Baton Rouge: A Divided City
by Dr Lori Martin
No, Baton Rouge is not burning. Baton Rouge is a city divided by many fault lines. A single street divides the city’s predominately white and black communities. North Baton Rouge, where Alton Sterling was killed, is under developed relative to south Baton Rouge. Access to emergency rooms, quality schools, healthy food, reliable transportation, and good jobs are limited, while health care complexes, blue ribbon schools, business and industry flow freely to the south. With the exception of a small section of Gardere in south Baton Rouge, which is predominately black, the sight of strong law enforcement presence is hard to find. Conversely, in several zip codes in north Baton Rouge, there is a noticeable police presence. Programs aimed at addressing homicides and violent crimes in predominately black areas are welcomed sites for many members of the dominant racial group but for some blacks in the city and for others the program is viewed as doing more harm than good. Such programs whether intentionally or unintentionally stigmatize both people and place and further increase the gap between blacks and whites who despite some claims have not forgotten the city’s tremulous racial past.
When whites talk about “the university” they are referring to Louisiana State University, while blacks refer to their beloved Southern University, a Historically Black College and University. For a time blacks had few educational opportunities as they were excluded from many public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the city.
Earlier this year I served as co-chair of a commemoration committee with Raymond A. Jetson, Pastor of Star Hill Church located near the site of Sterling’s killing, honoring men and women for their role in the nation’s first bus boycott in 1953. On the same day of the ceremony revelers were in the Spanish Town neighborhood riding on and watching floats as part of annual Mardi Gras festivities. Floats mocking the nation’s first black president, Black Lives Matters, victims of police brutality, among other offenses, were paraded down city streets. Some city residents could not understand why such public displays were viewed as offensive and accused critics of being overly sensitive and bowing to so-called political correctness. A tale of two cities is what we have in Baton Rouge and it is what has always existed.
For those unwilling to believe Baton Rouge was and is a city divided they need only view the Frontline documentary about the effort on the part of a large group of whites living in unincorporated municipalities in south Baton Rouge to secede from the city. While the stated purpose for the creation of the City of St. George, at least in part, was to have access to high-quality schools for area children, it was clear the new city would not resemble the existing city in terms of racial or economic composition.
In the weeks leading up to the shooting of Alton Sterling, the city was debating whether a school in 2016, in the city’s predominately white section should still carry the name of a legend of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee. The district voted to With A Brooklyn Accent: Baton Rouge: A Divided City by Dr Lori Martin: