St. Louis must tame the violence

ST. LOUIS (AP) – The next St. Louis Mayor will face the same daunting challenge that has posed the current Mayor and many of her predecessors: violent crimes are widespread, and efforts to combat them have failed.

Known for its gleaming Gateway Arch, the city is full of charming neighborhoods, great restaurants, and world-class hospitals and universities. St. Louis has a world-class zoo, art museum, science center, symphony orchestra and botanical garden among its many jewels.

But the crime is relentless. The St. Louis homicide rate has been among the worst in the nation since the 1990s. The city reported 262 murders last year, 68 more than in 2019. 17 victims were 17 years or younger.

And the crime takes an economic toll. Block by block, stately homes were left behind on the flight to the suburbs. The city had 856,000 inhabitants in 1950. Today it has about 300,000 inhabitants. The big employer Centene Corp. announced in June that it would create thousands of jobs in North Carolina rather than at its St. Louis County headquarters. CEO Michael Neidorff made it clear that the company is upset by crime related to St. Louis.

The four mayoral candidates offer different plans to curb the violence, but agree that this is a top priority.

Democrats Tishaura Jones, Lewis Reed and Cara Spencer and Republican Andrew Jones will face each other in a new, non-partisan format on a first Tuesday. The top two voters will move on to the April 6 general election. The incumbent Democrat Lyda Krewson is not seeking a second term.

67-year-old Krewson was elected the city’s first woman mayor in 2017. Her husband was killed in attempted carjacking in 1995, and Krewson was a crime-fighting advocate.

Krewson immediately left her own mark on the police. Former boss Sam Dotson abruptly retired on her first day in office in 2017, choosing department veteran John Hayden as boss. But the violence hasn’t let up.

Announcing her decision not to seek re-election in November, Krewson said elections “are about the future.” She said at the time that challenges from crime, COVID-19 and other issues were not factors in her decision.

The recent election in St. Louis favored progressive Democrats, leaving Krewson, a self-described moderator, with potentially long re-election opportunities.

Kim Gardner, elected as a circuit attorney in 2016, reduced detentions, stopped prosecuting minor crimes such as marijuana possession, and clashed frequently with police. She easily won re-election last year.

Racial justice activist Cori Bush now represents St. Louis in Congress after her staggering loss to 10-year-old William Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary in August.

For Reed, the 58-year-old President of the Board of Aldermen, crime is a “personal problem”. His brother Eugene, 32, was shot dead in Joliet, Illinois in 1989.

“I know what these families are going through and I don’t want another family to go through it,” Reed said.

Spencer, a 42-year-old alder woman, picks up cartridge cases while jogging every day. It only took a few months to fill a pint glass.

“I plan to address a lot of issues, but let me be clear: unless we are dealing with violent crime, nothing else matters,” said Spencer.

Tishaura Jones, 48, city treasurer and former state representative, wants to hire more social workers, mental health advisors and substance abuse advisors instead of adding more uniformed officers.

“The public safety arrest and detention model obviously doesn’t work,” she said. “And in cities where more police have come, those cities are no safer than they were before. So we have to do something different. “

In contrast, Andrew Jones wants more money for the police. Jones, 60, a utility company, said most of the murders were drug and gang related.

“We know these people who are the problem and it is only a small number of people who commit these crimes,” he said. Andrew Jones and Tishaura Jones are not related.

Reed agrees that underlying issues such as poverty and mental health need to be addressed. He said the city also needs to better arrest and convict violent criminals. According to the city’s police department, two thirds of the murders remain unsolved.

“What I plan to do is focus every available urban resource and use state and federal partners to find unresolved cases,” Reed said.

Spencer advocates a model of “targeted deterrence” that links those at risk of violence with self-help but makes it clear that those who get caught up in crime face the consequences.

There have been several fatal police shootings of black suspects in St. Louis in recent years. Spencer and Tishaura Jones said the shootings shattered public confidence in the police and made it difficult to fight crime.

“If the witnesses and victims of crime do not trust the police department, they are not giving them the very important information our law enforcement agencies need to solve this violence,” said Spencer.

This distrust became evident during demonstrations after a white officer fatally shot and killed the black and unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014 in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

Protests erupted in 2017 after former police officer Jason Stockley, who is white, was acquitted of killing Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black. Police arrested more than 100 people, including journalists, during a protest. Some of those arrested accused the police of brutality.

The streets filled again with protesters after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last summer. Krewson’s house has been the site of demonstrations that prompted her and her husband to move temporarily.

Washington University political scientist Betsy Sinclair said the new voting format offered hope for a turnaround. She believes candidates are more issue-focused than politics, and voters are more engaged.

“I think this is a great moment for the city of St. Louis,” said Sinclair.

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