Jim Beam column: Violence has families moving

Published 6:47 am Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Want to know one of the reasons why people are leaving Louisiana? Ask Reginald Taylor and Ronique Jones-Taylor, the parents of 15-year-old Ronie Taylor who was shot to death at a birthday party in Bogalusa on Dec. 9. Two other 14-year-olds were both injured in the attack.

Jones-Taylor said she originally moved Ronie and her family to Bogalusa from New Orleans out of concern for violent crime in the metropolis, according to a report in The Advocate/Times-Picayune. Now, she said she plans to move her family once again — this time out of Louisiana for good — to avoid more bloodshed.

“I moved my kids from there to get away from something happening like this and the violence,” she said. “For my child to be murdered at a party, I don’t even know. It’s crazy.”

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What kind of lad was Ronie? The newspaper called him an aspiring businessman who liked to dress in button-downs and bow ties. He dressed sharply for the job he wanted, even if he was only 15. He was a fierce worker — he’d stop practicing his drums to help other students in the Bogalusa High School band catch up.

Ronie had saved money so he could buy his friends Christmas gifts. He told his parents he’d someday get rich and they wouldn’t need to work anymore.

Reginald Taylor said his son “was my inspiration. He made me work harder. I wanted to make sure I provided everything he wanted because he was just a great kid and deserved to be rewarded.”

The newspaper said Ronie’s family lives in terror now as they grieve his death while the perpetrators remain at large. Another son, a Bogalusa High School student, is no longer attending school out of fear he’d be targeted by the perpetrators, his mother said.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t want to lose another child, so I have to keep them home.”

Chad Harry, the band teacher at Bogalusa High School, said of his students, “Those kids are just heartbroken. It was just really a dark time. I would see the kids come to class after that and they just, they wouldn’t talk or say anything. They didn’t want to do anything. It was just a dark cloud over the band for a long period of time.”

What is going on in Bogalusa? Ronie’s death marked the eighth homicide in  Bogalusa to cap off 2022 — the most police have ever recorded in the roughly 11,000-person town at the toe of Louisiana’s boot in Washington Parish.

Ronie was one of three young teenagers to be murdered last year. The other two were Landon Williams, 14, who was shot in the neck June 26 and taken off life support a month later, and Jerry Smith, 15, of Covington, who died in a shootout police suspect he was part of outside a Bogalusa High School football game on Oct. 14.

Police also reported 11 stabbings last year, including the death of a 21-year-old. Historically, Bogalusa has seen only two or three homicides a year. But there were six in 2021, and now eight in 2022.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Bogalusa isn’t alone in this increase. Rural homicides in Louisiana have risen dramatically in recent years to 17 killings per 100,000 people as of 2020 — three times the national rural homicide rate.

Major Troy Tervalon of Bogalusa police, attributed much of the violent crime to “youth factions,” some of which are regional gangs that have set up shop in the small town. Police had earlier said they weren’t large or organized enough to call them “gangs.”

Javorious Scott, a 24-year-old rapper under  the name JayDaYoungan with millions of social media followers, was shot to death last summer on the front porch of a Bogalusa house with his father, who survived.

Bogalusa Mayor Tyrin Truong, 23, and others say dire economic underdevelopment has kids with no place to go turning to the streets. Truong said he plans to initiate a curfew in coordination with the city council sometime in the next month to prevent more bloodshed.

“This keeps me up at night, trying to figure out how to keep these kids safe,” Truong said. “I know how these kids are feeling. I know how unsafe they feel, and I know the type of terror the perpetrators are putting in our community.”

Officials in Louisiana’s largest cities know how serious the crime situation is in this state, and it’s spreading to other areas. If we don’t get a handle on it, more and more people will be looking for safety elsewhere.