ST. LOUIS — About 100 people held a rally outside City Hall on Thursday to call for less spending on policing and jailing — including closing the City Workhouse — and more on social services and other programs to address root causes of crime.
“Since the summer has began, all year long, there have been headlines of our young people, our children being killed in the street,” said one of several speakers, Kayla Reed, co-director of Action St. Louis, an activist group.
“St. Louis has had a long history of gun violence and it’s time for new solutions and new tactics to address the problem.”
Reed complained that Mayor Lyda Krewson and her public safety director, Jimmie Edwards, want “to use more money on police” and “more cameras in the community” to deal with violent crime.
“All those things do is respond to crime,” Reed said. “They do not prevent crime.”
Speakers called for spending more on job training, affordable health care, education, better access to mental health care and more shelter services for the homeless.
In response, Krewson in an interview said the city needs to boost spending on both law enforcement and social service efforts to try to stem crime.
“It is ‘both and,’ not ‘either or,’” she said. She noted that the city at her request has boosted spending this year on affordable housing efforts, removing dilapidated vacant buildings and adding summer jobs for lower-income youths.
Krewson and Edwards have said the workhouse, a Hall Street facility formally known as the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, is still needed and that conditions have improved there in recent years.
For decades the workhouse has been the subject of lawsuits, including one in 2017 alleging inadequate ventilation, medical care and sanitation. Edwards says many of the criticisms are simply out of date.
Those at the rally also called for funding Cure Violence, a prevention program that trains local residents to work with people believed to be at a high risk of committing violent acts to try to stop shootings before they take place.
The city already has allocated $500,000 in this year’s budget to begin such a program and the mayor recently called for speeding the contract process to get a Cure Violence effort underway as soon as possible.
The mayor and other city leaders have also expressed interest in a longer-term effort as well.
Keith Rose, a steering committee member with the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, called for creation of a public advisory board to oversee the Cure Violence initiative instead of leaving it to city officials to run.
John Chasnoff, another coalition leader, said the city ideally needs Cure Violence programs in five areas of the city at $500,000 apiece.
Three high-school students also spoke, expressing their alarm at the ongoing violence in the city. “People are dying every single day and it’s normal in St. Louis,” said Kevin Backstrom, 16, a junior at Northwest high school.
Several elected officials attended but didn’t speak, including City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who lost to Krewson in the 2017 Democratic mayoral primary; Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler and Aldermen Megan Green, Dan Guenther and Christine Ingrassia.