BATON ROUGE — The kids don’t have a name for the building at the corner of Gracie and Hurst streets. When they want to make the plans to hang out they just say, “let’s meet at that white house on the corner.”
For some of the young people on the north side of Florida Boulevard in the neighborhood called Spanish Town, the invisible Mason-Dixon line that separates this city, the white house on the corner is the closest thing they have to a club house.
The white house is a crumbling, abandoned ruin, covered in graffiti. It used to be a family home. But there was a fire. And the owners didn’t have insurance. So, now, it sits empty. Around evening, it is the main hangout spot for young people. It’s windows are smashed. The outside is covered in messages cryptic, others are abundantly clear.
One reads: FUCK THE BRPD.
Inside, the floor is littered with shell casings, used condoms and faded polaroid pictures. In the kitchen shards of glass remain in the window pane where a quaint curtain featuring sliced apple sways in the breeze. A few feet away, a derelict ceiling fan hangs suspended in the middle of the room.
On Good Friday, Da’laysha Williams, 13, and her best friend Ja’ka’elyn Brown, 14, laughed and danced in front of the building before they chased down the ice cream van that rolled by blaring infectious music. They wanted to stress that the house isn’t a gang spot. They get annoyed that people confuse them and their peers with a gang. They said this is the only spot for them and their friends to hang out. Brown has been coming here since she was 10.
They sat out front and explained how this is their favorite spot between bites of their ice cream sandwich and a bubble gum flavored popsicle.
“Everyone’s just out here chilling,” Williams said. “It’s cool.”
Both of the girls were disappointed in the city for failing to pursue charges against the two police officers involved in the widely publicized shooting of Alton Sterling.
“What happened to that man isn’t right, it’s not,” said Brown. “I’m just a kid but I saw it with my own eyes and I think those police officers shouldn’t have shot that man.”
Williams thought if she deserves to get expelled from school for misbehaving, that the police officers who killed a father of five should get in trouble, too.
“I go to the alternative school where all the bad kids go,” she said, referring to Greenville Academy. She was expelled from her previous middle school when she refused to go in the back of the classroom.
“I don’t like sitting all the way in the back because that’s where all the boys is — in the back. They mess with me, all the time. They talk a lot of stuff.”
If she gets in trouble for refusing to move in class, the police should get in trouble, too.
“They killed a man,” she said. “We all saw it.”
The girls said they love their hometown, but there are days when Baton Rouge can take its toll.
“All the fighting and cussing and shooting and stuff and people going to jail, or dead on the streets,” Brown said. “I’ve seen that, like, way too many times.”
Sometimes Brown and Williams and their friends go downtown, and sit on the levee. But they get hassled sometimes down there. When it comes to their neighborhood, the white house, the one on the corner, is the spot.