Sunday, March 17, 2013

At Washington and White

At Washington & White*
for Kendall Williams, d. 3/4/13, New Orleans

At 2:22 this afternoon, several shots were fired at Washington & White
just a block from the traffic signal, in broad daylight.
Life and death have met at the intersection of drugs, crime, and violence
on the sidewalk in front of Kajun Seafood Express, down the street
from the Divine Hands Hair Salon in our post-Katrina city.
Suddenly, again, we are vulnerable. We feel unsafe.

The armed suspect (unidentified, still at large) released the safety,
confronted his victim, and killed him in front of innocent bystanders, black and white.
The dead, someone’s brother, son, grandson. At twenty-one, he is the Chocolate City’s
latest casualty. He had likely witnessed the Flood at thirteen; his family’s plight
continued despite so-called Assistance. He learned to live on and off the street,
until he was stopped, head-on, by senseless premeditated violence.

Today’s shots reverberated to the edge of Broadmoor, ricocheting the deadly violence
like an 8-ball from a block away, to a young hip pocket of safety
separated by a building (and a world). A young man heard the shots from Broad Street
the moment he reached for his lighter on the sidewalk in front of his new white
office building, taking a break from team efforts to transform the blight
and the vacant lots littered with broken glass into a vibrant recovered city.

Shaken, he went inside to ask his coworkers, “Did you hear the shots?” This city
held them all in its colorful jazz saints gumbo po’boy voodoo magic. But its violence
broke the spell. They held their coffees and collective breath while flashing lights
and sirens followed the brazen gunman (long gone). They no longer felt safe,
reminded once again of two previous murders near Washington and White,
again asking themselves, Is it realistic to think we can ever change these streets?

NOPD and emergency vehicles confronted the crowd, blocked off the street.
Gathered together were the disbelievers, restaurant regulars, Crescent City
spectators, local merchants and business leaders, neighbors from the black and white
shotgun shacks—some stared, open-mouthed at the bloody body. Others violently
shaking and wailing, decried the daylight madness, wept for their losses, both boy and safety.
In sighs and wails, gasps and tongue-clucks, they mourned not only the victim’s plight

but also their own tolerance of the violence, crime, and blight                      
that plagues this neighborhood at every intersection, on every street.
What can we do? This has to stop. We want to feel safe, be safe.
Instead we are fearful and numb. We recognize our complicity
with madness. We must come together to stop the violence;
let it end today with us, gathered here, now, at Washington and White.

Collective hands bear the burden of safety, at night and in broad daylight.               
Neighbors, black and white, must together create safer streets
in the Broadmoor, the heart of our city.  We must stop this violence.

*This poem is written in the sestina format that uses repeated words to reinforce the poem's message.

© Andrea M. Penner, 2013

See previous post, Staying Safe in New Orleans, for the background to this poem.

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