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

Intro

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

At Stop the Killing Rally and Interviewing Boone

Over the years I’ve had countless friends murdered in St. Louis. My brother-in-law was killed less than two weeks ago.  I support any positive effort to reduce violence in our community.  Tonight the Rescued Church held a Stop the Killing March leaving from Sarah and Washington.  I interviewed church member Renata and her friend. 

On this same corner billboard sign company owner Boone is camped out on top of a billboard until their is seven consecutive days in St. Louis without a murder. Right now there has been three days.  Let me also state that I don’t disagree Boone strongly on some matters.  Boone allowed the Islamophobia hateful billboards of Pam Geller.  He also indicated he isn’t really a supporter of Black Lives Matter.  However,  on the issue of stopping the killing in St.  Louis we’re in complete agreement. I’d like Boone to extend his compassion to Muslims.   Check out our interview

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St. Louis: Reflections on Our Violent City After the Death of My Brother-in-law

For years our big urban progressive supporters have said St. Louis isn’t dangerous.  “Oh its just the way they count the numbers” or “they don’t include the county and they include East St.  Louis” . Studies like this are making those arguments harder and harder. 

There has never been any doubt in my mind St. Louis is dangerous.  Over the years I’ve known dozens of people who’ve been killed on these streets and I’m hardly alone. Many in this city have known many more victims than me. Many have been dodging bullets since elementary school. 

This past Saturday my brother-in-law Shelby Polk was shot and killed leaving a bar in Soulard. His father was murdered eight years ago. Shelby, or “Chubb”, as he was known, leaves a widow (my sister Sunni) and 5 children ages 3 to 16 (I’ve asked her if she wants me to raise money for her online; but she was too distraught to even think of that).

Life is short. We’re not promised tomorrow. Everything is in the Divine Decree and man plans; but Allah is the best of planners.  I don’t believe in prolonged mourning.  I believe in learning lessons and actions. 

The greatest issues in our city aren’t the lack of Uber,  bike lanes,  and cocktail parties. The greatest issues for our city are the same as they were 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Racism,  poverty and violence. All three are related.

This city isn’t alone in dealing with these issues;  but this is where we live. We need a regional plan for combating violent-crime that isn’t just about hot-spot policing and greater surveillance.  We need a plan that addresses root causes. A plan that’s bigger than government and bigger than progressive inclinations of throwing money at problems and feeding already failing bureaucracies and NGO’s.  A plan that includes houses of worship engaging with the community, schools,  and families. 

A young person with nothing often feels no fear of death or taking another life. Everyone has failed them in their eyes why should they care about those who don’t care for them? We need to give them something to live for. Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change the conditioning of themselves (Quran).