Gov. Eric Greitens came to north St. Louis on Monday to talk crime.
But he might as well have been in Ferguson, circa the summer of 2014.
There he was, standing in front of a line of police officers, mostly state troopers.
Across from them were some familiar faces from the protest lines, shouting the governor down as he derided St. Louis as the “most dangerous city in the United States of America.”
There was Tory Russell, a veteran of the marches on West Florissant Avenue. There was Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, who turned his protest platform into a political one.
They listened to Greitens announce that state troopers had started patrolling St. Louis highways Saturday night, and that the governor has other amorphous plans to combat crime, which he devised with little to no input from city officials or residents.
“We need jobs,” Russell shouted while the governor was speaking. “Where are the jobs?”
One word was all Franks needed to describe the governor’s speech. It’s not a word I would normally print in my column, but in this case, I feel I have to:
Indeed, it was a tale of two news conferences.
There was the image the governor wanted, of a tough-talking politician battling crime, standing with a line of uniformed police officers. And there were the messages from city residents, wanting to talk about the governor allowing a bill that rolls back the city’s minimum wage hike to become law. Mayor Lyda Krewson spoke of low wages, of the city’s gun problem, of “deep, generational poverty,” in her speech before Greitens took to the podium. He mentioned none of those themes.
Instead, he talked tough on crime, saying that in the first night of the 90-day pilot program with troopers on city highways, there were “dozens of felony arrests.”
Here, the analysis from Franks applies well.
Perhaps the governor is unaware that the state patrol posts its arrest records online.
Between Saturday at 10:30 p.m., when Greitens said troopers hit the street, and Monday at 3 p.m., when the governor’s news conference began, state troopers made a grand total of seven arrests in the city of St. Louis. Not even one dozen, let alone several of them.
There was one arrest for driving while intoxicated, a drug possession arrest, a couple for failure to appear, and a felony probation violation.
It was nothing like the governor portrayed, and that is what worries so many city officials who are glad for state support in battling what Krewson calls a “crime crisis,” but wonder whether Greitens is serious.
In brief remarks, the state’s new director of corrections, Anne Precythe, spoke of “collaboration” being one of the priorities of the Greitens administration, and yet on the morning of the hastily called news conference, the mayor’s office knew few details of the governor’s plan for combating crime in St. Louis, and none of the initiatives announced — except the troopers — were anything particularly new.
Greitens talked of prison re-entry programs to make the city’s dangerous streets safer, and yet one of his first actions as governor was to cut $150,000 for the city’s Criminal Justice Ministry nonprofit that finds housing, food and clothing for men leaving prison.
“Once again we’re not getting to the root causes of the (crime) problem,” Franks said of the governor’s speech.
As Greitens was busy calling “career politicians” back from their “summer vacations” for two special sessions this summer, neither of which attacked the St. Louis crime problem, Franks took to Twitter to let Greitens know what he was doing in the summer. He was attending funerals for young black men shot to death. He was mentoring his neighbors in and around Benton Park, trying to help them find jobs.
“I’ve personally invited the governor to my community to see the problem up close,” Franks said.
But Greitens hasn’t taken the state representative up on the offer.
Instead, he has taken to Facebook. He has traveled to top-shelf resorts in Florida and Colorado for “dark money” confabs with national Republicans. He has set up photo-ops, hoping the details are treated as so much “fake news.”
As Monday’s news conference ended, Krewson slipped away, making a beeline for her SUV as a crowd of reporters and protesters circled around Greitens.
I asked what she thought about the fact that the governor’s crime plan didn’t address any of the issues she raised in her speech.
She paused, thought a bit, and said:
“I think it’s a good start.”
It was a six-word answer when only one was needed.