We Need to Stop Listening and Start Talking, Lake Charles
Strap in, kids. This one might get a little bumpy.
Calcasieu Parish District Attorney, John DeRosier, was recently quoted in the American Press as saying Lake Charles is "one of the safest communities in the country", even as an article about another fatal shooting was splashed across its front page.
Which isn't all that surprising, considering how everyone around here seems to stay firmly on-message. Local politicians and city leaders continue to tell us the city is growing, even as we watch our opportunities dwindle. Crime isn't a problem, the economy is great, we're the epicenter for the biggest growth in the state, etc... We hear it all the time, because our local media rarely seems to question even the most transparent press release.
They tell us Lake Charles is safe, so the statistics must be lying.
They tell us the I-10 bridge is safe, so its ratings must be lying.
They say we're in an economic boom, so our paychecks must be lying.
It's like Baghdad Bob all over again. Nothing to see here, folks. Everything's fine.
Except we all know everything isn't fine. However, it's not all doom and gloom and pistols at dawn, either. Lake Charles just is what it is - Another City, USA.
Parts of our city aren't as safe as others, but it's not Thunderdome out there.
The bridge isn't exactly safe, but it's probably not going to fall down tomorrow.
We're not a ghost town, but the economic boom doesn't mean much to most of us.
The problem with saying everything's fine or everything's awful is that neither statement has ever really been true outside of Saturday morning cartoons - and most reasonable adults with squishy grey stuff floating around inside their braincases know that. So why do our politicians and media keep pretending we don't?
Who are they trying to sell with their constant stories of how everything is great and fantastic, and we should all be excited and grateful for all these great things that are always just about to happen, even if they never seem to actually materialize. Is it to attract new businesses and more development to keep feeding the Ponzi scheme we call progress in Lake Charles? Who knows? But the people who live and work in this city - and the entire Lake Area - are tired of it.
We know Lake Charles isn't the murder capital of the world - it's not anywhere close - but we also know it's not all rainbows and moon ponies out there. And we know why.
Crime goes up when opportunity goes down.
It's simple math and human nature. When someone is making a decent wage at a good job, they tend to want to keep it. When that job pays for a nice place to live and raise a family, they tend to hold onto that. When people have something to lose, they usually don't want to lose it. It's when they start having less and less, or nothing left to lose that problems start happening.
When wages go stagnant and decent jobs either dry up or start being doled out to the boss man's nephews, cousins, family friends, or just Some Random Dude From Texas instead of going to the local people who've made this city great, problems start happening.
When people who have lived here for years suddenly can't pay their rent, problems start happening.
When working people are one flat tire away from financial ruin because they don't even have two pennies to save out of each paycheck, problems start happening.
When payday loan places outnumber fast food joints, problems start happening.
Of course, not all crime is caused by economic despair. Some people are just going to behave like fools, and other people are going to be career criminals. But that's hardly exclusive to Lake Charles. Remember, crime happens everywhere, even in wealthy communities - but when times are tough, people get desperate. When people get desperate, tempers flare. When tempers flare...well, you get the idea.
It's not rocket science.
Just stop insulting our intelligence with these happy, happy, joy, joy press releases and feel good articles that only serve the interests of those who don't really have any skin in the game. Not where it counts, anyway.
It's the working people of this city and this region who make it great, who build its businesses and keep the whole place running. It's the working people who pay the crazy sales taxes that lubricate the wheels of the big machine we call the Lake Area. And it's the working people who have our boots on the ground, our hands in the mud, and are usually standing knee-deep in rainwater because somehow we put a man on the moon half a century ago, but still can't seem to figure out how to keep our streets from flooding.
Stop telling us everything is fine when we know it isn't. Tell the damn truth once in awhile, and see if it sticks. Just be honest for once. You might like how it feels.
Telling the truth isn't always easy, but it is always important. For every angry email or outraged Facebook comment we get whenever we try to talk about the reality of living in the Lake Area, we get many more either thanking us for being honest, or suggesting things for us to look into. We don't expect everyone to agree with everything we say, but at least we're willing to start a conversation.
There's a lot to love about our area, but it's far from the perfect paradise we keep being told we should appreciate. And it's because there's a lot to love that many of us don't want to see the bad things start to outnumber the good things - but you have to at least acknowledge a problem before you can solve it.
Lake Charles is hardly the mean streets of Chicago, but we're not exactly Mayberry, either. Crime happens. It happens here, and it happens regularly, and unless we start having open and honest talks about all the problems that lead to crime going up, crime is just going to keep going up. We should come together and open a dialog.
Some people living in big houses on fancy streets might be reaping a financial windfall from the economic boom we keep hearing about, but all it seems to have done for the working man is to make living here more expensive. We should talk about that.
We're never going to get our job market back on track if, every time we mention the problem, we get slapped with a sweet bit of verbal fluff telling us how great everything is. We should shine a spotlight on the issue and debate possible solutions.
We've got problems, Lake Charles.
We need to start talking about them.