Reckoning With St. Louis’ Historic Year of Homicides
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Christopher Rea had always loved Christmas. “It was his favorite holiday,” recalls his sister Brandy Tate. “He loved the big Christmas trees and the lights.”
But this year the father of three never had a chance to celebrate the holidays. On December 24, the 21-year-old was discovered shot dead in a vehicle in the Patch neighborhood of southern St. Louis. Tate tells the Riverfront Times that the family are now hoping for answers while the police investigate.
Rea died on an extended bank holiday weekend that exceeded the city’s 260 murder count. This is a terrible benchmark, very close to the city’s “record” of 267 murders since 1993. Rea’s was the third alleged murder investigated by police on Christmas Eve ;; The killings continued on Sunday when three men died in three separate shootings.
St. Louis’ rise to the bloody record set nearly three decades ago is a looming reminder of a much older crisis – and one that affects thousands of lives each year, including victims and their families. But at a time when the COVID-19 response is dominating the region’s attention, the 2020 murder numbers cannot be ignored. They are in a league of their own.
Compared to 2019, which ended with 194 murders, the more than 260 murders this year mean an increase of nearly 35 percent – which seems to be the largest year-to-year increase in a generation. The 76 murders in the summer doubled the death toll in the city’s most violent years.
In fact, 2020 marked the culmination of an entire decade of steadily rising murder rates in St. Louis. As of 144 murders in 2010, the city recorded lows of 113 murders in 2011 and 2012.
By 2015, the murders were undeniably skyrocketing. That year, when St. Louis approached 200 murders for the first time since the early 1990s, Riverfront Times reporter Nicholas Phillips delved deep into the crisis. He analyzed the 2008 murders and outlined the frustration and pointing between the cops. Officials and prosecutors.
While the number of murders in 2015 was shocking, Phillips’ story noted that the murder rate for the year, at 50 victims per 100,000 people, was still well below the city’s bloodiest year, 1993, when the murder rate reached 69.
But as Phillips also noted, the 1993 St. Louis had a population of around 387,000. Nowadays, with around 300,000 residents, the city still has the murder rate of a much larger city. In 2019, St. Louis ended the year with 194 murders and a homicide rate of 65. Now, a year later, the homicide rate has already blasted out of the water in 2019 and 1993: In St. Louis by 2020 there are 87 homicides per 100,000 people.
Globally, a homicide rate of 87 would make St. Louis the fourth deadliest city in the world, just above the homicide rates in the Mexican cities of Ciudad Victoria and Ciudad Juarez, according to a 2019 USA Today ranking.
The numbers are shocking and whether 2020 or 2015 or 1993 there are no easy answers. According to murder statistics released by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, police completed 74 cases that year, leaving more than 70 percent of the year’s murders unsolved. Both Police Chief John Hayden and Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner have cited the lack of public cooperation and blamed witness intimidation for the low number of cases resolved. However, these obstacles were similarly addressed by the city’s former mayor, police chief and chief prosecutor.
City officials have changed. The crisis has not.
However, that didn’t stop U.S. Attorney General William Barr from being ridiculously wrong when he boasted in October that a federal crime initiative reduced St. Louis murders by 49 percent. Louis Post Dispatch.
The crisis continues. From the federal to state to local levels, nobody seems to know how to help St. Louis descend from its bloody climax. The numbers are staggering and incomprehensible in terms of human loss.
For people like Brandy Tate, who launched a GoFundMe campaign this week to pay for their brother’s funeral, the historic year of the St. Louis murders is now part of the personal story of the loss of their family.
“He left three little girls behind,” says Tate. “He was full of life and I just want to ask the public if anyone knows anything. Our family took it hard.”
In an email, an SLMPD spokesman said the investigation into Rea’s death is still ongoing and that anyone with information will be asked to call the Homicide Department directly at 314-444-5371. As a reward, anonymous tips can be left at CrimeStoppers at 866-371-8477.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. Email the author at [email protected]
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