SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Shreveport City leaders and criminal justice, human rights, and civil rights advocates participated in a forum on Saturday to discuss violence in the community.

Guns are the leading cause of death among children and teens in Louisiana. In Louisiana, an average of 112 children and teens die by guns yearly, and 74% are homicides. In the US, 60% of teen gun deaths are homicides, according to CDC data.

PIPES (Priorities, Intentions, Practical, Exchanges) Founder Terrance Winn organized the citywide panel discussion, which brought together members of the Louisiana State Police, Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, Shreveport police, elected officials with engaged members of the community who want to bring an end to rampant gun violence.

Shreveport Mayor Tom Arceneaux was slated to appear but canceled to address the public concerning a brazen shooting on Texas Street in downtown early Saturday morning. Those in attendance at the David Raines Community Center expressed disappointment that the mayor missed an opportunity to make his remarks about gun violence in the presence of an audience most adversely affected by gun violence in the city.

Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor was in attendance and took the opportunity to connect with those in the room. Taylor told the packed room that they must engage more with civic leaders and hold everyone accountable for meeting the community’s needs, including keeping the community responsible for its children.

Community members attend gun violence panel discussion (Source: KTAL/KMSS Staff)

Chief Wayne Smith shared the tragedy that the faces behind the gun violence statistics are primarily Black and in their twenties or younger.

Smith also shed some light on the appearance that investigations of officer-involved shootings lack transparency and seem to move at a snail’s pace.

According to Smith, all multi-dimensional investigations move along slowly, whether they involve officers or civilians, and accelerating the pace of an investigation could hurt the case.

The importance of civic engagement was an ongoing theme that many speakers touched on, including Louisiana State Representative Cedric Glover.

Glover provided insights into the limitations placed on district attorneys and judges as legislators continue to impact prosecutorial and judicial discretion with the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Although Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart could not attend, he did send Section 2 Chief Assistant DA Mekisha Smith Creal to represent the office.

Community members in attendance expressed to Creal the importance of establishing a conviction integrity unit in Caddo Parish as the Orleans District Attorney has done to look at cases of people convicted by a non-unanimous jury.

Louisiana voters voted to amend the constitution requiring a conviction only to come if unanimously decided by a 12-person jury verdict. The Louisiana State Supreme Court later ruled that non-unanimous jury convictions would not be applied retroactively. The justices did, however, rule that a district attorney can review previous cases and re-try, release, or reduce sentencing when appropriate.