Since the release of the “reality” TV show Salvage City on the Discovery Channel there has been a lot of local chatter. The show has picked up a lot of local fans while also a lot of detractors. Some of these detractors I feel add little to the conversation while others like my friend Michael Allen offer smart and nuanced commentary and disagreement. I will look at Salvage City from eight angles and start-off in full-disclosure by saying I am a fan of the show and a friend of Same Coffey.
St. Louis Proud
First of all I am proud to see any local show get on television. It is harder to get to that level in the Midwest and the South than anywhere else. Even having Salvage City on the air is a sign that the coastal monopoly over TV programming is breaking down. If you watch scripted television you would be left with the impression America is over 90% white, 90% of the people are either living in New York or LA, are overwhelmingly middle to upper class, are young fit, nobody is religious, and fathers are just dumbasses kept around for jokes. On Salvage City you see real people in a real city. Just like Welcome to Sweetie Pies. I might mention that as a local cab driver I often pick up people from the Megabus and Amtrak who come to St. Louis from Chicago and other cities just to eat at Sweetie Pies and get a selfie standing in front.
The Discussion is Good
If you are talking about it then you watched it. If you didn’t watch it then shut the fuck up. That would be like me reviewing a book I haven’t read. Discussion is a good thing for creative people. It helps you get better and the mere fact you have created something that has people talking is a sign of success.
But…Still a “City of Haterz”
Horace L. Williams made the City of Haters documentary a couple of years ago about haters in St. Louis. There is a big “crab in the barrel” syndrome in St. Louis. Artists don’t respect one another and think the only way they can succeed is by bringing others down. People think “well they only gonna put one or two artists on from St. Louis so if it isn’t me I’m gonna hate”. Hating is fueled either by self-hatred or jealousy-fueled ambition. A more positive attitude would be to support other locals and if you feel you are better show it through your work.
St. Louis IS A Dangerous City: Stop the North Korean Style Propaganda
One of my pet-peeves is hearing from St. Louis promoters (the kind you might see with a “City” bumper sticker) St. Louis is not a dangerous city. “Oh it’s just the way they do the statistics and does not include the county”, “There is only a perception of crime”, “It is isolated”, “it’s not bad here anymore” or some other bullshit. St. Louis is a dangerous city. Not because of the studies and I don’t give a damn about any crime-stat other than murder because every other stat they can play with . St. Louis is dangerous because it just us. Pick up the Evening-Whirl and see what happens here every week (and read my STL Stranger column while you at it). Most of those who say St. Louis isn’t dangerous live carefully constructed existences in the city in order to avoid unsafe areas (and we know shit can happen anywhere). I do not have the luxury of spewing some bullshit about St. Louis being safe. I have had too many friends murdered shot and stabbed in St. Louis City and County. You want to talk to my mother about St. Louis being safe? Whose ex was blown away on a city street while they were out for a walk. Or how about you talk to the widows of cabbies who have been killed while just trying to earn a living? Or you can talk to my passengers who take 5,3, or even 2 block cab rides from their homes because they have been raped or robbed while walking in their own neighborhoods? Or how about the Knockout King victims on Chippewa and Texas I interviewed in 2005 years before the police acknowledged the existence of the game? Or do you wanna just look at all of the barricades set up all over the city like we are living in Aleppo, Hebron or Kabul? I will agree that there are many other places as dangerous as St. Louis: Detroit, Flint, New Orleans, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philly, Camden, Baltimore, certain NYC neighborhoods, Memphis, Houston, Dallas, LA, Oakland and maybe more. That does not make St. Louis safe.
The St. Louis Image Problem
There are a lot of people for whom living in St. Louis is difficult. No, not those in neighborhoods under siege by gangs, children in poverty, old folks routinely robbed of their checks, or the homeless. Most of those people represent St. Louis to the fullest. It is difficult to live in St. Louis for a certain pretentious crowd, many transplants and former West County folk. For the pretentious crowd and some transplants saying you live in St. Louis does not carry enough weight at a cocktail party. “Eww St. Louis. Like, do people have guns there? Are they Republicans? Oh you are so far from the coasts. You guys are just getting an Ikea!” So, living in St. Louis puts these people in a vulnerable position. It’s not Brooklyn, Austin or San Francisco. Why would anyone want to live in the land of the mortals? Do your neighbors even get the jokes on Colbert? To counter this vulnerability they have to over-hype St. Louis and often go over the top. Any criticism of St. Louis or something that gives negative-attention to the city sends them in PR mode. The former West County folk have another problem- trying to convince their parents they’re not crazy for living in the city and they will not be murdered.
Commercial TV versus Pay TV/ Entertainment V. Eggheads
Reality TV is not PBS. For starters people actually watch it. There is money in reality TV. In order to get people to watch it and make money you have to entertain people. How do you entertain people? Good characters, good stories, visuals, humor, action, drama and sex. I may watch a documentary about bricks in St. Louis or the Pruitt-Igoe Myth (which somehow managed to omit Fat Woods) because I am interested in St. Louis history and I love documentaries. However, statistically there are very few people like me and very few people that would want to watch a Bill Streeter documentary. In St. Louis most of them probably know one another or are in some way connected. Reality TV by definition is for the masses. You can sneak some artistic stuff in here and there but it is what it is.
Sam Coffey has done more for St. Louis than 90% of the people online talking shit. Coffey and others from Salvage City are involved in two things that are great for St. Louis. First Sam though the Fortune Teller Bar and other projects is at the lead of turning Cherokee Street from a place known for a good place to buy crack and cheap-pussy from heroin-addicts to a thriving business and entertainment center. Second, Sam and the production companies are part of an effort to make St. Louis a major hub for filmmaking. In addition to just being cool making films here provides jobs and much needed tax-revenue.
Look for More
Salvage City is a part of a wave. Look for more. And oh yeah if you are hating on Salvage City for highlighting negative shit in St. Louis take your blood-pressure medication before watching what is to come.
Before Game Two of the St. Louis World Series actor and comedian Denis Leary was brought in to give his insight. His take was basically to say Boston is a tough and blue-collar city and the Red Sox represent that and St. Louis is a wholesome clean-cut non grimey city and the Cardinals represent that.
Bullshit. Leary doesn’t know what the fuck he is talking about. St. Louis is WAY more grimey and working-class than Boston. Now if Leary is judging St. Louis by some rich West County in-the-closet daddies boy cornball like Joe Buck that is one thing. But Buck doesn’t represent St. Louis.
The crime, murder and poverty rates of St. Louis are way higher than St. Louis. It’s not even close. St. Louis is always either first or in the top-five of murder and crime. Boston is never even on the list. Roxbury, Matapan, and Dorchester seem like solid middle-class suburbs compared to North St. Louis, Dutchtown, East St. Louis, Kinloch, Wellston, etc. .
As far as blue-collar is concerned Boston also doesn’t compete. St. Louis was second only to Detroit in auto-manufacturing jobs ( both my father and grandfather are UAW Local 2250). Where I grew up in North County the entire economy was based on the blue-collar industrial-economy. The only people I ever met with college degrees were preachers or teachers. A St. Louis hoosier is a working-class grimey white guy sneered at by West County pussies like Joe Buck and yuppie assholes like Leary.
Southie, Charlestown, and the like are nowhere near as grimey as parts of North County, Hyde Park-Old North, deep South City, Lemay, etc. . Whitey Bulger would have been Buster Workman’s towelboy in the joint.
Someone also told me Leary has something to do with “stuff white people like” website. For those not familiar Stuff White People Like is basically a funny list of stuff white yuppies like. I don’t know very many white people in St. Louis that are into any of that shit. Definitely nobody I grew up with. I do know Boston, even Southie now, is full of latte sippin, expensive-cheese eatin, gerbil in the ass dippin, European beer toasting, Prius driver coasting yuppie assholes. Go to Fenway Park half the crowd not even from New England.
What Boston has is being on the East Coast which gives it the advantage of media and Hollywood bias. Dennis Lehane writes good stories: but there are the same stories and more in St. Louis where we have a heroin and Lean epidemic followed by years of a crack epidemic. You got some celebrites from Boston who make good movies I actually like : but given a shot we have that same kinda talent in St. Louis. Four world heavyweight boxing champions from St. Louis and plenty of other tough guys. Moral of the story? Fuck Boston. BTW, a buddy of mine still has the tooth of a Boston cop he knocked out during the 2004 World Series.
In other matters enough with the fear-mongering. No terrorist gives a fuck about St. Louis. Boston Marathon Bombing? Whoopty freakin do. 3 dead. We got 3 killed in St. Louis on a regular basis. So enough with the Boston Strong bullshit pimping of a tragedy and the fear-mongering by local St. Louis media.
I thought you might be interested in this story: Video of St. Louis drug arrest stirs controversy
Local cops planting drugs on suspects has been going on a long time. Seldom anything is done about it because there is never any evidence. This video is a blessing in that it exposes this practice. The Drug War is an absurd immoral war no more successful than Prohibition. It only accomplishes two things: feeding the prison-industrial complex and transforming the police from being protectors of the community to an army of occupation. Let me briefly look at some of the hypocries in local St Louis drug policy.
St. Louis City Class Issue
If you are a poor white hoosier in south city, the north side or out in the county there are complex buy-bust and surveillance operations dedicated to sending you to jail. This is often for amounts of drugs worth as little as $10 and $20 for which people can get felony convictions. Some go to prison costing the taxpayers a lot of money. If you are black and living in “hood” areas of the city and North County the police basically exist as an invading army dedicated to small drug-busts.
Meanwhile if you have money ( and are white) drugs are virtually legal. Sometime the difference is right across the street.
Downtown bars serving loft-dwellers, college students, Central West Enders, and West County folk are flush with coke, Mollys, and other pills. The club that is most notorious for drugs has a full time off-duty police presensce in uniform outside. Just a few blocks north in Carr Square and O’Fallon Place police are coming down hard for less amounts of crack, heroin and pills.
The Grove, a neighborhood popular with gays and hipsters, is also flush with drugs (and the underage prostitution of young black males but that’s another discussion). Again this is an area heavily protected by police, mostly white, and slighlty affluent for St. Louis standards. In the same area black remnants of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood are heavily policed for drugs.
I recently had a discussion with a white hipster dealer in The Grove and he said something I have known for years: ” the city is really desperate to get young white kids from the county to move in so they turn a blind eye to a lot of shit”. He even said cops periodically check up on him to make sure he is OK. Politically we also know The Grove has become very crucial to local politics so maybe some don’t wanna ruffle feathers.
I think with drugs and drunk-driving that is the policy in the city and county. If you are poor or working-class they come down hard. If you are white and have money you get a free pass. Dealers in West County, the CWE, downtown, certain south side hoods and The Grove are selling major weight yet you never hear of any busts. Why is that? While at the same time local jails are full of small-time offenders.
Drugs and Race
We all know that a lot of this hypocricy has to do with race. However, I will just share two personal experiences.
A couple of years ago I had a group of black friends over to my northside home to watch a basketball game. After the game I stood outside and talked to the brothers and gave one a few dollars for some work he had did for me. Out of nowhere a car came speeding up to us with a clean-cut white guy poor excuse for an undercover cop asking for drugs.
“Punk motherfucker we not into drugs so drive off before I snatch out of your car and beat your ass”. I said.
My friends drove off and the guy followed them all the way to the gas station on Salisbury and 70. That was a race thing pure and simple. White guy in a black neighborhood attracts heat and it was inconceivable to this dumb south side hoosier cop that we were friends. Have had the police mess with me many times over the years for the exact same thing.
It reminds me of an incident years ago when my sister was thoroughly violated by Ferguson cops under similar circumstances.
Do you know that while people are casually selling thousands of dollars worth of drugs at the bars I described above people are getting felony convictions and prison time for one or two prescription pills? Can anyone honestly say this is just? Or wise?
Prosecution Instead of Treatment
wouldn’t tax dollars better be spent on treatment?
The Real Gateway Drugs
The real gateway drugs are alcohol and cigarettes. There may be no bigger group of lushes than cops and prosecutors. I don’t blame them they have a hard job. Just sayin. I think with weed, even in a conservative area like St. Louis, we are heading in the direction of legalization. People see the hypocrisy of people going to jail for weed when alcohol is legal.
Four Muslim brothers in St. Louis form a bond of brotherhood while hustling in the “milk game”. When one of the brothers, a young refugee from Somalia, commits a brutal murder in the Shaw Neighborhood on the South Side, the other brothers have to help and cover it up. A tale of brotherhood, race, the streets of St. Louis, city cops and Islam.
Available at the Amazon Kindle store here for just 99 cents.
I spent last weekend in Chicago. Only a four to five hour drive and cheap bus and train ride from St. Louis it is a city I have been to many times. My first trip to Chicago I was maybe 18 and travelled there with a taabliqui jamaat. Later I would come to visit MCC on Elston and Pulaski and sit with Amir Ali (R.I.P.) at the Reading Room with Ismail Royer.
Ismail dreamed of going to study at the University of Chicago. When he was not accepted he was really sad until he was accepted at American University in DC.
A lot of St. Louis kids move to Chicago. It’s bigger, more vibrant, more opportunity, close to home and maybe far enough away from exes, family drama and undisclosed baggage.
I see Chicago as being better than St. Louis in many ways and in other ways lacking. Here are the pluses:
Muslim Community: There is really no comparison between the Muslim community of St. Louis and Chicago. While indigenous Sunni Islam in Chicago has lagged behind the East Coast Sunni Muslim pioneers it has excelled in other ways and is decades more advanced than St. Louis.
In St. Louis the reality of indigenous Islam is you have masjids of old and dying WDers, a small Salafi Madkhali prison gang masjid, and a masjid of mostly heroin-addicts, the homeless, and crackheads. There are also the indigenous beggars who frequent the immigrant masjids. Mixed in are a small sprinkling of educated professionals and guys like me just barely holding on and not that active.
The immigrant Muslim community in the city is heavily made up of students, just trying to get their education, and refugees just trying to establish themselves. No real community life outside of their ethnicities. In the suburbs the Muslim community is rapidly growing and there is a lot of progress. Similar to 1980′s Chicago or 1970′s Brooklyn in terms of development.
In Chicago you have a variety of indigenous masjids on the south and west sides. IMAN with it’s pioneering mission. I may have got a little pissed when Rami Nashishibi taught his American-Muslim history class and didn’t give the pioneers in NYC and Philly their just due (the Dar al Islam, Islamic Party, MIB, MOA, Hanafis, Imam Jamil, etc.): but there is no doubt he has helped to establish a good and much needed thing. IMAN is the only organization I know of that can bring disaffected second-gen immigrant Muslim youth together with indigenous Muslims for dialouge and community engagement.
Ubaydullah Evans to me the best young man in Muslim America. Now because he is black (and cant pass a paper bag test) he wont get that much push from the major organizations who are looking for white,beige and brown faces to promote. Nonetheless he is in Chicago and if you are there you can benefit from his knowledge.
My brother Abu Noor Ryan, another one of the most brilliant minds of Islam in America, is now the chaplain at DePaul and basically rewriting the book and taking Muslim campus life to the next level.
There is also the American Islamic College, Usama Cannon coming in for Taleef talks, and the legacy of Imam Mohammed. From indigenous perspective there is just not comparing the two. (Let’s also keep in mind the study and practice of traditional Sunni Islam is only 20 years old in St. Louis. Only beginning with the return of Mukhtar Abdul-Malik from the East Coast in 1992 and Mujaheed Abdul-Qadeer aq-Menepta and Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Baseer teaching at Masjid at-Taqwa wa-Jihad and later Geraldine in 1993.)
From an immigrant Muslim standpoint Chicago is also way more advanced. Muslim schools, Muslim boarding schools, loads of masjids, a second-gen Muslim culture and lingo, it’s just more advanced due to sheer numbers and the time they have been there. Personally I don’t want to go to any of these masjids just saying their existence adds to the life.
Not that I am a strict halal eater anymore (I’ve gone Saudi): but a simple visit to Zabihah will show you Chicago is a great city to live in for a halal eater. St. Louis is making a lot of progress though but will probably never catch up due to low demand.
Diversity: St. Louis is still a black-white city. Blacks and blondes. I grew up in a racially-polarized segregated city and VERY little has changed in my lifetime. People who say race-relations are good in St. Louis are normally white people who don’t know shit, clueless folks, or people who seldom see or interact with people outside of their race. They are NEVER people like me from a racially-mixed family or who grew up in North County.
The brightest Muslim brothers left St. Louis. They felt unfulfilled. We have a big black “brain drain”. St. Louis has one of the smallest Latino populations in the country. Without an infusion of refugees fleeing war and ethnic-cleansing we wouldn’t have the small level of diversity we have now in south city. I have been saying for a while this city needs massive immigration to survive. Many agree. It just isn’t there yet.
Chicago reminds me of living in NYC and DC. Latino kids listening to hip-hop their mothers speaking to them in Spanish them answering in English. Desi kids in Bears jerseys. Hijabs, beards, turbans, kippahs, all common sites. Not just immigrant cultures. Arrived groups. Fully multi-lingual. Adding their flavor. People who see my beard and know I’m not Amish or in a biker gang. Not quite New York. Light-years ahead of St. Louis.
On a short walk I saw Romanian, Greek, Polish, and Ughyr restaurants. St. Louis was an ethnic city. In midwestern and “up south” fashion though it rapes anyone of their identity. The goal is blandness. Drowing in an ocean of whiteness. The Italian is just a hoosier with the vowel on the end of his name. The assimilated goyische Jew breaks his Yom Kippur fast with a pork steak and a Bud Light, the Romani kid told to never tell anyone he is a “gypsy”.
Street Tribes: There was a time the game in St. Louis was organized. Fat Woods running the Pruitt-Igoe, the Petty Brothers, Jerry Lewis-Bey and the Moors, the Conway Brothers and others before them in Kinloch, etc. . Crack killed all that. And it aint came back. The Street Tribes of Chicago from Jeff Fort and the el Rukn to the Folk Nation to the Peoples Nation to the Latin Kings provided structure and organization. It could be a positive force or negative force. The point is it provided structure. Which meant less violence. It also meant a structure for self governance was in place detached from the system. The government saw this as a threat. Destroying the leadership led to the removal of structure which has led to Chicago becoming the murder capitol. The ideas still exist though as do the tribes. That in itself gives Chicago a progressive advantage over the petty, chaotic and cannibalistic streets of St. Louis.
Modern: Chicago is a modern city in a modern America. A good portion of the St. Louis Metro has one agenda-the return of the 1950′s ( and that wasn’t a bad decade). They aint coming back though.
Culture: I’m not that well-cultured. I go to a museum every now and then, I like thr library and have a thing for flowers, old buildings, public radio and the symphony. That’s about it and I believe St. Louis competes well with Chicago on all of those if not better. The area where Chicago really kicks St. Louis ass is film. There was a time when the Tivoli, Hi-Pointe and Plaza Frontenac showed a lot of good foreign-films, documentaries, and edgy indie-fims. Not anymore. Even the St. Louis International Film Festival has went downhill. They all seem to be focused on yuppie love stories and gay or ironic comedies. Like Girls isn’t bad and white enough on the small screen. Every time I see a film I wanna see and it’s not here I look and it’s in Chicago.
Public Transit: I don’t think Chicago’s public transportation system is all that great. It definitely is not as good as NYC, Boston, DC or Philly. it also is not as pedestrian as the East Coast. Still, it isn’t bad, and it is way better than St. Louis (which doesn’t take much). Metro in St. Louis is for poor people. When I was poor I caught the bus and Metrolink. Now that I have a decent job I don’t. That simple. I don’t miss the unruly passengers, rude drivers, and being late everywhere. Chicago, while still kind of lacking, has more diversity on the train. Not just poor people. The city is also a lot more pedestrian. I love walking and in Chicago there are a lot of places to walk, a lot to see, and a lot to take in. you are also not the only person on the sidewalk. In New York I walked several miles a day. In St. Louis my fat ass only walks to the car (OK I go on nature walks when nothing is good on TV). I miss walking. Every time I go for a walk in my neighborhood I may have to beat a mother f****** ass or die trying.
St. Louis has many pluses. Great friends, favorite places to eat, family, familiarity. You are born here you die here. Few people surprise you in St. Louis or alter their destiny. They play the roles they were born to play.
The BP Station on Vandeventer and Forest Park where I’ve been going for years has permanently closed as the Laclede Gas building on the 3900 block of Forest Park will soon. Rumor has it some university-related development. No need to worry for Midtown, CWE, and Forest Park Southeast folks. A Quicktrip will be opening on Chouteau at Vandeventer at the old Bellons location and you still have the friendly folks at the Gas House in the day hours and their car wash. UPDATE: I am now hearing this will be a St. Louis Ikea location.
St. Louis Chief of Police Sam Dotson said he wants drones. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce chimed in saying she enthusiastically supports them. This comes after 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French had surveillance cameras installed in his ward and residents of the Central West End did the same thing.
Crime is a serious problem in St. Louis. However, a simple look at the numbers will tell you crime is at a fraction of what it was in the 80′s and 90′s. In fact there are many prosperous neighborhoods today that even ten years ago were dangerous “no go areas” for squares.
I would never claim St. Louis is not a dangerous city. I’ve known too many people to get murdered, robbed and burglarized here to even entertain that thought. It always pissed me off when the often young promoters of city living spoke of a “perception of crime” as if people were just making shit up when they talked about high-crime in St. Louis. On balance though the city is much safer. In the 90′s a late-night drive through the city would take you through numerous open-air drug-markets and gang-bangers “posted” up on corners all night. The pages of the Evening-Whirl full of dead young black men on a weekly basis. even moreso than today.
Violence is still common in St. Louis, the murder rate still high, and black-on-black crime off the charts. Yet, after all that, crime is still down. While many of the youth are still lost ( mostly the product of broken-homes and chaotic family lives) there are a lot of youth who are being raised by parents to keep them off the streets. Many traditional policing efforts are also paying dividends along with community and religious efforts.
So, while crime is down, why the panic? One issue we can’t get away from is race. A lot of young white professionals are moving into the city. These residents are a valuable asset to the city and breathing life into many neighborhoods. Hell, after decades of population loss and a city full of vacant lots and abandoned buildings we should be glad anyone wants to move into this city. These residents, who often grew up in places like West County, are not accustomed to crime and danger. Nor are they street-smart as a rule. They expect their new neighborhoods to be as safe and secure as the monolithic and affluent places they grew up in and don’t take into account the 400 years of racial history in this country, despair, poverty and broken homes. Not being street-smart, generally not being a physically tough lot, and often having a disdain for guns they exclusively look to the police for their safety.
The city is eager to kiss their ass of course. This city needs new people. Especially affluent educated and upwardly mobile people who can help to create businesses and raise property values. Whatever the city can reasonably due to accommodate this growth they will. Close a lane of traffic on South Grand inconveniencing tens of thousands of motorists a day. So be it! If it increases the quality of life for a few hundred young and affluent cyclists. Sell dope on 14th and Cass or Gibson and Newstead? The cops kick your door in and your ass gets sent to prison. Sell and use dope in The Grove or Downtown the cops are guarding the front door instead of kicking the door down. ( for the record I support the decriminalization of drugs). It is a double-standard and everyone knows it. Money, race, power and politics it’s all tied together.
In comes the drones. While crime is down Chief Dotson says he needs drones to keep it down. This defies the logic of a basically ten year drop in crime. If drones were needed shouldn’t it have been during the crack-epidemic? Cops and prosecutors always want more power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and nearly all cops in every country would be pretty cool with a police-state. It is the job of the citizens to keep those powers in check.
All of us need a safe city. I benefit from that in my job and my life: but at what cost? Are we willing to submit to a Big Brother authority in St. Louis and spend a lot of money for something that will take liberties with no known benefit? I am not saying technology should never be used. The cats out of the bag on that. There are also high-density places such as Washington Ave, The Landing, the Delmar Loop and near the stadiums that have a history of rowdy behavior and it is impossible for the cops to see everything. They may need cameras and certainly need a heavy presence. Yet drones flying over our city to track it’s citizens seems like a waste of money and an infringement upon our privacy-rights.
Chief Dotson will swear upon a stack of Bibles that the powers will not be abused. The Chief is a nice guy and I’m sure he would be telling the truth after all he has done a good job thus far. What about the next Chief though? Or the one after that? If the drones get cheaper how ethical do you think the Kinloch PD will be with them? Maybe the East St. Louis narcotics detective just busted for selling drugs could have used the drones in his operation.
Far-fetched? Remember those surveillance cameras in the 21st Ward? Along with Zuhdi Masri I was photographed with those same cameras while participating in a lawful political protests in the ward and my photo was put on the Internet. When I asked a guy working for the city in the 21st Ward if it was appropriate the cameras be used for political purposes he responded “Alderman French paid for the cameras. If he wants to shoot a porno with them he can.” Whose to say the same can’t be done with these drones? Whose to say that they will not only look at you they may attack you? When the ACLU looked into my complaint they told me it was problematic because the city had no guidelines for the usage of the cameras.
The timing of Dotson’s statement is also odd. The country is debating the uncovered information from Edward Snowden that the government is basically watching you online at all times. Many Americans don’t care. They could give a shit about their liberties and are willing to surrender them to guard against terrorism ( which kills less people than bathtub falls). Republicans took the chance to bash Obama when Bush was doing the same thing. Most Democrats who see President Obama as their infallible savior have either remained silent or supported the administration. Those true patriots who love liberty and have taken this moment to take a stand against the actions of our government should be applauded and we should do the same here in St. Louis and reject the Dotson Drones. Having personally known three Americans killed by drones I take this issue very serious.
If we really believe Big Brother is the answer the Board of Alderman should pass a bill wiring the whole city for sound and putting ip cameras to cover the entire city. Rooms of all buildings should be required to have them in order to get an occupancy permit. Why not? You’re not against crime?
If you live in Florissant and Afton and you are a responsible or even semi-responsible adult and concerned citizen chances are you cannot names the mayors of Cheserfield, University City, Ferguson, Berkeley or Kirkwood. Chances are though you can name the mayor of St. Louis. The city is the heart of the region and even if you do not live in the city your family roots probably trace back to the city. If you are in North County or St. Charles County chances are your roots are in North St. Louis and if you are in South County or Jefferson County chances are high your roots are in South St. Louis. People pay attention to the officer of city mayor as whoever sits in room 200 becomes a spokesman for the area. So, as we head to the polls this Tuesday for the Democratic Primary we will not only be electing the leader of the city in this one-party town we will also be electing the leader of this region. Will Mayor Francis Slay be elected to an unprecedented fourth term or will the challenger Lewis Reed upset his plans to make history? This race is also a referendum on the state and condition of St. Louis so it is a good time to asses where we are. So, let us take a look at the major issues in the race:
Mayor Francis Slay: Pros and Cons
I view Mayor Francis Slay as an old-school South St. Louis machine-politician who has come to office at a unique transformational time in the history of the city of St. Louis and literally went through a transformation on the job. I celebrated the night in 1993 Freeman Bosley, Jr. became the first African-American mayor of the city of St. Louis and I mourned his loss in 1997 and voted for Bosley again in 2001. To me Bosley was the man who could have brought St. Louis out of our poor state of race relations. Having lived around the country I can definitely say I have never been anywhere with worse race-relations than St. Louis. Everything in this city is black and white and the seat of racism, the Selma of St. Louis, has traditionally been deep South St. Louis. It just so happened that the deep South Side is the political-base of Mayor Slay so I did not vote for him when he first ran and did not trust him for years.
Over the years I have watched Mayor Slay and have had to admire his leadership and the cities growth under his watch. At first I said to myself “this is some kind of a trick” and this Lebanese South Side Hoosier Catholic schoolboy must have something up his sleeve. I did not believe a South Side Machine politician could actually want a diverse and inclusive city and I remembered the white rage at the election of Mayor Bosely and the uproar the white-establishment had at just giving up a little bit of power. Yet year after year I have watched Mayor Slay consistently reach out and embrace the diversity of this city.
The pros are obvious. As a teenager when I would catch the 74 West Florissant bus to Washington and Tucker to shop at Gus’s I got out to a seen of boarded up buildings and complete desolation. I vividly remember turning around 14th and Washington when I was in the 8th grade and a man pissing on my shoes in broad daylight. For me to see that strip become famous as “Warsh Ave” and a destination to out-of-towners is surreal. The St. Louis of my youth was on par with Detroit, Gary and Camden (only with worse race-relations and maybe a few more jobs) and without change this city was on its way to looking like Detroit looks today. My mother lived in the Shaw Neighborhood in the 90’s and at the time there were several open-air drug-markets in the neighborhood and it was definitely not the place to be. The corner of Shenandoah and Thurman was one of the most dangerous and hottest drug-corners in the city. Today, it is home to the Thurman Café a place where rich yuppies drink craft beer and talk about the English Premier League. A far cry from the Palestinian-owned store that used to sit on the corner with a Dirty Harry .45 revolver permanently affixed behind the counter. Or the corner where “Mae Man” was gunned down by police who had a hard-on for him anyway for being the leader of the “Do Mob”.
McCree Town, just blocks over from Shaw, looked like a ghost town or something out of a dystopian futuristic novel. The only people you ever saw were dope-dealers and dopefiends. Working people fled in droves and those left behind became victims getting robbed of social security checks and anything else of value. Today my old friend Ben Poremba has one of the fanciest restaurants in St. Louis on the corner of Tower Grove and McRee. The old Dixiecrat South Side Hoosiers were fleeing the city and neighborhoods like Dutchtown and Bevo became vacant only to be saved by a wave of immigration. Bosnians, Somalis, Mexicans, Afghans, Vietnamese and other immigrant groups are now buying homes, opening up stores, and laying down roots with houses of worship. North St. Louis looked like Germantown Philly or West Baltimore with late-night traffic-jams from ghetto-drama and working-taxpayers locked up behind bars in their own homes at night never to leave their homes in the daytime unless it was necessary. The West Side was even worse and as in other cities the experiment of hi-rise public-housing from the Cochrane to the Peabody to the Blumeyer was not doing well.
Young people were not moving to the city, city employees were using their parents addresses and moving to the county, and anyone who got a good job got the hell out of the city ASAP leaving a trail of vacant housing for dopefiends to lay their heads in.
What is the situation today? When young people get out of college they are not thinking about suburban apartment complexes as they did in years past. They are headed to the city and renting apartments where they can have easy access to the Loft District, The Grove, South Grand, The Loop, the Central West End and other hotspots for dining and nightlife. The slightly older crowd are following the national trend and instead of buying suburban dream homes are buying homes to rehab in south side neighborhoods like Benton Park and Tower Grove East often on sketchy blocks. In my neighborhood of Old North St. Louis, where the old-times will tell you they couldn’t even get family to visit them in the 80’s and 90’s it was so bad, there are now lines around the corner at Crown Candy Kitchen and an organic food co-op.
Today St. Louis is a city full of night-life, new ethnic-neighborhoods and a renewed vibrancy. This may not be the booming St. Louis of the 40’s and 50’s with street cars and a packed Union Station my grandparents describe: but it is a far cry from the 80’s and 90’s. Can anyone who was around then imagine food trucks downtown at night? Tower Grove Park full of yuppies who grew up in West County playing kickball? The diversity of South Grand? A strip like The Grove? All of these things signal a break from the traditional backwards thinking St. Louis and all came under the watch of Mayor Slay who deserves credit.
The South Side base of Mayor Slay would have cheered if he would have bashed immigrants and joined the “English is the official language” crowd. Instead Mayor Slay is learning to speak Spanish. The boys down in Holly Hills and Bevo, who are not too keen on their new Muslim neighbors, would have cheered Mayor Slay on if he would have embraced Islamphobia. Instead Mayor Slay has reached out to the Muslim community at every turn and when local Muslims were targeted after 9-11 the mayor immediately came out in condemnation. I will not forget that and I know many other local Muslims feel the same way.
The Mayor is a South Side politician to be sure, and those are his roots, and he takes care of those who knows him best like everyone else does, but at the end of the day, Mayor Slay has worked to bring modernity to St. Louis and embrace diversity and economic-growth.
The cons on Slay? There are not many in my opinion. However, I disagree with the Mayor on the effectiveness of charter schools (I support school-choice), any attempts to privatize our great tasting city water, and I am skeptical (to say the least) of the Paul McKee “development”.
Alderman Lewis Reed: Pros and Cons
A Chicago-native and South Sider Lewis Reed is of the new mold of black urban Democratic politicians similar to the former Mayor of Washington, DC Adrien Fenty, Mayor Corey Booker of Newark and others. In other words “post-racial” black politicians who made their careers catering to the whims of a new breed of white liberal urbansits. In the case of Reed supporting dedicated lanes for cyclists, development in the upscale Lafayette Square neighborhood and such. This has made Reed a darling to the tiny population of urbanists who sit around drinking latte discussing development issues.
However, I am not so keen on Reed. Let us first look at the model of Washington, DC and Fenty. A model Reed seems to be following. Under the administration of Fenty the black population substantially plummeted and he cut through the city payrolls with a machete and almost everyone Fenty fired was black and in almost all cases replaced by whites. Fenty turned Chocolate City into a swirl with all the chocolate at the bottom and falling out of the cone into Maryland. The new DC is not a black working-class city: but rather a home for the white super-wealthy half-empty in the summer as they vacation in the Napa Valley or south of France leaving the District to tourists, the young, and people who didn’t come there for government jobs.
I fear that a Reed Administration would look a lot like a Fenty Administration. This is why I am dumbfounded that in the closing weeks of the campaign Reed is making a naked racial appeal to African-American voters. This is a man who in his entire political career has shown very little concern for black voters, has not reached out his neck on issues affecting the black community, and failed to hire blacks on his own staff and he is now reinventing himself as a modern-day Marcus Garvey? Hell, if you listen to his ads on radio you would think he is Nat Turner and not a guy who has dedicated his entire political career to issues that move the New Yorker crowd and not the crowd on Natural Bridge and Kingshighway. The Reed supporters will be sadly mistaken if he is elected as I am venturing a guess his staff will look a lot like the crowd at a Lafayette Square cocktail party and be concerned with the same issues.
In recent months I have heard a lot about crime and there is no doubt crime is a serious issue in this city and I speak on this issue with firsthand knowledge. I see it every day on my job and I hear about it everyday. Many friends of mine have been shot and killed in this city and many more have ended up in prison or struggling with addiction.
While crime is bad it is nowhere as bad as it was in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. If you want to go back to the 70’s when Fat Woods with his feared musclemen Earl Jr. and Rodney Woods and their young lieutenant Jerry Lewis ran the Pruitt-Igoe Projects ( something that somehow failed to make the Pruiit-Igoe Myth documentary when that is the first thing people talk about when they mention that era). There is no block ran in St. Louis today like Big Woods ran the Pruiit-Igoe. There are no players left like Sam Petty and his brothers who did it big in the 70’s in St. Louis. Does anyone remember ’85 and ’86 when crack first hit? Then Bloods and Crips colors and set-trippin hit at the same time as crack and all while AIDS was blowing up? In the mid to late eighties even into the 90’s red and blue were shooting each other on site with no previous beef. That is no longer happening. Nobody with even a shred of information can tell you the gang-situation is worse today than it was in that era and the homicide statistics do not lie.
St. Louis was so flush with crack money from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s and gang warfare that many neighborhoods looked like war zones. The College Hill of today is nothing like the Cabanne Courts, Horseshoe, 19th Street, Cochrane, Walnut Park or any projects of that era. The College Hill of 1993 was even way more dangerous than the College Hill of 2013. People always say “these kids nowadays are worser” or “It has never been worse” and most times they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Many of the people complaining today, and I am not talking about residents of high-crime neighborhoods, were living in Ladue or Kansas at that time and don’t know these things. They move to the city, and while crime is down, they are terrified that the streets are not as safe as whatever upscale suburb they grew up in. Advice? Before you move to the city learn how to fight and if you can’t fight get a concealed-carry and try to be street smart and if you don’t do none of that expect to be a Knockout King or robbery victim.
Driving through the city in the 80’s and 90’s you would see corner after corner of people posted up on corners, leaning on whiles, drinking beer leanin on cars, selling dope in the middle of the street, dopefiends driving up to dopesets like a fast food drive-thru, dice games on the corner and the like. Drive through St. Louis north and south these days and there are only a handful of corners where you will see this such as the 4400 block of Farlin and the 2800 block of Stoddard. A friend of mine from the hard streets of Southeast DC remarked “how can St. Louis be dangerous I never see anyone in the streets”? Which of course is a mixed blessing. The city is safer but heavy-handed police tactics have also made people scared to socialize in their own neighborhoods or sit on their own porches.
The new elephant in the room is police cameras. We are being told the city will be safer if we are only willing to give up our civil-liberties and allow ourselves to be in one big reality TV show. Of course these people fail to mention that places like the south side of Chicago and west Baltimore have had cameras for years and they have not been successful. There are also no city guidelines for their usage and the cameras existing in the 21st Ward have been used to monitor the political activities of the opponents of the alderman. When I asked a city official if this was appropriate he responded “Alderman Antonio French paid for them he can shoot pornos with them if he wants.” Feeling safer yet? Somehow we get through the 80’s and 90’s without giving up our civil-liberties. Why now?
Regarding crime I don’t think it matters all that much who is mayor. People are led to lives of crime because of family, social and cultural issues. In some areas a culture of crime takes root. It is a spiritual crisis and the government can only do so much other provide a better educational and job opportunities giving people a stake in society.
On this issue I do not side with Slay or Reed. Our public schools suck. Period, end of discussion. I do not want to hear about Metro or some other school a fraction of parents can get their kids into at the end of the day the schools suck. Living in the city with kids often means: moving to the county when they are of school age, private schools, or home-schooling. I do not blame the teachers as they cannot work miracles. If there is not a culture of emphasizing education at home there is only so much a teacher can do. Our teachers are fine: but you cannot expect them to work miracles with kids coming from chaotic home lives. We do not need rich white kids blowing off a little white guilt through Teach For America to save black kids in some kind of neo-colonial mission. We need better families and that is why I support school choice which will give inner-city kids the same opportunities that every middle-class kids have to attend private schools where their souls can be nurtured. This is a choice most Democrats can’t politically support: but at the same time they send their kids to private schools. It also does not help the case of the teachers union when a rep wanna-be thug (and we know this cat soft for real) like Mr. Abdul-Raheem assaults Slay supporters.
St. Louis has been losing population for decades. Reed says he can stop this. Doubtful, this is an issue bigger than any mayor that Slay has handled very well. Let’s start with some facts. In the 1950 census when St. Louis had well more than 800,000 residents St. Louis County was mostly farmland and the city was ruled by Jim Crow. The GI Bill, a suburban housing boom, and desegregation led to a mass exodus of white residents from the city . What followed was the emergence of a White Democratic Machine on the South Side a Black Machine on the North Side and a hipper, more affluent liberal set in the central-corridor fewer in numbers with a decimated downtown.
Each of these machines catered to their base and much, even most, of that appeal as based on race. The city became very provincial and about “where did you go to (high) school” (a question I actually love), tribal neighborhood associations, clannish ward committees, Catholic parishes that worked to enforce racial norms, exclusive labor unions, police and firefighters clustered in Southwest City, and powerful and corrupt black preachers in North St. Louis pimping a dwindling flock and in bed with alderman and funeral-home directors.
St. Louis is changing though. The old South Side Hoosiers are fleeing the city for Jefferson County and if they have money West County. Previous white neighborhoods with neighborhood bars where it was not uncommon to find Confederate memorabilia are now home to a mix of immigrants, African-Americans and educated young white professionals. The Catholic Parishes are not as strong as they once were and labor-unions have become weak. All of those factors led to an erosion of both city population and the political base of Mayor Slay.
Seeing the old white St. Louis on its death bed and a newer city emerging instead of cloistering himself in the 23rd Ward Mayor Slay reached out and made new alliances and welcomed the changing city. A city that is increasingly not home to the Catholic socially-conservative neighborhoods of his youth: but to a younger, more secular, less traditional group of people who do not have as many children yet love their dogs ( and I hate dogs but you know you gotta be tolerant). This is not a crowd I identify with as a socially-conservative practicing Sunni Muslim: but they have breathed life into city neighborhoods and Mayor Slay is doing everything he can to welcome them while holding on to his core values. As an example Mayor Slay comes from a strong labor background. If I remember correctly he might have even represented my dad who is a UAW Local #2250 member. Most of this new so-called hipster and urbanist crowd are educated, upwardly mobile, and grew up in neighborhoods with people like them. Case in point the guy who is redeveloping McRee Town has a sign “Friends Don’t Let Friends Live in Chesterfield”. That sign says a lot. Everyone this guy knows, all of his friends at least, can live in Chesterfield if they want: but to most living in Chesterfield is an American dream. If anyone in my family ever had enough money to move to Chesterfield it would be a great success story. This is an opportunity available to so few Americans and what people dream of who move to this country from places like Bosnia and Pakistan. Yet, this guy doesn’t see that and on some levels I agree with him. I would much rather live in the city even if I had money: but like most Americans I can’t afford Chesterfield or one of his fancy eco-friendly houses.
The point is, on issues of class, while many of these new city residents see themselves as progressive and green and support gay marriage they may not be all that different than say Rush Limbaugh on labor issues and other class-issues. If you watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher all you get is a steady dose of “Americans are stupid” we are superior, we are elite, we are not religious, we don’t have guns ( but have the cops on speed dial) now let’s have a toast with our craft beer or wine. While embracing this new crowd Mayor Slay has not forsook his labor roots or the traditional religious neighborhoods of the city. He is trying to find a balance realizing this has to be a city for all people.
This is also not the same North St. Louis that elected Freeman Bosley, Jr. in 1993. The black middle-class has fled in droves to North St. Louis County and now even St. Charles County in search of better schools and safer neighborhoods. Black churches in North St. Louis are full on Sunday: but half the congregation, and probably the preacher, are headed out to North County after the sermon. The traditional Black Machine is in decline and fighting over crumbs as their base is picking up and moving to Florissant and Spanish Lake. While at the same time black political power is on the rise in North County with a sleuth of black mayors and elected officials not to mention St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. I used to live on the 5300 block of Geraldine in the 90’s and it was a vibrant block (in a neighborhood they called Murderville). Today half the houses on the block have been torn down. Most people just don’t wanna live in North St. Louis and no mayor is going to change that any time soon and the only candidate from the North Side is Jimmy Matthews.
The only thing that can bring St. Louis population back and curb the losses is immigration. While important to attract there are just not enough kids from West County to attract to the city or people looking to reconnect to their family roots. St. Louis is also unlikely to become a major attraction to move to given the fact that the weather here sucks, we are not close to any beaches, and the nature is nothing to write home about. We need immigrants and we need a major influx. Currently we have one of the lowest Latino populations in America and that is a good place to start. Find out how we can attract more immigrants to this city who can join hands in the future with African-Americans in North St. Louis, reformed South Side Hoosiers, and preservationists like Michael Allen to create a sustainable St. Louis into the future. I see Mayor Slay as someone who can strike the balance between all of these groups and at the same time keep dangerous forces with no class or racial consciousness such as NextSTL at bay ( they have some good stuff but overall the land grabs and grandiose projects they advocate, with zero concern for existing residents, and nonsense like making the North Riverfront into the Upper West Side, reminds me of some kind of perverse reverse Great Society where the resources of the state are dedicated to displacing the poor and empowering the rich).
Of course an old industrial city like St. Louis, where we have lost so many factories and corporations, has to figure out the economic questions and the jobs situation. That is a major priority and I see Mayor Slay working tirelessly on this issue while competing under the pressures of globalization .
I proudly endorse the reelection of Mayor Francis Slay and count myself with State Senator Jamillah Nasheed as a former opponent turned support. I encourage all local Muslims to support this friend of our community. Come Tuesday it will be Slay Day. No Need For Reed.