Ka’Nard Allen, 10, does not want to talk about what must be the longest and hardest year of his life. He doesn’t want to talk about Mother’s Day, when he was grazed by a bullet at a second line parade in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, one of 19 people injured in amass shooting.
He doesn’t want to talk about October, when his father, 38-year-old Bernard Washington, was fatally stabbed in eastern New Orleans by his stepmother after Washington allegedly choked and beat her. She has been charged with manslaughter.
And he really doesn’t want to talk about his 10th birthday party last May 29, when his 5-year-old cousin, Briana Allen, was fatally shot and a bullet hit Ka’Nard in the neck. The man accused of shooting Briana was arrested last month and, last week, was among 15 people indicted on gang racketeering charges in that incident and many others.
Standing on the Simon Bolivar Avenue neutral ground Monday evening, across from his grandmother’s house where Briana was killed, Ka’Nard just wants to ride his shiny black four-wheeler, a gift from his mom after his dad’s death.
He wants an adult to start peeling an orange for him because he can’t get it started himself. He wants to dunk an empty juice bottle into a garbage can and launch high, elegant roundhouse kicks at the pail. He wants to get on that black four-wheeler and drive it off the grass speckled with broken glass, watching for traffic, circling on Simon Bolivar — fast. He’ll even give you a ride on the back.
Rush-hour traffic raced by the skinny boy, dressed all in red with a Band-Aid on his right cheek. Maybe when one has endured two of the most shocking shootings in the city in less than a year, and come within a hair’s breadth of serious harm or even death each time, there are bigger worries than traffic.
When the adults started shouting over his head about whether his mother was doing enough to protect him, he shared a grin and started giggling. He slouched on his chair and pulled out his phone — new that day, a gift from his mom — and pressed its buttons, even though it doesn’t do much.
"I’ve been trying to keep him out of a lot of stuff, so I’ve been giving him what he wants and what he needs," mom Tynia Allen said of the four-wheeler and the phone. She has Angry Bird tattoos on each shoulder marked "Bri," one with the girl’s birthdate and the other with her death date.
Some people told her she shouldn’t have taken Ka’Nard to the second line. But he’s been going to parades “since the mutt was knee-high to a pup,” she said. They have friends who march. Besides, “It was Mother’s Day! No one expected that! We went to church first. I cooked breakfast.”
Despite it all, Ka’Nard has been pressing forward. He’s getting counseling, Tynia said. He’s an usher at Greater Mount Rose Baptist Church. He’s been playing the drums, once pounding so hard they broke.
He’s a student at Pride College Prep in eastern New Orleans, in, well — he didn’t want the other kids nearby to know which grade, so he typed the number into his new cellphone. He figured he would be back in class Tuesday.
In the fall, he’s switching to the James Singleton school at the Dryades YMCA, he said, because he wants to be on the drill team. He wants to march with the “fake rifles, the wood rifles and the flag,” he said, swishing imaginary equipment in the air.
And in about two weeks, Ka’Nard will celebrate his 11th birthday. Not where he had the party last year, on Simon Bolivar. This time he wants to go to a hotel, swim in the pool and stay overnight. His mother said she couldn’t afford it.
The sun was drawing low. Ka’Nard wanted to go home. He asked his mom what was for dinner. Crawfish or pizza? Probably pizza.
But there was a small crisis: He could not find his brand-new phone. The neutral ground and his grandmother’s porch — 10 minutes passed, and still it was nowhere to be found. He slumped back on the chair.
"Am I punished?" he asked his mom.
She said, “No.”