Marshall Coulter and Merritt Landry
A tragedy occurred last night in New Orleans. Another young black male was shot and is in critical condition. According to nola.com, 14-year-old Marshall Coulter was shot a few feet from the a backdoor of a home that was not his, after scaling the property’s fence. The homeowner, Merritt Landry, has been charged with attempted second degree murder.
Marshall’s older brother says, “He was a professional thief, sure,” says his older brother David. But David goes on to say that Marshall would “never pick up a gun,” and that he is “still a little boy.”
Similar to the George Zimmerman case coverage, the articles are already citing Louisiana’s Castle law allowing any Louisianian to use force, deadly or otherwise, to protect oneself on his or her property, or “castle,” as long as such force is “reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent such offense.” And like Trayvon Martin, Marshall Coulter was unarmed. The similarities seem to stop there, but the term “racial profiling” has shown up in the news articles already. If you ask me, it seems less like racial profiling and more like someone-jumped-my-fence-at-two-a.m.-and-my-dog-is-going-ape-shit profiling. Would I have reacted the same as Mr. Landry in that situation? I don’t know. I hope I never know.
Marshall was not my student, but as a member of the auntie/mother/social worker guild known as teacher in New Orleans, I know many Marshalls. My kids are in and out of jail for robberies, rapes, attempted murder, murder. They wear ankle bracelets to class, they have probation officers, and they have life long limitations from their arrest records and criminal backgrounds, all at the tender “little boy” age of 14. They are often missing parental role models and older siblings who have cleared a path out.
Does it mean I love those Marshalls any less? Absolutely not. They’re the most in need of love. And the most in need of education, although in my experience, my students with major criminal records were often quite intelligent.
So pause for a moment and consider why someone steals. Consider why someone prostitutes. Consider why someone sells drugs. Judgement free. Just ask why. It’s typically not because there are so many other viable options sitting on the table, and basic needs are being met in safe, legal ways. Louisiana is the prison capital of the world after all. (This 8-part prison series from NOLA.com is a mind-blowing read.)
Would you have more empathy for a kid who steals so his older sister who is raising him doesn’t have to prostitute herself anymore so their seven siblings can eat while mom does time in jail? Because that’s the kind of stuff that’s happening here in New Orleans. I had a student tell me he didn’t know how to feel about his mom who stole to feed them. And neither do I.
I’m not saying crime is justifiable. But it’s not a choice I’ve had to make in real time, nor do I know what choice I would make in a situation of destitution. I can only see things from my perspective, where I’ve been and what I’ve done. What example have my students seen? Where have they been? What have they done? Who are they watching make life’s decisions?
It’s huge. Overwhelming. Instead of a spin cycle, it feels like we’re stuck on rinse and repeat.