I had just opened my home page on my internet browser. Staring me in the eye was this news headline from The Associated Press: Louisiana Mayor's Death Stirs Furor. I stopped to read the article since I had once served as the mayor of my home town. On December 30, the first black mayor of Westlake, Louisiana, was found shot to death at his former high school.
Gerald Washington had been elected mayor with 69% of the vote in a town that is 80% white. He had served for 12 years as councilman and mayor pro tem. He was a popular, respected Vietnam veteran and stood 6'5". He rode a Harley Davidson and he was described as outgoing and friendly. Outgoing mayor, Dudley Dixon said "He had a smile that would just light up this room." There was an outpouring of grief and support in West Lake. Washington was known as "Wash" and in interviews following his election in October; he was humbled to be elected. "They have elected the right mayor and the right council for one city -- one team!" he said of the election.
Westlake is about 200 miles west of New Orleans and has a population of 4,500. Washington had been learning the ropes of being mayor from Mayor Dixon on the day of his death. He had ordered new stationery and had a shirt monogrammed with "Gerald Washington, Mayor". The men had lowered the flag to half staff in honor of President Ford.
His death was reported around 10 pm. He was found in the parking lot of a building that used to be Mossville High school, were he graduated and played sports.
The coroner and the sheriff have pronounced Washington's death a suicide within hours. The whole town is creating all kinds of conspiracy theories. Washington's family and friends have suggested the coverup of a murder that was perhaps racially motivated. They insist that he had no reason to commit suicide.
The coroner of Calcasieu Parish concluded the suicide when gun powder residue was found deep in the wound, which could indicating that the gun was touching Washington's chest when it was fired.
Washington's son made a plea for help in seeking justice in his father's death. He was dissatisfied with the findings of Calcasieu Sheriff's office that closed the case in a matter of hours. The Louisiana State Police, with the blessing of the governor, began its investigation.
I am not here to dispute the findings of the Calcasieu Sheriff's office and coroner. However, I do make this observation: Gerald Washington was a good public servant in Westlake; he had been elected mayor with a list of things to accomplish in the town. He was preparing to take office and lead the City of Westlake. There is no mention of things that would make him want to end his life. It also seems that only a few hours was too short a time to declare the case a suicide. I can only hope that the Louisiana State Police will do a complete and thorough investigation. I look forward to an unquestioned resolution to the case of the death of Gerald "Wash" Washington, mayor- elect, Westlake, Louisiana.
* An addendum to this article: Shotgun blasts fired into home of Louisiana town's first black mayor. No one was injured. Ernest Lampkins has been mayor of Greenwood since 2004. The town is 150 miles from Westlake, where another black mayor died.