Communities, like people, encounter low times. Lafayette, often touted by residents as Acadiana’s crown jewel, has found no shortage of public tarnish in recent months.
For Lafayette’s own good, public and private leaders and its people should make certain that recent events — these include the death of a local resident Trayford Pellerin in a police shooting; the chaotic and as-yet not fully explained Saturday shutdown of a major business center; and the introduction of potentially violent out-of-town forces into the community — will mark a point of local turnaround, a “bottoming out,” and not another step into a descent toward community hell.
The final, most grievous bad turn to Lafayette: A leaked communication from a public official suggested that days after a fearsome hurricane ravaged southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette must turn its back on forlorn neighbors along the Louisiana coast because of unrest in the streets. Imagine that: Cajuns and Creoles, turning their backs on other Cajuns and Creoles, many of them without power or drinking water.
That unhappy suggestion does more than damage Lafayette’s reputation, it ruptures the community’s soul.
Lafayette’s look of 2020 bears little resemblance to a place that, short years back, was celebrated as the happiest place in America. What a distant time that seems. That was a time when Lafayette shared community vision and purpose. Where is Lafayette’s shared vision now?
But Lafayette people are not dramatically different now than they were then. Their circumstances — the disintegration of the oil industry, the introduction of COVID-19, elevation of timid or wayward leaders, among them — have changed.
When you’re traveling in the wrong direction — and Lafayette of late appears to be doing that — the best decision is to stop and reconsider the roadmap. The people of Lafayette people are grieving over the death of Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man, who was killed by police two weeks ago.
Pellerin’s death marked the latest exposure of raw community nerves and generated at least two competing viewpoints: One, that Pellerin, bearing a knife and refusing police commands to disarm himself, was shot while approaching a store with customers inside; the second, that police killed Pellerin when they might have taken other steps to defuse the situation and spare his life.
Neither outlook restores Pellerin’s life; neither nudges Lafayette onto a better path. State Police are investigating and ought to share what they can — quickly — to help restore calm. Truth, and the courage to deal with the truth, is what Lafayette needs.
This potential tipping point for Lafayette’s future demands that local people of good will — pastors, business leaders, scholars, common citizens — create a vehicle for community discussion. Politicians haven’t done it effectively; in this vacuum, someone must lead.