A few weeks ago, 7-year-old Dequante Hobbs Jr. was killed in the kitchen of his home by a stray bullet. Across the street, a game of craps in an abandoned house had turned sour, ending with someone pulling a gun, firing and accidentally killing Dequante.
It was yet another death as the city races toward a toll that could break last year’s record homicide rate. Meanwhile, police Chief Steve Conrad has reshuffled his leadership, is warring with Metro Council over whether he should be replaced and is looking forward to $17 million or so set aside to hire even more officers.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s response? A plan to bring economic investment to West Louisville, so people can raise themselves out of poverty? More money to attack the opioid problem, including more rehab beds and education?
He called a community meeting to urge people to adopt blocks in West Louisville and walk around them a few times a week for a year — while praying.
“His language is a clear reflection of who was in the audience. We’re talking about an audience that was mostly white people, from outside of West Louisville,” Democratic state Rep. Attica Scott, whose district includes West Louisville, told me after the event. “While there may have been many people who mean well, it is often the people who mean well that can do the most hurt and harm.”
It is telling that Scott was among those not invited to the meeting. Other uninvited community leaders included Elim Baptist Church Pastor Vincent James, who told WHAS, “I just met with a group of African-American pastors and white pastors, a pastor on The East End. Some of them got phone calls and invitations, and so I’m trying to figure out in my mind and processing this; who is it that he’s really wanting to be there?”
And who does he want to fix city violence? Colonizing forces, apparently.
Bevin, with Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, told the crowd that people from anywhere, including Southern Indiana, should come and walk the blocks of West Louisville in groups of three to 10. It seems to me that is the crowd number usually referred to as a gang by police and neighborhood outsiders.
Said Scott: “I’m concerned with his rhetoric, and with his come-one-come-all announcement, without any kind of training to stand behind, that he’s opening up the door to white militia.”
Scott recalled that Bevin had not spoken out when a white-supremacist group announced plans to meet at a state park last month in Eastern Kentucky. “So why should we think he would do or say anything if the same were to happen in West Louisville? In fact, I’m concerned about him, whether being direct or blatant about it, even encouraging such,” she said.
“I say that also acknowledging that he was one of the keynote speakers at the NRA convention, here in Louisville, so he’s glorifying and supporting gun culture on one hand, and then talking about we have a ‘cultural and spiritual’ problem on the other.”
Oh yes. Bevin used those words.
So we’ve heard Bevin’s plan and seen the response to recent violence from the police and Metro Council. It seems either none has a clue about how to address the violence or that all are refusing to admit and respond to a problem with centuries-deep roots in segregation, systemic racism and economic oppression.
Among those at the meeting was the Rev. Clay Calloway and a group of ministers, who offered their own 10-point plan to Bevin. Speaking to Bevin by way of The Courier Journal, Calloway said, “We assure you, sir, that if you are serious about fixing violence in West Louisville, then you must have the courage to address its root causes of injustice and racism.”
Bevin instead paraded a crowd of white faces into West Louisville.
Scott said there are many reasons for city violence, but a key to stopping it is to stop the ease in which people can get guns.
“Gun culture maintained the system of slavery and decimated the native community in the states. There’s definitely a history of gun violence that exists, long before what we’re experiencing today. Quite frankly what we’re experiencing today is a direct result of that,” Scott told me.
She said Mayor Greg Fischer, a fellow Democrat who is up for reelection next year, should and can do more. Fischer has spoken out previously about the need for cities to make their own rules regarding guns, something the state now controls. But he also has not shown he is taking action to get such legislation passed, saying it would be fruitless.
“Quite frankly, I wonder, at times, how is he really different from the governor. He could stand out by saying ‘I’m going to take the time to hear from, listen to people, take their concerns to heart and implement some of the actions they have lifted up,’” Scott said.
In the last legislative session, Scott cosponsored a bill introduced by Louisville Rep. Darryl T. Owens, that would allow cities including Lexington and Louisville to create stronger gun laws. “They didn’t even hear the bill. To me that sends a clear message that you don’t really seem to care about gun violence. You’re just putting on a show.”
Scott gave Fischer credit for working on at least one major issue — abandoned houses.
“But the reality is that if you go to Dequante Hobbs’ home,” she said, “you’ll see an entire row of abandoned and vacant houses; and one is where they were playing craps and ended up shooting him. There’s a lot more that needs to be done.”
Pray on that, governor.