St. Louis Region: Political State of the Game 1 Year After Mike Brown

Intro

image

Mike Brown. Rest in peace.

More than a year has passed since Darren Wilson shot and killed the unarmed Mike Brown on Canfield Drive in Ferguson.  That moment started a movement against police repression that has since went global.  The world has changed.  Black Lives Matter is part of the national dialogue with even presidential candidates having to take a stand.  Locally what has happened?  What has changed,  what is the same,  and what does the future hold?

Ferguson

image

Protesters take to the roof of the old Ponderosa in Ferguson

Unfortunately not much has changed in Ferguson or surrounding municipalities and thus there is no need for protests to end.  Sure a couple of cosmetic changes have been made such as the firing of some racist employees after emails were made public and Chief Thomas Jackson resigned.  Other than that things are about the same. Predatory courts, agressive policing,  and a city council that still doesn’t look like the city of Ferguson. 

There is an effort to force a recall vote to try and remove Mayor James Knowles from office.  While I’d like to see Knowles gone I don’t think there is the kind of ground-game and political organization to make this happen.  If there is a recall vote there is little doubt in my mind Knowles will remain in office. 

Political organizing takes a long time and Knowles is representing a deeply-entrenched establishment. Organizers need to be looking at the long-game and not the short-game. Much of Ferguson,  definitely amongst renters,  is transient.  Others feel no connection to the system. Organizing is hard work with deferred gratification (if any). A lot of money has been sent to this area in the last year.  It would be nice if some could go to experienced grassroots politics organizers with a history of winning.

North County

image

Ferguson sped up the white-flight process from North County.  30 years on with whites having already fled from most of North County Ferguson convinced many remaining whites to leave for St. Charles County and further points west.  In their mind they can’t live in North County without an agressive police presence.  While not a single white person in North County was killed in the protest movement the site of African-Americans taking to the street sent a shock wave of terror throughout white North County.  The ones who are staying are either hardcore committed solid old North County stock,  tied to a system that benefits them,  or too poor or old to go anywhere else.

Hazelwood is still in good financial shape due to corporate headquarters.  The Ritenour School District (and to a lesser extent Pattonville) benefitting from an influx of Mexican-American, South Asian and Arab immigrants. However,  much of North County is in serious trouble.  Failing schools,  vacant homes,  high rates of poverty,  and high rates of crime. 

The quality of life is down. Closed shopping malls, 15 closed movie theatres from my childhood in North County,  and numerous closed sports clubs for kids. Once a powerhouse in soccer and wrestling those sports are now on life support in North County.  Catholic schools loot the once powerful Suburban North Conference of many of the best football and basketball players. Factories closed. Companies gone.  Churches closed. My grandmother’s church (Bellefontaine Baptist Church) once boasted a large and lively congregation. Now they’re lucky to get ten people on a Sunday.

image

A march in Florissant. Reminiscent of the old Florissant. Not the current diverse city.

Florissant,  where I spent much of my childhood,  is in transition.  The city is still stable; but unless there is an agressive plan of attack it will soon rapidly crumble.  A small town reshaped as a suburban bedroom community after World War II the city of Florissant depends on the strength of housing prices,  quality of life,  good schools,  and city services.  All of those are slipping.

The Florissant of my childhood was an openly racist place. Racist police that found themselves repeatedly under investigation. The old racist element is moving out to St. Charles County or dying.  Left behind is a younger much more diverse population dealing with disinvestment.

The establishment in Florissant still looks as it did 40 years ago. White mayor, white city council,  a mostly all-white police department,  and a board of the Ferguson-Florissant School District that is white.

In the months before the death of Mike Brown over 1000 African-American parents and students attended a Ferguson-Florissant School board meeting protesting the firing of Dr.  Art McCoy,  the popular African-American school superintendent at the time,  by the all-white board.

Florissant will accept change or die. The police of Florissant will reform or they’ll see their own gas stations and stores burned and looted and the remaining tax-base move out of North County. 

Mayor Schneider of Florissant can work to make Florissant an inclusive city and undo the mistakes of his predecessors or he can watch Florissant become a hashtag. 

In the long run nothing can stop the population decline of North County of both white and African-American residents. The ship has sailed. A city can be reborn, it’s always the urban-core, has history, has character,  and is more walkable and transit-friendly. Once a suburb declines it’s over.  The only thing that can save a declining suburb is an infusion of new residents such as a wave of immigrants.  That’s why if North County and St. Louis County leaders are smart (which is highly questionable) they’d do everything they could to lure an organization like the International Institute to North County and lobby for 200,000 refugees over 15 years starting with Syria and the Rohingya.  That would breath life into North County. 

Positives from Movement in North County: A court-reform movement,  police-reform legislation out of Jefferson City,  and what everyone knows is a path that will lead to the disincorporation of many of these useless municipalities and their police departments.  Pressure must be applied to speed up change.

St. Louis County

image

If there was ever a St. Louis County Executive out of place it’s Steve Stenger speaking on Ferguson.  By comparison Stenger almost makes Congressman Lacy Clay look competent.  The Stenger – McCullough team is looking out for South County and West County.  North County doesn’t seem to be a priority unless it’s to declare a state of emergency.  No visible plan for economic or education development,  no serious transit plan, and no leading on police-reform. 

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob Mcculloch is gonna retire with a legacy of not taking police crimes seriously and ignoring the cries from the African-American community.  Stenger has time to improve his legacy although he’s shown no signs of improvement since defeating Charlie Dooley.  We got what we expected. 

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar is part of the same team. I’ll give him that he seems competent and has the respect of his department;  but his heavy-handed policing illustrates the dire need for a civilian-review board in St. Louis County. 

St. Louis City

image

Mayor Francis Slay and Chief Sam Dotson. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

Mayor Francis Slay carefully navigated the past year.  He responded to the protest movement with bending his position on the civilian review board and investing more in social services and jobs programs. However,  he could only go so far without losing his rabidly pro-police white base.

President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed had a golden opportunity to show leadership after the death of Mike Brown.  He failed to inspire. The last year has seen Reed talk about Ferguson with the same lethargic lack of inspiration he had while campaigning for mayor. 

I don’t see Mayor Slay as being vulnerable in 2017. A Slay-Reed rematch would play out the same as last time.  The only thing that can bring this race into question is the entering of a white candidate who could split the white-vote. This doesn’t count favorites of the Cosmopolitan Cartel such as Alderman Scott Ogilvie, or Ed Domain who are low single digit candidates.

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson was being touted as a future mayor. That’s done.  Dotson is toast politically.  Crime is on the rise and he hasn’t articulated a decent plan to combat it. Many in the African-American and social-justice community are upset by the police-brutality he’s oversen. White cops are calling Dotson a wimp and a p****  for not cracking down on protesters harder and see him as a poodle of Slay. I’ve been told race-relations in the department are at an all time low.  There is open-mutiny and insubordination going on in the department.  Rumors have it that major criminal corruption indictments including murder are getting ready to come down for officers.  The St.  Louis City police department is broken.

Who broke the department?  It was an archaic department with numerous problems to begin with and it couldn’t stand the heat of the protest movement.  In the year since the killing of Mike Brown the Black Lives Matter movement has taken down the political career of Sam Dotson and the city police department.  The civilian review board was the beginning. Massive changes are coming. All thanks to the movement. 

Some career advice to Dotson since I think he’s a nice guy. Resign. Do so now.  Bow out gracefully. Take a job working with youth in St. Louis, learn something and rebrand your image. Then take a stab at politics.

The resigning of Jennifer Joyce opens up some interesting possibilities.  Will the movement get behind a viable candidate who will actually charge rogue officers?

This will be Slay’s last term. 2021 will look like Game of Thrones with the possibility of Tishaura Jones,  Antonio French,  Scott Ogilvie, FX Daly, Steve Conway, Shane Cohn, Alderman Carter, Winston Calvert,  Martin Casas, and even Russ Carnahan all running for mayor. Each of these candidates will have part of their fate tied to how well they get along with the movement. 

St. Charles County

image

St. Charles County is resistant to any positive change.  For those of you who haven’t witnessed the hate of St. Charles County firsthand (which is nothing but the old North County racists in newer cul de sacs with bigger Walmarts and buffet lines) please check out the great This American Life podcast on the racist resistance to integration from parents in the Francis Howell School District.  St. Charles County is a hub for bigotry and bigoted politics.  That’s why the Millenial Activists United protest on Highway 70 was so beautiful (something I suggested a year ago). St. Charles County is dragging down our region with its Confederate conservatism. Counties to the west even worse. It will need a steady dose of protests, activism and organizing to be dragged into the 21st Century. 

Congress

image

State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal in a moment of truth calling out Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

I supported the campaign of Congressman Lacy Clay last time around. I knew he was lazy and incompetent; but I didn’t see a Carnahan commitment to North County.  In retrospect I should’ve  voted for Carnahan.  With a world looking to his district Clay managed to crawl from kicking it on the eastern shore of Maryland to Ferguson a handful of times. With really nothing to offer Clay let Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver from Kansas City lead on the issue.  That’s unacceptable. 

For this reason if she chooses to announce I’ll support the candidacy of Stare Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal if she decides to run. Maria is a friend,  a supporter of the movement,  and someone who is far from lazy.

St. Louis Drones: Say No to The “Dotson Drones”

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?

Slay Day, Hubbard Wins and Quick Thoughts

Quick Thoughts on the St. Louis Democratic Primary:

Mayor Francis Slay won as I expected. I did not expect this race to be close and as a matter of fact I bet Alderman Antonio French Slay would win and local bar owner Steve Smith Slay would win by 20. OK, so I got a little carried away with 20: but at the end of the day Mayor Slay won by a comfortable margin. St. Louis voters opted  not to neglect the path to prosperity with a detour into uncertainty. The best mayor anyone in St. Louis has seen in their lifetime was elected to a historic fourth term. Alderman Lewis Reed, gracious in defeat, noted that the media focused too much on the racial-angle as Brother Anthony Shahid, always a man who approaches race with the utmost sensitivity, nodded in agreement. As a city we can now look forward to four more years of progress and staying the course. I was particularly happy during his speech Mayor Slay stated St. Louis would welcome immigrants and look forward to seeing the policies behind that.

Ward 5

If you want to write a book on “ground game” you can call it the Hubbard Diary. That family, plain and simple, knows how to get out the vote. Tamikka Hubbard was victorious over her opponent Michelle Hutchins-Medina. The Hubbard victory happened despite the fact that Hutchins-Medina seemed to be very well-funded and bombarded the ward with mailings. The day before the election I received a mailing at my home containing photos of Alderwoman Hubbard partying taken from her Facebook page. A rather juvenile action if you ask me and one that whoever paid for it didn’t even have the courage to stand on as it had no attribution.  Why did Hubbard win? Plain and simple: people know her and know her family and feel they will look out for them. Hutchins-Medina could not ride the wave the more upscale crowd, loft-dwellers, and the like in the ward have for Hubbard to victory. The fact of the matter is despite her money she could walk the streets of the ward and nobody would know who she was.

Ward 21

Congrats to Alderman Antonio French. In St. Louis there is scant coverage of local and state politics so all of the information was not out there. The city still has no guidelines for the usage of police cameras and as Mr. French has used them for private political purposes before who is to say he will not do it again. A city employee told me if Mr. French wants to shoot a porno with them he is free to do so. Anyway, it is what it is, and God bless brother Kerry Wilson. Kerry is a good man and tried his hardest. No shame in his game.

Ward 1

Sharon Tyus aka her Highness is back. Please say a prayer for a ward I used to live in. They are going to need it.

Ward 6

Congrats to Christine Ingrassia. I don’t really follow south side politics all that tough but if Virvus and Tishaura Jones say you are good then you must be OK.