Has It Always Been Like This In Baton Rouge?

I’ve been here since college, though increasingly I’m wondering why. Baton Rouge doesn’t seem like the relatively safe, stable, mid-sized southern city it was when I decided I liked it enough here to stick around.

Most of my contemporaries took off for Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Nashville. That trend has only increased. I stayed mostly because I was the world’s biggest LSU fan and living a couple of miles away from campus meant there was always a ball game just a few minutes away.

That seems like a stupid life decision now, of course, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Just a quick perusal of the local news headlines tells you this city is increasingly filled with the trash of humanity. Is this a typical day in a metro area of less than a million people?

That’s just today.

Everybody knows that crime and lawlessness in Baton Rouge is completely out of control. The city set a new record for murders in 2021, and the clearance rate for those murder cases is plummeting. In the places where most of the murders happen, the people won’t talk to the cops because they know that snitches get stitches – and they don’t think the police can protect them.

That’s been going on for a good while, but it was always in North Baton Rouge, where folks in South Baton Rouge were comfortable just ignoring it. “That’s what they do,” was the refrain.

But now? There are dead bodies piling up on Siegen Lane. On Essen Lane. In front of the Mall of Louisiana. Crime – including violent crime – is all over Baton Rouge. It’s even starting to bleed into Livingston and Ascension Parishes, the leaders of which are going to have to take a page from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in understanding how to ward off that spillover.

Can this be fixed?

The current leadership in East Baton Rouge Parish can’t fix it. They won’t even try. The mayor-president of Baton Rouge, Sharon Weston Broome, is one of the most ineffective leaders in Louisiana history – the only reason she isn’t a statewide laughingstock is LaToya Cantrell in New Orleans. Broome has all but destroyed the Baton Rouge Police Department, and on her watch the parts of town her votes mostly come from have cratered. This, after running on a platform of redistributing wealth from South Baton Rouge to North Baton Rouge.

Safe to say that’s a failure. It’s only led to more crime.

The only hope this area has for reversing the fast decline of the city and holding onto its residents who, like me, are increasingly ready to get the hell out of here is change, and fundamental change.

The incorporation of the city of St. George, for example, would inject a different way of governing into the parish – lots of privatization of services, a pro-business policy agenda, an emphasis on safe streets and a marketplace approach to education. Were St. George to become realized, something which would have already happened but for Broome and her cronies gumming up the process in the courts, it could conceivably become a magnet for residents, capital, jobs and growth – and that might shift the demographics of East Baton Rouge Parish to the point where someone better than Broome could get elected.

But the longer things go, the more of a longshot that appears to be. Baton Rouge keeps getting worse, the bodies keep piling up all over town and the U-Hauls keep hitting the highway destined for better places than this once-happy town.

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