One of the most painful  chapters in the history of our parish came to partial conclusion on Wednesday, as Ikerryunt’a Stewart, now 20, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and eight counts of attempted second degree murder in the shocking Saturday night shootout amongst juveniles on September 4, 2021, at the intersection of Youree Dive and Bert Kouns, that began at Tinseltown movie theater. Bullets hit as far away as the WK Pierremont Hospital. Stewart, who was 17 at the time, fired 21 rounds from an AK-47 style rifle. Stewart is set for sentencing August 7, 2024, where he faces up to 440 years at hard labor for the crimes.
In October 2023, from this same shootout, a Caddo Parish jury convicted Ja’shun Smith, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder, eight counts of attempted second-degree murder and four counts of aggravated criminal property damage.   On November 27, 2023 Ja’Shun Smith was sentenced to mandatory life term in prison, 30 years concurrent for each of the attempted murder convictions, and 15 years for each of the property damage convictions, to be served consecutive to the attempted murder convictions.
At the end of this shootout, 13-year-old Kelvontae Daigre was murdered.  Many other innocent residents suffered bullet and glass wounds that may have healed, but they remain traumatized for life. Now three teenagers’ lives have been thrown away by the fateful combination of bad decision making, lack of parental supervision and gun violence. And teenager gun violence had unfortunately and finally touched all areas of our city.
Ironically following Stewart’s conviction, the next day’s The Advocate newspaper contained  an article titled “9 Baton Rouge juveniles face murder charges in 2024 – as many as all of 2023 put together,” a portion that I want to share with you:
A disconnect between institutions such as schools and others for this group also rings true for Edward Shihadeh, a criminologist and LSU professor of sociology, who says the teens committing these crimes lack community.
“They’re teens or very young adults who are institutionally detached from everything,” he said.
Shihadeh calls these kinds of youth “floaters.”
“Floaters are people who are not in school, typically… and are not employed.  They are not looking for work.  They’re not even in the labor force.  They’re not in the military.  They don’t belong to any community organizations,”  he said.   The professor said institutions like school or jobs are what commonly keep people out of trouble, so the solution to lowering the number of youth committing violent crimes is to put greater effort in strengthening their bonds to society.
Then Friday’s Dallas Morning News ran an article titled “Guns are being stolen at triple the rate they were 10 years ago, analysis finds”, I share this passage:
“The rate of guns stolen from cars in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade,  the largest source of stolen guns in the country, an analysis of gun safety data by the gun safety group Everytown found.
The rate of stolen guns from cars climbed every year and spiked during the coronavirus pandemic along with a major surge in weapons purchases in the United States.
The alarming trend underscores the need for Americans to safely secure their firearms to prevent them from getting into the hands of dangerous people.
“People don’t go to a mall and steal from a locked car to go hunting.  Those guns are going straight to the street,” said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Director Steve Detelbach.   “They’re going to violent people who can’t pass a background check.  They’re going to gangs.  They’re going to drug dealers, and they’re going to hurt and kill the people who live in the next town, the next county, or the next state.”
Nearly 112,000 guns were reported stolen in 2022, and just over half of those were from cars.  That’s up from one-quarter of all thefts in 2013, when homes were the leading spot for firearm thefts.
I share these passages with you to digest how these two combustible problems have linked to perpetuate the types of violence we saw that September Saturday night  at Tinseltown that scarred our community.   The “floaters” described by the LSU professor, are what I would describe as being a cause for the unsavoriness, fights,  and other criminal activity seen in parts of Shreveport, especially reported in downtown or near clubs at night.  I see “floaters” as also including  juveniles that are left to their own devices, not being supervised by adults, not involved in church, not involved in school activities, not involved in any sporting or extracurricular activities.
I ask our school system and community leaders to invest in ways to engage children, particularly  middle school to high school aged males, in free school team sports such as soccer, baseball , football, lacrosse, and basketball, and to support  activities  like band, cheer,  or dance, so that all children have attachments to  positive activities.  Unsupervised children that are involved in positive activities such as church or team sports or dance are not riding around in cars with other unsupervised children with AK-47 style rifles.
I also implore all gun owners, including myself, to pledge to keep our guns in safe locations and out of the easy reach of children or car robbers, and to remember to always lock our car doors.
These small steps can lead to big gains for our community.
At your service,
James E. Stewart, Sr.
Caddo Parish District Attorney