, not far from his house. An arrest has been made in the incident.
The speaker was unleashing a freight train of emotion and in its path was the crowd of grade school children, teenagers and adults of all age groups. Whatever solemn atmosphere expected at such an event was left blowing in the wind.
“We ought to be tired of releasing balloons and holding up candles,” state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle told the funeral crowd as she waved her arms, moving about to stress her feelings. “Talking about resting in peace and we can’t live in peace.”
The crowd had gathered at Ragusa’s Deli on Gus Young Avenue, a major artery that cuts through both Marcelle’s district and her old neighborhood. The place she was pacing that day was near where her older brother was killed by gunfire 14 years ago.
“When they asked me to come speak, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “I had too many emotions. … But when I drove up there and I saw so many people, I just started talking and my adrenaline started boiling in me.”
Thinking about her brother, Marcelle said, “It’s like nothing has changed.”
She said later that she has spoken at too many events like this one. “They always ask me to speak. … I grew up here. … It’s the same thing. Balloons released, T-shirts with the person’s face on it and it says ‘Rest in peace.’ I’m tired of it.”
And, she went on: “Why do we want people to love Black Lives Matter, if you don’t matter to yourself?”
The crowd reacted to her comments much like at a church service. Even the little children seemed swept up in the emotion of the moment.
“Please put down the guns,” she said. “When you pull that trigger you have affected a whole community. … You have to go on without somebody we love.”
“With all of the violence in the neighborhood now, it’s like nothing has changed” since her brother was shot to death, she said.
Some people in the neighborhood told a newspaper reporter after Kinchen’s death that the neighborhood has been beaten down by grinding poverty and a lack of business development in the area.
That’s a common topic in several Black communities. That argument continues that schools and health care don’t measure up and are contributors to a feeling of “what the hell.” As Marcelle described it “there is almost a hopelessness,” adding there have to be ways to get young men jobs. “We have put more resources into the community,” she said.
Marcelle said she supports the intentions of Black Lives Matter and the marches and speeches that describe the need to crush racism and to improve the lives of people of color. She wants better outcomes for young people in the district and around the nation. But the body count in the Black community is demoralizing.
The next step has to be a plan for breathing economic life into the communities of color and simultaneously confronting the anger and gun violence.
The day after her emotional speech, July 4, there were two people killed and six injured by gunfire in Baton Rouge’s Black community.
“This is crazy. … I’m sick and tired of it,” she said.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman, at email@example.com.