“These areas are usually in the poor and minority neighborhoods where jobs are scarce, education is substandard, and the promise of the ‘American dream’ has died. Certain neighborhoods in St. Louis have become the target of intensive police activity, including high surveillance and ‘battering ram’ search warrants,” he wrote. “Obviously, such intrusive tactics increase that resentment and anger toward law enforcement which always seethes below the surface. These intrusive tactics, coupled with detention because of poverty, lead to a destruction of confidence in the criminal justice system. … Mass detention for petty offenses now may give temporary relief but it only postpones the misery to come.”
— U.S. District Judge Clyde S. Cahill in a 1990 court order, as quoted in this June 13, 2019 column by Tony Messenger in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
True changes are generational, something that is consistently frustrating in today’s current work to shift the St. Louis region toward more equitable outcomes. It feels like a slog, that little has changed, yet we know that without the ground work happening today our chances at something different a generation from now are nil.
That same generational reality is important to acknowledge in what we are seeing today. There is a direct connection between the FB posts that have come to light and the shooting deaths of 5 children in the past week and our regional hand-wringing about whether or not or which type of problem it is or whether or not our problem is unique.
Law enforcement officers are people, humans. And, they are employed by The State. Our leadership. Whether it’s 2 or 20 or 100 who are caught (doing whatever), the response by The State, by our leadership, sends a message to The People.
Let’s dispense of the idea that this kind of thing is new. Either the FB posts/behavior or the level of concentrated violence (and poverty, and poor education and and and). Given that, the consistent message from our leadership has been that it’s ok, acceptable, and that any verbal acknowledgement to the contrary is merely performative because here. we. still. are.
The message is: you are not more important than the political will it would take to reverse this trend. You are not a priority. Your experience isn’t valid. Your livelihood doesn’t matter.
And when you deliver that message over and over again (for generations) through every little interaction someone has, when they see it play out for family members, see it reported without context in the media, see it define your city in the national news, spoiler alert: They start to believe you. And act accordingly.
We all hold responsibility for this. Generations of it. And we all hold the opportunity to dig deep right now, or be sure that a generation from now, nothing has changed — except a deeper and more visceral understanding for some that their lives don’t matter.
What we’re experiencing now is showing us that our campaign has been successful, and it’s taken on a life of its own, and it is not and will not be isolated to those one whom we executed it, and it will take all of us to hold all of us and reverse the damage we’ve done.
We have to stop acting like we don’t know better. This is all laid out in so many ways. Pretending that nibbling around the edges will stop things from getting worse is literally deadly.