Johnny Reb Leaves Forest Park

Johnny finally left St Louis. He thought to himself it was fitting that he leave on a hot and humid day sweltering just like the days when his people burned in Atlanta and waged war in the backwoods and swamps of Mississippi . He had fought hard for many generations fending off the entrance of foes to restaurants, subdivisions, neighborhoods and elected office. Johnny had inspired this city and it existed in his image. His army of grey inspired a young army in blue and each day the young soldiers passed Johnny sent them his love. Johnny whispered words of comfort as Ferguson erupted in enemy protest and sent his moral support to the warriors in his path. Looking back Johnny knew there was no one who could say he hadn’t fought the good fight. Nor had he not been a strong ally of his brother and neighbor Louis and a brother in arms to his distant relation permanently aroused on the St Louis Riverfront for all to see. Every year Johnny welcomed a veiled prophet to proselytize to the faith. After facing weeks of physical assault Johnny knew his time was all but up. After all Johnny had waived the white flag of surrender before. As recognition turned to grief Johnny found solace in scripture. Johnny vowed to live on in spirit after his physical departure from this world. After all, Johnny came to St Louis decades after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. When the last blows came to Johnny to remove his physical presence from this world he said a prayer to himself “I’ve now sacrificed my body for you, I now only exist in spirit and in your hearts, now go and spread my gospel to the uttermost places of St Louis, I shall live through you .”


Our Blood Soaked Streets 

(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. 

Umar Lee is a grassoots independent-journalist. You can become a donor and support my work at Patreon . Follow me on Twitter @penofumar Instagram @umarilee Snapchat @umarlee 

Recent Writings on St Louis Politics 

My Game of Thrones Handicap of the St Louis mayoral race prior to the election. My endorsement of Tishaura Jones hereQuestions for new Missouri Governor Eric Greitens.

Umar Lee, Sarah Kendzior, and Missouri Governor Eric Greitens after a talk he gave at a Bosnian restaurant in South St Louis

Umar Lee and Tishaura Jones at the Missouri State Capitol

Laclede Cab Fired Me for Community Work – My Response

In 2005 I was looking for a job. I’d just moved back to St. Louis after another stint in Brooklyn. The first job I had was working as a courier. I’d drive my souped-up Chevy around St. Louis delivering documents and blasting my radio all day. The money wasn’t good though.

In my cab in 2005 chillin in College Hill by the Water Tower

A friend of mine had been driving a cab for a long time for Allen Cab. Allen is now out of business;  but back in the day was known as the “hood cab company”. He suggested I drive a cab. My friend Kelly Von Plonski from Subterranean Books also suggested cab driving may be good for me because I like to talk to people.  I decided to talk to my grandfather who had been a cabbie in St. Louis in the 1950’s. Grandpa told me driving a cab was hard; but I should give it a try.

I first applied to St. Louis County Cab. They told me I had to shave my beard. Not wanting to shave my beard I headed down to Laclede Cab and got hired immediately. 

For ten years I worked for Laclede Cab outside of three time periods.  In 2006 I went back to New York getting a job working for a market-research company and driving a livery-cab on the side.  In 2008 I went to Washington, DC to work as an aid to Imam Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.  I came back to St. Louis with Fatimah (my then wife) and her sons. In 2009 I had a brief stint in Dallas due to family reasons and drove a cab down there and did some work for ACORN.

Laclede Cab would always hire me back because I had a good relationship with General Manager Kenny Whitehorn. Kenny is a great guy and runs Laclede Cab on a daily basis. He’s also the highest ranking African-American at the company.  I went to McCluer North with his nephew Jesse. 

Not everyone is as cool as Kenny. When I got hired the president was Jerry Standley.  To say Jerry wasn’t a people person is an understatement.  He was known for having a hot temper and firing people just for the hell of it. Before I was hired he reportedly walked around with a ruler measuring drivers hair to make sure it wasn’t too long. Shortly after I was hired he began offering a $100 reward for any driver who’d snitch on another driver for having a cell phone. 

Jerry Standley retired in 2006. However,  his son Stan remained as the company comptroller.  Sam has the honor of being a convicted child-rapist in North Carolina. For years if you wanted a de-seg VICC school-trip taking African-American children in the city to school in the suburbs you had to talk to Sam. Yep good ‘ole Sam the registered sex-offender just the one you want with all the addresses of the kiddos.

Sam Standley. Registered sex offender and controller at Laclede Cab. A child-rapist is cool to Laclede Owner Dave McNutt. Fighting racism and police-violence isn’t.

Every time I had to see the degenerate Sam Standley I had to hold my tongue.  When I asked around as to how the hell this guy has a job for a company that transports kids everyone at Laclede said this is Dave McNutt’s company he does what he wants.

Not every had a problem with Stan. When Jerry Standley retired Adam McNutt ,son of Dave, took over as president.  He was slow to the draw and on the soft side unable to deal with and intimidated by gruff working-class cabbies. Apparently in order to solve this problem retired ex St. Louis County Police Major Ted Hylla was brought in. Later Adam would lead the way to computer-dispatching and modernization. 

Laclede Cab Vice President Ted Hylla is a retired St Louis County Police Major. Since the Ferguson Movement and my involvement in #BlackLivesMatter we haven’t spoken.

No one at Laclede knows exactly what Ted does other than walk around drinking coffee all day. A frequent question is “what the hell is Ted doing here?”. Interestingly while Ted seems to do very little and the African-American GM does everything on a day to day basis Ted outranks the GM.

A lot of drivers think Dave McNutt may have got help from Ted Hylla on some criminal stuff in the past and McNutt has taken care of him in retirement. That’s just speculation with no evidence.  What I do know is that while Ted promotes himself as a stand-up guy and law and order type on a daily basis he can be seen laughing and joking with a child-rapist like best buddies. 

Ted stopped talking to me over my participation in Ferguson protests and movement .  His son is currently a St. Louis County cop based in North County last I heard.  I never was mad at Ted over that. I was working hard doing my job and he had his pro-police position.  Knowing that we would argue and disagree we just avoided each other. 

Dave McNutt to the right. His son Adam, President of Laclede Cab in the middle, and Dave Jr to the left.

One man runs Laclede Cab and that is Dave McNutt.  It was his call to fire me after receiving complaints from racist trolls.  While I’ve put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of Dave McNutt he wasn’t man enough to fire me face to face. Instead he had Kenny Whitehorn come in from vacation.  I love Kenny,  no hard feelings to him; because I know all he did is what Dave McNutt told him to do.

My Twitter feed and Facebook inbox is flooded with support.  I’m feeling the love. Now I just need to translate that into a new job with the quickness and if I can’t do that crowd-funding for the time being.  Several people have remarked this may be a blessing in disguise. People say I’m over-qualified to be a cabbie.  Why is an award-winning writer with bylines in The Guardian and Politico driving a cab?

The truth of the matter is not only do I like driving a cab there hasn’t been a lot of full-time job offers on the table.  Driving a cab you get to meet and talk to all sorts of people from low places to high places.  I talk to them, listen to their stories,  and they listen to mine. I’ll miss them. 

Taking my grandfather a WWII combat veteran from the 1st Marine Division to the polls in 2012 to vote for President Barack Obama.

I have some great Laclede Cab memories.  Driving Fatimah to the hospital to give birth to my daughter,  taking my daughter home from the hospital in the cab, picking up famous people,  having passengers turn into friends,  and other family memories. Some sad ones too. Hearing sad stories and called to tragic scenes to pick people up.

A lot of people have mentioned I should drive for Uber.  My opposition to Uber was never about supporting companies.  It was about supporting working-class jobs. The issue of me being fired over exercising my constitutional right to free-speech highlights the need to organize cabbies.  Cabbies need a union. We need a voice at the table,  a grievance process,  collective bargaining,  health care,  sick days,  a pension. I’ll continue to work towards these efforts. 

I will also miss seeing a lot of the people I had a relationship with at Laclede. Drivers,  the cashier,  the guys that check our oil.  I say to them, especially the drivers,  without a union you can be next.

The party don’t stop.  This dunya is temporary.  Everything is a test.  Allah-willing better things on the road ahead.

If you support justice and freedom of speech and believe my firing to be unjust give Laclede Cab a call at 3145351162 or 3146523456 and ask to speak to Dave, Adam or Ted.