Game of Thrones has returned. The epic HBO show began its final season last week after a two-year hiatus. Eager fans, myself included, couldn’t wait to catch up with our favorite—and most despised—characters. “Winter is coming” was the phrase repeated season after season, until finally last season winter finally did arrive and with it came death incarnate in the form of the evil Night King and his White Walkers. Here in St. Louis, this time of year brings conversations among neighbors and at meetings of block units, ward organizations, and neighborhood associations with a similar warning: “Summer is coming”, and with it the violence and death that has made St. Louis notorious for years.
It seems like, as soon as it gets warm, some people lose their damn minds in this city. Cars speeding down main streets. Lanes drawn for cyclists (though, honestly, I rarely ever see a bicycle in those lanes) become passing lanes for reckless drivers speeding around cars in front of them and then usually right through a stop sign or red light. Not a cop in sight.
But this is just spring. Summer is coming. The sounds of gunfire at night will get even worse in neighborhoods like Wells-Goodfellow, Mark Twain, and Jeff Vanderlou. These three areas alone have seen more than 75 shootings so far this year, according to police crime stats. But it’s not just in north St. Louis. Tower Grove South on the south side has already had a dozen shootings, ten more than this time last year. Dutchtown has had 40.
Our reporter, Bill Beene, writes in this issue about another anti-violence march that took place last weekend. This one, organized by Better Family Life, featured dozens of family members marching in remembrance of loved ones lost on the streets of St. Louis. One woman, Patricia Newton, marched for her son who was killed just last week near a south side park. Her grief made worse by the fact that her son’s killer had not been brought to justice.
Ms. Newton and the many other mothers who marched last weekend for their dead sons are just a tiny fraction of the people whose lives have been shattered by gun violence in our city. Every year around 200 people are murdered in St. Louis—sons, dads, daughters, and moms. Many of them children. But these stats are widely known—much to the frustration of city leaders who wish St. Louis wasn’t as known for our incredibly high murder per capita rate. Less known, however, is the number of people shot in St. Louis each year.
In many ways it is the number of people shot that is a better indicator of the amount of violence in our city than the number of people murdered. As grim as it is to think about it, emergency room personnel in St. Louis have become very good at saving people from gun shot wounds. They get more experience than their peers in almost any other city in America.
How much practice? A lot.
Over 2,000 people get shot in St. Louis City every year. Last year, St. Louis police recorded 2,332 shootings. That was down over 10% from 2017 which saw 2,616. That’s an average of seven per day.
That’s a lot of practice for doctors and nurses in the Barnes ER, without whose expertise the city’s homicide numbers would be much higher.
That’s also a lot of lives forever altered. Two thousand. Every year. That’s more than 20,000 just in the last decade.
It changes people. It changes how people move and act around others. It changes the culture of our neighborhoods and city.
It should demand the full resources of the region and the state to reduce those numbers because of the damage they represent—to the lives of our citizens, but also to our city’s reputation and economy.
But that’s not what has happened.
The vast majority of the violence occurs in north St. Louis. The rest mostly in poor, minority areas on the south side. Very little occurs in the more affluent parts of town, the parts of St. Louis that get included in the promotional videos and local TV commercials.
The crisis gets ignored as an issue affecting only some neighborhoods and some people. The police chief says he could do more if people came forward and didn’t abide by the culture of “no snitching” (completely ignoring the “no snitching” culture that exists in his own department, allowing violent and corrupt officers to continue to damage relations between law enforcement and the black community).
That’s not at all to say that people don’t have a responsibility to report information that could lead to some measure of peace for mothers like Patricia Newton. They do. But the situation also isn’t as simple as the yard signs put out by Better Family Life make it sound.
“We must stop killing each other”, the ubiquitous signs proclaim, seemingly putting the burden squarely on the shoulders of those most victimized by the violence to make it all stop.
Summer is coming and hundreds more sons, fathers, daughters, mothers, and children are about to be shot. At least 150 more will be murdered. We know this. The mayor knows this. The governor knows this.
It’s time they came down off their thrones and acted like it. This isn’t a game. And we all are losing.