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Editorial: A region grown too numb to Black deaths is doomed to be defined by it

Editorial: A region grown too numb to Black deaths is doomed to be defined by it

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Death abounds in a one-mile stretch of St. Louis

Ashlei McCrary, 36, holds the shirt she had made for her boyfriend Willie Jackson III on Oct. 7 after he was killed in a shooting outside the Bad Habitz Social Club in the 3100 block of North Grand Boulevard in June.

Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

It’s too easy to become numb to it all. The gunshots. The death. The frequency and normalcy of violence. “You know you’re numb when you walk into your front door and hear gunshots and you don’t jump. You don’t flinch. You just walk into your house,” says Ashlei McCrary, whose boyfriend was murdered on North Grand Boulevard a few months ago.

This is the reality for far too many north St. Louis residents, as the Post-Dispatch’s Erin Heffernan and Joel Currier report. The gunshots are so frequent that they only warrant a call to police when the bullets hit so close they present an immediate danger. But they are not alone in their desensitization. Our entire region has become too numb and apathetic when it comes to the violence terrorizing Black St. Louisans.

Worse is the tendency in safer parts of the city to hold Black victims, or even their entire neighborhoods, as partially to blame for the violence. If as many white citizens were dying under these conditions, community outrage would swiftly move leaders to action.

The Black victims of violence deserve a level of outrage commensurate to the suffering they’ve had to endure for decades. The Black victims of violence deserve concerted government action now. The obvious, quickest answer is to develop ways to remove firearms from the instigators of the violence before people are shot.

Local authorities should have the power to take such action but Gov. Mike Parson and the GOP-dominated Legislature have blocked them. A special legislative session Parson called in September to address violent crime yielded thoroughly unimpressive results, mainly because any discussion of gun control was taken off the table.

Besides the human suffering, this violence and the conditions that foster it have begun to define our region. Business leaders as well as the heads of St. Louis’ universities and colleges have publicly expressed the difficulty they have in recruiting because of St. Louis’ reputation for violence. Population decline in both the city and the county, largely caused by the Black population fleeing the violence, is eroding the tax base and creating even more vacancy and blight, feeding a vicious cycle.

Leaders in St. Louis city and county regularly announce with much fanfare new initiatives aimed at reducing violence, but there is little follow-through and a noticeable lack of urgency.

Most recently, in late 2019, city leaders heralded approval of $7 million in funding for the Cure Violence initiative. Hopefulness sprung anew. But a year later, there is little evidence of its implementation or success. Yes, the pandemic got in the way, yet the pandemic seems not to have put the slightest dent in the violence itself.

The Black community has grown numb waiting for solutions. Lives depend on addressing the epidemic of gun violence with the same sense of urgency as that other epidemic everyone’s talking about.

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