James Stewart brings cautious hope to Caddo Parish after years of a culture of unjust death penalty prosecutions but some are not quick to call him a savior
Shreveport, the seat of Caddo Parish, is tucked in Louisianas northwest corner, bordering small towns in Texas and Arkansas. It has bayous, weeping willows, shotgun houses, and blues music, but lacks joie de vivre. It is the sober mans New Orleans.
The areadistinguishes itself with a grim fact: between 2010 and 2014, it sentenced more people to death than any other place in the country. It is also the home of Dale Cox, Caddo Parishs former acting district attorney, a man responsible for a third of Louisianas death row inmates since 2011.
Coxs reputation came to a head last year, when Rodricus Crawford was sentenced to death for smothering his one-year-old son amid a flurry of doubts and unanswered questions about the case. Cox had been instrumental in getting the death penalty verdict, and features by 60 Minutes and the New Yorker had depicted him as a callous man dismissive of racism, working in an office where a colleague had a Ku Klux Klan leadersportrait hanging on a wall.
This might shock outsiders far more than Caddo Parish residents. According to researchers who used Google searches data of the N-word to measure racism, it is among the most racist places in the country.
And yet, last November, an African American judge named James Stewart was elected to succeed Cox, largely thanks to the towns large black voting block.
Although black DAs are rare, they arent so unusual as to warrant the kind of national attention Stewarts campaign received. The lingering question in everyones mind: can a black DA change a criminal justice system tarnished by accusations of racism? Would his election be more than just a symbolic victory?