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?