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Bill McClellan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Jimmie Edwards

Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards talks with the editorial board and reporters from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the Pulitzer conference room at the Post-Dispatch on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

A group called “Close the Workhouse” recently posted on its website a remark St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards made when he was a circuit court judge.

Edwards was sentencing a man who had been convicted of raping a man. The rapist had called the victim a gay — except he had used a pejorative term for gay. The rapist had declared that he himself was not a gay — again using the pejorative term. At the sentencing, Edwards said he had talked to some homosexual friends who told him that if a man rapes another man, the rapist is, in fact, gay — except the judge used the pejorative term the rapist had used.

The Close the Workhouse people presumably dug this up because they are miffed that Edwards, in his role as public safety director, does not support the idea of closing the Workhouse, the city’s Medium Security Institution.

I support closing the Workhouse. We incarcerate too many people. Sometimes a young man will get locked up and he has no money for bail and no money for a lawyer, and an overworked public defender will tell him that he can sit in jail for months awaiting trial or he can plead guilty, get probation and be out right now. And so the young man, with no thought for the future, pleads guilty and gets a felony record that maybe he doesn’t deserve.

But if Edwards does not think we should close the workhouse, I don’t think we should close the Workhouse. The best thing Mayor Lyda Krewson has done is appointing Edwards to his present position — and she has come to his defense concerning his unfortunate use of words in that long-ago sentencing. She has pointed out that Edwards was the first judge in the state to approve same-sex adoptions and the first judge in the city to officiate same-sex marriages.

“His actions in support of the LGBTQIA community support his fair and impartial nature,” she said.

LGBTQIA? It is difficult, even for a well-meaning liberal, to keep up. The LGBT I get. The last two letters stand for intersexual and asexual. I do not understand their situations, but I support both groups. We’re all created equally, but some of us are created with a different blueprint. I am on board with that. But Q? That’s for queer or “questioning.” I thought “queer” was a pejorative.

Would the judge have been on solid ground if he had called the rapist a queer?

I do not come to this argument with clean hands. Years ago, when I was night police reporter for this newspaper, the police department’s vice squad used to hunt gays. Mostly, they hunted them in public restrooms in Tower Grove Park and in the Kennedy Forest section of Forest Park. In the Closet Days, those were places gays used to go to for sex.

This newspaper would then publish the names of the men — it was always men — who were arrested. We undoubtedly ruined many lives. We did so heedlessly.

In our defense, the criminal justice system has always been an ethical morass. People with money fare better than people without. Does a young black defendant get a fair shake if some of the jurors are afraid of young black men? And I would not criticize a juror who was afraid of young black men. They are the ones who who go around shooting the city up. (They are also most likely to be the shooting victims.) That’s just a fact.

I have written about this over the years. I supported Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. when he suggested public caning. I advocated locking mothers up when their sons committed a crime. I also proposed a crime czar.

That idea was modeled after the way the city handled the terrible smog problem in the early-to-middle decades of the last century. The region had a Smoke Abatement League, but it was run by the president of a coal company. Finally, the city created the position of smoke commissioner and gave the commissioner great powers. Unofficially, he was called the “smoke czar.”

Among other things, he forbade the use of Illinois coal unless mechanical stokers were used. Residents were forced to buy more expensive, but cleaner, Arkansas coal.

He cleaned up the mess. Why not give broad powers to a crime czar? “The first step would be to declare martial law and suspend the Constitution,” I wrote.

Jimmie Edwards is the sort of man I had in mind. Not only is he smart and thoughtful, he came from the same mean streets as do so many of our young criminals. I did not mention names in the column.

Not long after that column, a federal judge asked me to speak at a luncheon for a Federal Practice Seminar. Some of his colleagues objected, and the invitation was rescinded. The judges said they did not want to appear to be condoning my ideas.

My replacement? Jimmie Edwards. If he doesn’t want to close the workhouse, neither do I.