Edward Pratt: Grieve for the shootings here at home

There was raw emotion on display recently when an unarmed black youth was shot and killed. A portion of the African-American community was shocked and others were outraged.

A group got together to express how they felt about the tragedy, to express their sorrow and to alert the public that something has to be done to stop the senseless killings of young African-Americans.

No, this is not the response in Ferguson, Missouri, after the tragic death of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man shot to death in a confrontation with a police officer there.

Instead, this is about a group of African-American ministers in Baton Rouge who held a news conference on Wednesday morning to share in the grief of a black family whose 7-year-old child was shot to death by a stray bullet while riding in a car.

Terrez Coleman died after the bullet tore into his body as he and his family rode in a car on Prescott Road near Joor Road. They were coming from a family reunion. Sheriff’s deputies theorized that someone drove by the car and randomly fired a gun into the vehicle.

It is a tragedy that is so horrific that it is difficult to explain the hurt that the family of the child is going through. Devastation probably is not the strongest word that can be used, but that’s pretty much what it is.

I know personally several of the ministers who met at Rosehill Baptist Church. I talked to one of the ministers, longtime friend the Rev. Raymond A. Jetson, pastor of Star Hill Baptist Church.

I told him that I was proud that the ministers are lifting their voices about this. Somebody needed to say something.

“We think that it is important that an authentic voice comes from the community,” Jetson said. “How do you deal with the randomness of this?”

“We came out to give our condolences to the family and to give support to (Rev.) Danny Donaldson because that is where the family attends church. All of them are hurting,” he said.

He called the killing the act of “fruit of a diseased tree.”

The role of the ministers is to tell the public “this type of action is not acceptable in our community ... We have to form a constructive response to this,” Jetson said. “We as religious leaders have to establish some guidelines to follow. We have to have a conversation and take action that will make a difference.”

But the issues involved here run deeper than an isolated shooting. The goal of the ministers is to increase dialogue among all people to deal with the incidence of crime and violence in Baton Rouge’s African-American community.

To accomplish anything, Jetson suggested that the community must deal with education, poverty and unemployment. “All those things are interrelated, and you have deal with each one,” he said.

For the family, Jetson said, “things will never be the same for them ... For his classmates, things will never be the same for them.”

And, unless something is done to stem the tide of violence, he said, “a lot of other 7-year-olds will also face horrible outcomes in their communities.”

Jetson said about the Ferguson demonstrations that “My hope is that what we have started is a message that killing our children is not okay.”

While the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old black man by a white police officer has resulted in demonstrations and justified anger, my feeling is the African-American community is not outraged enough about the community-crippling effect of black-on-black crime.

That’s why I’m happy when the black clergy takes a stand. They can get more people to do something, anything.

In an interview with local television station WBRZ, the dead child’s mother, Felicia Coleman said, “My heart hurts every night, can’t nothing bring my baby back, somebody took my baby’s life, innocent life.”

After you wipe away your tears for her, let’s make an effort to do something. The ministers’ call was a start. We need to do more.

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.