Looking for a little light

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

By David Vitrano

EDGARD – West bank community members gathered Monday evening at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Edgard to hold a candlelight vigil to raise awareness of the violent crime that has spiked in St. John the Baptist Parish since the start of 2013.
Ministers, activists and parish officials gathered to speak about the nature of crime and its effects mere yards away from the spot where slightly more than a week prior Ralph Thomas was gunned down. Edgards other 2013 homicide happened in nearly the same spot.
Much of the evening was devoted to spirituality and its lack of presence in the lives of so many young people today.
“We stand tonight for St. John the Baptist Parish,” said Pastor Maurice Tillman. “Satan no longer has a victory over our community.”
And although true spirituality and faith may very well offer a way out of the cycle of violence, some paths forward in concrete terms were also offered.
Said Deacon Warren Pierre, who conducts a ministry at a local jail, “The majority of the young blacks in jail have not even finished high school.”
St. John Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre echoed these words later when he spoke.
Tregre, of course, has been at the center of trying to solve the crime epidemic, but he thanked those in attendance for the cooperation he has received, especially from those on the west bank.
“I never thought these things would be happening on the west bank of St. John Parish,” he said. “I might be tired, but I’m not about to throw in the towel.
“Eight homicides. Eight young black men dead. Due to gunshots. Shot dead,” he continued.
Tregre said he and some others in the department have been meeting with the FBI recently to get some level of control over the situation.
“We’re going to clear this mess up,” he said. “Yes, we are solving the murders, but we’re not solving the problem.”
Tregre also promised to hold a town hall meeting at the courthouse in Edgard within the next couple of weeks.
Parish President Natalie Robottom was the next to take the podium, as she spoke on the general loss of spirituality among the area’s youth.
“We used to lead prayerful lives,” she said.
She also pointed to a lack of education and opportunity.
“What are our educational opportunities?” she asked. “There is a correlation between education and crime.”
She said providing these things is not only the responsibility of the parish’s schools but the community as a whole.
“I’m here to support you. We cannot do it alone,” she said. “We need to be on the same page. I’m definitely not taking the blame for strangers killing each other. But how we respond to that, that is our responsibility.”
Although the crowd was generally supportive of the elected officials present as well as their messages, the pastor on a couple of occasions blasted politics in the parish as often having a divisive effect.
“Where there’s unity, there’s strength,” he said before pointing to Tregre and Robottom and adding, “There’s a division between these two here.”
The service ended with a candlelight prayer and song, smoke lingering in the air as those in attendance filed out greeting their friends and neighbors and demonstrating concretely the tightknit nature of the community.