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An Incomprehensible death in New Orleans

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Thursday, January 15th, 2008

New Orleans, Louisiana



Little Ja’Shawn Powell was two years old, and lived in New Orleans with his mother.  His father, a guy named Danny Platt, came to pick up Ja’Shawn for a visit last week.  The boy, according to his mother was really excited.  “Oh, my daddy’s here,” he beamed as he ran to the door.  “Daddy, daddy, daddy.”Â Â Â  His mother said: “He was so happy.”Â   Then his daddy drove off, took a knife, slit this little boy’s throat, and allowed the toddler to bleed to death.

It’s impossible to make any sense, or even find the words to define such a ghastly act. Horrifying, shocking, sickening, abhorrent, repugnant; no thoughts can describe such a dastardly deed of unspeakable horror. Platt claims he had “a whole bunch of reasons” for taking this little boy’s life. He said “I had a lot of pressure on me.”  But he denied that one of the reasons was the $4000 in back child support he owed to the boy’s mother.  Hogwash.  He did it to keep from paying the money.

In a city that has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, where multiple killings often happen on a daily basis, a town that is rated as one of the five most dangerous cities in the world, it is still incomprehensible to imagine that a father could take a knife and plunge it into the throat of his two-year-old child.

Times Picayune columnist Jarvis Deberry has written several excellent articles on the tragic death of this little boy. And he raises the question posed in the book of Genesis as to whether a father could kill his own son, even at the urging of God himself.  According to the scripture in the first book of the Bible, the Jewish patriarch Abraham was told by God to kill his son Isaac to show obedience to God.  It was a test, and when God was apparently satisfied that Abraham would undertake such an appalling act, he called out for Abraham to stop.

DeBarry raises the question of just how his own father, a deacon in his church, would respond if, like Abraham, he had been asked to sacrifice his one and only son.  But for years, I have been troubled by a separate question. How could a loving God even put one of his followers to such a test? Why would any being, God or man, force such a horrendous choice?

Bob Dylan poignantly and pointedly asked the same question on the title track of his “Highway 61 Revisited “album that came out in 1965. Now follow the symbolism here. Highway 61 runs from Duluth, Minnesota all the way down to New Orleans. It was a major transit route to get out of the Deep South, particularly for African Americans traveling north to Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis, as the highway followed the Mississippi River Valley for most of its 1400 miles. The song puts to the test the moral dilemma of killing one’s own son at the request of the Almighty.

 Dylan raises the same concerns about God’s actions that I have felt for years. The lyrics  say:

Oh God said to Abraham, Kill me a son”

Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin me on”

God say, “No.” Abe say, What?”

God say, “you can do what you want Abe but

The next time you see me comin’ you better run”

Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

So when America’s poet troubadour picks a location to symbolize one of the most heart wrenching choices posed by God to man, a choice by the way that I personally think was dead wrong for God to pose in the first  place , the heart and soul of the dilemma runs right through the Crescent City.

Since the killing of little Ja’Shawn, there have been a series of other family killings in New Orleans.   Just a few days ago, a son killed his 73 old mother, who was a member of her church choir.  He stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher knife and robbed her.  Why?  He needed money to buy drugs.

Oh there have been protests.  The Silence is Violence organization marched again on City Hall as some 5000 people had done two years before.  But only about 50 people showed up.  Has the resiliency of this city been beaten down so much that so few feel there is anything that can be done?

New Orleans is a city where I was educated, where I have worked and lived off and on for some fifty years.  It’s a real tragedy to see the will and the hopes of so many locals seem to slowly drift away.  And let’s face it. No outside help is going to sweep in to solve the city’s massive list of problems.

New Orleans needs political leadership, increased community activism, more public dollars into law enforcement, and a renewed focus on juvenile delinquency.  All this can make a difference and all this needs to be done.  But it all begins right here at home, on Highway 61.


     There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, and

       nothing worth killing for.”Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â  Tom Robbins

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State ofLouisiana.  You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana.  You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. . Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) fromNew Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.  

8 Responses
  1. Just moments before reading Jim’s email, my wife and I received word of a family death, the natural death of a person, age 80’s plus.

    “What’s it all about, Alfie?
    Is it just for the moment we live?”

    This may be a broad brush opinion, but I believe that we are living in a time when Life has become so cheap to many. I am in my 80th year and I remember in my youth, living in a city of about 125,000 people, a seldom murder was sensational news.

    “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
    Believing that Life, from conception to natural death is sacred. It doesn’t belong to us!

  2. Brian

    I completely don’t understand the article. God is not involved here. God doesn’t destroy. That would be Satan.

  3. Unoga

    Brian’s comment that he “don’t understand the article” points to part of the problem we face in Louisiana: illiteracy. Brian’s last comments point out another part of the problem: ignorance. If he were able to read and understand the Book of Genesis he would understand what Mr. Brown is saying. Keep on, Brother Brown.

  4. Lana R.

    Dear Jim,

    I know this story in the Bible well. It is one of the most compelling and perplexing–just like Ja’Shawn’s murder. God knew what He was asking Abraham to do and He (God) was in control then, just like He is now. Even though it seems like everything and everybody is out-of-control. God knows what He is doing and what He is allowing. I don’t understand it, I just know I have to trust it. My deepest condolenses to Ja’Shawn’s family and loved ones.

  5. Jason Bonaventure

    Mr. Brown,

    I came across this blog via Facebook. I wanted to let you know, your question is not one that may people have not asked before. I think the story of Abraham was not a test to see if he would do it, but a test to expose the fact that he had begun to idolize his son more than his God. The fact is we are not meant to pass the test, and we all would fail. It’s not about our performance, but God’s grace. God loves us even when we fail. It is in our failure that we see our need for God and that he provides. The story of Abraham continues with God providing a lamb for the sacrifice.

    As to the act referred to in your blog, it was evil. God does not need evil to accomplish His good purpose. People choose evil, and we chose evil from the begining in the Garden and people have been choosing it ever since. You and I choose to do things that are evil (or to use the Bible sin) daily. Are we to judge who is righteous?

    There is a good little book I would recommend to you called the Shack by William Young. It is fiction, but it kind of walks you through a lot of the tough issues that you are dealing with in this blog.

    I would love to discuss more with you if you would like.

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