(State Rep Bruce Franks presenting an award to Marty Murray of Gloves for Grades above)
Eleven children have been murdered this year in St. Louis. Many more have been shot including a twelve-year old child over the weekend. This should bring people into the streets and should be a cause for our collective mourning turned into action. Yet, outside of State Representative Bruce Franks and a handful of others, I see few other political folks and activists centering these deaths*.
Outside of any grand conspiracy the reason for this may very well be that as a city and region the murder of children has been normalized. Routine. We don’t bat an eye. We just expect our bloody summers to include the deaths of a few kids.
Of course this isn’t new. As a middle-school student a schoolmate of mine named Nelson Fowler was murdered. Nelson was 15. In America, in the Land of Milk and Honey, a 15 year old boy being shot in the head three times in Kinloch Park merited one tiny paragraph in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Several more classmates of mine were killed in high school. My twenties saw many more die. My thirties and forties have seen the death toll of those I know personally become less frequent. Now the children of people my age are being murdered.
We tell ourselves lies. We say “this city isn’t really dangerous” and “it’s just the way they count the numbers”. Those reactions are a testament to white privilege. What they mean is “the city isn’t dangerous for me” and “not my neighborhood”. And even more than those factors, in our racially-divided city white people, particularly from the middle and upper classes, tend not to know murder victims. In the event they do know murder victims it tends do be in a professional or volunteer capacity.
With fewer people watching local news and reading the newspapers the killings become distant. Not motivating factors when you’re thinking about the best ways to use our resources. Instead of putting an end to these killings at the center of their politics and civic-engagement they’re ignored. Some ignore these deaths because the victims are overwhelmingly black. All they want from local police is a buffer between themselves and danger and crime in the community. Many white progressives lacking in personal relationships can only look at the situation through the prism of ideologies and counter with generic statements on gun-control and economics. Meanwhile we have those on the right who’ll dance on the blood of dead black children to further racist arguments.
The view is different when you know murder victims and some are even related to you. Chances are when you know murder victims you know shooters too. A trip to Schnucks in St. Louis and you’ll be shopping with the families of the dead, the families of the shooters, the wounded, and the shooters who haven’t been caught in a city where 70% of killings go unsolved. We’re surrounded by the aura of this violence everyday and in some neighborhoods you can feel the closeness and anticipation of death in the air.
Let’s make this clear. With the soaring murder-rate of the city only a handful of white males have been killed this year. No white women have been murdered this year in St. Louis. This is a story of black death.
As a community we have a moral obligation to try and stop the killings. We cannot, under any circumstances, allow these killings to become normalized. If you aren’t comfortable getting involved and speaking on these issues you need to support those who are. Everything isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t lobby your business associates, faith congregations, family, friends and neighbors to support those who are doing something.
Three programs I’m personally excited about are the Gloves for Grades program ran by 7th Ward Democratic Committeeman Marty Murray, the Police Athletic League boxing program in Jennings, and the organizational efforts led by Bruce Franks. If you can support these programs please do so.
Recently Rep. Franks asked for men to volunteer to patrol the streets to help stop the killings. If you can donate your time to this cause ask yourself what cause is greater than saving the lives of children?
We all know that before the year is out more kids will die in St. Louis City and County. That shouldn’t be shrugged off with the normalcy of a poorly coached Cardinals team, the Blues choking in the playoffs, or the smell of provel in the air at baby showers.
* Others such as Brother Anthony Shahid, James Clarke, and Demetrious Johnson among others have been working with black youth for decades to try and end the violence.