“We would be safer if we lived in a war zone!” Residents and police react to string of shootings involving kids

Six children shot. Four of them dead.  All in a week’s time in St. Louis. It’s a situation that gives new fuel to the widely held belief that gun violence in St. Louis has reached a point where it is completely out of control.

In May alone, 25 people were shot to death, bringing this year’s tally to 85 as of June 18.  That is up slightly from the same time last year.

The string of youth shootings began in June.

On June 8, Jashon Johnson, 16, was shot to death. The next day, 3-year-old Kennedi Powell was killed in a drive-by shooting. The following day, 11-year-old Charnija Keys was shot and killed in her home. On June 12, Myiesha Cannon, 16, died after being shot in the head. The next night, a 5-year-old girl whose name was not released was shot.

Police say that, at this point, all five shootings are unsolved.  Mysteries.  But while none of the incidents has produced any answers, they’ve all led to fear, anger, and in some cases rage in the neighborhoods where they happened.  What do police know?  Very little.  It’s both surprising and upsetting to the city’s “top cop,” St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden.

“I would have hoped in these cases that we could have a resolution and an arrest with respect to them, but the adults and teens who are in and around these toddlers during these incidents have been less than forthcoming in many of the incidents,” he said.

As with the perceived “code of silence” among police, many residents’ lips are also sealed.  They refuse to “snitch.”

Sultan Muhammad, founder and director of Real Talk Inc., a youth empowerment group, said victims usually didn’t come forth because they might be thinking of retaliating.  The cycle continues to spin, with one shooting leading to another.

Sometimes those willing to talk simply don’t have a lot of information.  That’s exactly what is happening in the case of 16-year-old Sumner High School student Myiesha Cannon. She was shot in the head last Wednesday on Lexington Avenue about a block west of Newstead Avenue in the Greater Ville.  She was inside a neighbor’s home.

Police are calling her killing suspicious, and the Homicide Division is handling the case.

“We lost another child to gun violence, and it hurts so much because she was such a good girl,” said Myiesha’s aunt, Angela Sledge.  “We want justice; it’s a shame that this child’s life ended at such an early age.”

Myiesha’s brother and her close friends were gathered Wednesday on the front porch where she lived.  They had constructed a makeshift vigil.

“We hear gunshots around here all the time, as a kid you hear it and when you get older you have to deal with it, but it hurts when it’s one of your own,” said Ramon, one of her close friends.  He didn’t give his last name.

In early May of this year, when nearly 20 people were shot in a single weekend and children were among the victims, minister and street preacher Cecil Rogers preached about it on the corner of Natural Bridge Avenue and Kingshighway.

“It’s sad these kids are getting killed,” Rogers said into his microphone from a pulpit on the sidewalk of the popular north St. Louis intersection.  For those not close enough to hear, there was a speaker mounted on his car to project the message.

“They may not accept it, but they hear it,” Rogers said.

Rogers knows that it is a common school of thought that “killers” such as the ones creating havoc in and around St. Louis aren’t “church boys.”  That’s why he has taken his message to the streets for nearly 40 years.

“These churches have to come out and preach, the battlefield for the Lord is out here; our children are dying and going to jail to be sexually abused,” said Rogers, whose own son was killed two weeks ago.

“We would be safer if we lived in a war zone,” said Roland Finger, a former St. Louis Golden Gloves boxer.

Like many local leaders and community leaders trying to make sense of children being shot, Finger referenced the late slain rapper Tupac Shakur’s song “No More Pain,” in which he says he’s going to “blast on sight.”

That’s a street code that some engaged in feuds live by, meaning that they shoot as soon as they see the person they’re feuding with, without attempting to see if the person is alone.

Muhammad said, “When we were coming up, guys would make sure elders and children weren’t around whenever they had beef, but today, they are a different breed.”

“Even in their music now they will have lyrics that say, ‘Not only will I kill you, I will kill your grandmother,’” he added.

Muhammad also said the youthful shooters were operating off of raw emotions including fear and rage and lacked the kind of intervention they needed. He said leaders had to step in so grandmothers could sit peacefully on front porches and children could play safely.

“People don’t understand the psychology of the sub-culture of this concrete jungle in America, and so many innocent people are being caught up because they are friend, neighbor or family member of someone who lives at an address that is amongst this chaos,” Muhammad said.

“We have to understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of intervention,” Muhammad said. “Now is the time to prevent the next generation of youth who will create gun violence, but it has to be people who can go to where they are and speak their language.”

Hayden said that 50 percent of the crimes in the city were drug-related and that 35 percent involved feuds and personal vendettas. Along with more police officers and victim and witness accounts, he said, people should police themselves.

“What would help us is if a person could not do a lot of risky behavior, not get involved in illegal activity and not do things like meeting people that they don’t know for sales and various things,” the police chief said. “They go into the neighborhood and they are not familiar with the neighborhood; they go on Facebook and try to do some high-dollar sale.”

He considers that to be risky behavior, believing those who engage in it may be asking for trouble.

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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