Community

Angel wings dangle from Rose Smith’s ears and hang from her wrist.

The bits of jewelry sparkle in the sun. She wears them in memory of her slain son, killed by gunfire in October 2014. He was 24 years old.

“Awful is not the word,” she says.

Smith grew up in western Louisville and still lives in the area. Violence — like the gunshots that left her son dead in the Park Hill neighborhood — is a longstanding problem for many of the neighborhoods of West Louisville.

Smith sees it nearly every day outside the daycare she runs in Chickasaw. Fistfights clog sidewalks, gunshots echo across rows of homes.

Louisville Metro Police are reporting a surge in gunshots and homicides thus far in 2016. Gunshots are up about 50 percent and homicides some 14 percent through the end of March compared with the same time last year, according to LMPD data.

The neighborhoods in West Louisville account for about 40 percent of the 102 reported gunshots in 2016, according to that data.

Crime in Louisville seems to mirror other major cities. While homicides have spiked in recent years, overall crime rates are falling, according to a 2015 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“Though we’ve seen a nearly three-decades-long decline in crime rates, public perception does not match that,” Michael Friedman, the report’s co-author, told NPR late last year.

Residents in Louisville are fearing a “bloody summer” is ahead, according to Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, a Democrat who represents District 1 in West Louisville.

On Friday she held a news conference in a vacant lot at the corner of Cecil and Greenwood avenues in Chickasaw, just steps away from where a string of recent shootings took place.

Councilwoman Jessica Green presents an anti-violence plan.Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Councilwoman Jessica Green presents an anti-violence plan.

She laid out a five-point plan she says would address the violence plaguing the area. Green is calling for more active parenting, a boosted police presence in high-crime areas, more engagement from citizens, expanded hours for community centers and an end to the “stop-snitching” mindset.

“There is no honor in not speaking up,” she says. “We’ve got to change the culture in our community.”

Green’s message is one Smith and other women who gathered on the dusty lot have heard before. They nodded in agreement when Green made her points, but they also say a plan is not enough.

“We can’t do it by ourselves,” says Tamecia Smith, who also works at the daycare, but is not related to Rose Smith.

Tamecia Smith says she believes in the concept behind Green’s plan. But for it to work, police and city leaders need to do more than hold news conferences on weekday mornings. She says city leaders should work harder to build relationships with young people in West Louisville neighborhoods.

“They say all this stuff, but you don’t see anybody coming down here,” she says. “It’s hard to live down here, it’s hard to raise our kids down here.”

Rose Smith says people don’t want talk, they want action.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing,” she says.

Rose Smith

Rose Smith

She’s taking her own advice. In the wake of her son’s murder, she’s working to launch a new program aimed at getting young men in to jobs and helping them find economic opportunity.

Rose Smith opens the locket hanging from her neck to the photo of her son inside. She says he had a job, had a dream, but his days ran out.

She says once young people can see value in themselves, real changes will start to trickle into the neighborhood.

“That’s going to be the difference,” she says.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.