13226909_10209040397550156_7348460339905452967_nLate at night on Wednesday, May 11th, 19 year-old Eric Lindsey, Jr., whose photo in the news shows him wearing braces, was shot and killed allegedly by Jaylan Harris, age 18, over ten dollars. Many black Shreveporters were already on edge from a rapid succession of shootings occurring in west Shreveport’s black neighborhoods over the previous two weeks. The killing of a teenager by another teenager, though, galvanized people into action. Throughout the next day, Marcus Mitchell, owner of downtown’s Bon Temps Coffee Bar, saw numerous Facebook posts by customers and friends asking for a place where people could meet and share ideas to address the problem. Late that night, Mitchell announced on Bon Temps’ Facebook page that he would open his café on Sunday, May 15th at 3:00 p.m., when it was normally closed, “not to sell coffee, but to offer itself as a place where likeminded folk can meet and begin to discuss and develop strategies.”

Marcus Mitchell at Bon Temps

Mitchell believes that as a local business owner, he should involve his business in the community whenever and however he can. Anyone who has looked at Bon Temps’ social media posts since it opened in November 2015 can see that Mitchell means it. There are events and activities there almost every day, many in the evening — game nights, performances by local bands and dancers, exhibits by local artists, and poetry slams. He wants people of all ages, but especially young adults, to have a safe, fun, and affordable place to socialize in and discover local musicians and artists. Mitchell also thought he could also offer his dual experiences of growing up in one of Shreveport’s poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods and of patrolling them now as a police officer.

Most of the 35 or so people at the meeting were African American and shared frustrations and ideas for three hours. Caddo Commissioner Steven Jackson, who attended the meeting, called it “a great brainstorming session.” Everyone at the meeting agreed the main causes of violent crime in poor neighborhoods were lack of education and financial opportunities, few opportunities for social mobility, and easy access to guns. “We all know what the problems are,” Mitchell said. “They aren’t new. Louisiana has more guns per capita than other states and it’s the second poorest state in the country. We have lots of poor people and lots of guns, so we have a lot of violence.”

Photo by Steven Jackson

Five members of a group called “Stop Yo Violence Any Questions?”, including its founder Darrick Brooks, went to the meeting to talk about their efforts in neighborhoods plagued by poverty and crime. Brooks, who said he hears gun shots every night by his home in Cooper Roads, goes house-to-house, talking with residents about taking positive actions to stop violence and urging them to share the ideas with their children so they won’t get caught up in it. Brooks agrees that a major cause of the problem is the high number of guns being obtained and bought illegally. “We need to get guns out of the wrong hands and find out where they are coming from,” he said.

Jackson said people discussed a range of solutions to the violence, from “grassroots efforts such as neighborhood walks, forums, provide youth a safe place for activities during summer months to long term ideas, such as criminal just reform and providing individuals with a second chance in order to work or obtain advanced education/vocational training.” A group was formed to narrow and specify exactly what is needed to respond to crime.

Jackson saw violence as “a by-product of individuals responding to what they see as a state of hopelessness,” but he was inspired to see new and young people at the meeting. “I encouraged them to stay the course,” he said. “Many movements start but die off once the issue at hand settles down, but we have to stay active and engaged.”

Over the past week, organizations such as the NAACP have met to discuss the problem, and at heavily trafficked intersections in the places that have had most of the violence, people stand with signs that read, “Stop the Killing,” “Love is the Answer Guns Are Not,” and “Black Lives Must Matter to Black People First #Savethe318 #NoMoreRIPs.” The last two signs were held up by Crystlyn Whitaker, who just wrote an article for Heliopolis about her protest. Shreveport Police Chief Willie Shaw has urged people to contact their community liaison officers to help them stop violence.

Hopefully, we have only just begun to fight.

Article photo by Steven Jackson. Used with permission.