For the third year in a row, St. Louis has the highest per-capita murder rate in America at 59.6 murders per 100,000 people. Commence the hand-wringing. People discuss poverty and racism and the difficulties of our city-county divide, then everyone drives out to their suburban homes or into their private city streets, and nothing much is done about it.
What is fueling the carnage? The violence is being driven by Mexican drug cartels whose operators are fighting over turf and control of the heroin trade. News anchors and politicians here have lamented the epidemic-level growth of heroin abuse. Youths are dying of overdoses, and not all of them are from the inner city. The pain is creeping out, taking hold in the suburbs.
To combat this, St. Louis city mayoral candidate Lyda Krewson proposes a ban on AR-15s as a possible intervention. How many homicides in St. Louis are committed using a rifle? And when have gun bans ever helped reduce violence?
Trafficking gangs and other criminals, by nature, tend to ignore any laws that restrict the weapons they can use when they go out to kill. Banning guns that people can use to defend themselves in their homes only makes the law-abiding citizens, already living in fear, less safe.
Some discussions of the ramifications of racism usually enter into the discussion at this point, but to what end? Racism doesn’t make teenagers join gangs or deal drugs. Dancing around the issue by tying it to racism ignores the rising death toll. How many Dr. Ben Carsons and Erika Harolds are missing because of the endless death march in our inner city?
There are 39 million blacks in America — 13 percent of the population. Just over 72 percent of our babies are born out of wedlock, and we commit over half of the murders each year in our country. These statistics are harsh and painful to read and comprehend. But when do we force ourselves to address these issues openly so the hard work of improving the plight of inner-city Americans can begin?
Mayor Francis Slay is on the way out, and his legacy is mixed. Many see his 16-year tenure as a moderate success with the new stadium and influx of businesses around Ballpark Village. The rise of the Bosnian community is a bright spot of revitalization in south city. Many younger families have returned, buying homes and sending their kids to the area’s charter and private schools.
But a recent announcement by the owners of Brown & Crouppen Law Firm, which employs 200 people in downtown St. Louis, dampens any latent enthusiasm. Andy Crouppen, a principal at the firm, did not mince words when asked about the future of their firm’s location in the city: “It is crime pushing us out — and nothing else.” If the firm leaves, will others follow suit?
The timing of this announcement comes at an opportune time as the Board of Aldermen has chosen not to address crime in the city. Instead of adding police funding to the slate of proposed ballot issues for city voters to consider, aldermen want taxpayers to pony up $60 million to build a Major League Soccer stadium, which will include a 2.5 percent ticket tax that will go to the city. Never mind that soccer isn’t profitable and won’t bring other businesses or families to the city in the long run. Instead, we should invest $60 million or more into funding additional police.
We must stop dithering on community-based programming to intervene in poverty-stricken areas with job training, high school degree programs and faith-based initiatives. And before the cries of secularism and separation of this and that ensue, ask yourself: What has worked so far? Has the utter removal of God from public life served inner-city residents well? How can anyone who actually cares about the lives of inner-city residents plagued by poverty and crime defend the current remedies?
Inner-city residents are gunned down at a daily rate. Most of those dying in our streets are young, black and male. These young men are our future, and saving them should trump our political ideology, antipathy toward religion and allegiance to certain acceptable norms.
A murder rate on a par with that of Honduras in a highly developed, rich, beautiful city such as ours isn’t normal. Families matter, fatherhood matters, and until we address those truths, political posturing can only continue to fail us. Let’s put God back into the equation, link arms and save these young people.