Eleven children have been murdered in the St. Louis area since mid-June, and as communities and families demand action, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson says no arrests have been made in any of the cases because community members refuse to share any information with police. (Editor’s note: Since the taping of this interview, police confirm someone has been taken into custody in connection with one of the killings.) At the same time, the mayor downplayed the role of alleged police department racism in that reluctance, saying there was no systemic racism in the department.
Appearing on “The Jaco Report,” Krewson expressed outrage at the child killings, the most recent of which occurred Monday afternoon in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Seven-year old Xavier Usanga was shot in the chest and died a few hours later, one day before he was to have started second grade.
“A lot of this we believe is drug-related, a lot of it is retaliation,” Krewson said, noting that the children had been either standing near an intended target or had been hit by stray gunfire. “There used to be a line: No one would shoot in the direction of a child. And my outrage is, ‘Who does this?’”
The first of the recent rash of 11 child homicides was in mid-June. But since then, the mayor admitted, no one has been arrested.
“I am not aware of any arrests that have been made,” she said, adding that the biggest obstacle in the cases was that no one in any of the neighborhoods where the killings took place had been willing to talk to police.
“We have a heck of a time getting folks to talk with us. We know that someone does know who is involved in these situations. I think there is a fear of retaliation from shooters, from folks that are involved in the drug world or other illicit activities.”
But Krewson rejected claims by many activists and residents that distrust of police plays a part in the reluctance of people to come forward, saying, “It is very difficult to get convictions when you don’t have any witnesses who come forward or any folks who talk.”
The mayor also denied charges of systemic racism in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Last week, Detective Sgt. Heather Taylor, head of the Ethical Society of Police, told CBS News that “…there are active white supremacists” in the SLMPD. Taylor and the Ethical Society, an organization for African-American officers, have long said that racist white officers and commanders in the department are evidence of a widespread systemic problem.
The revelation of a series of racist or violent Facebook posts by 22 current and 21 former SLMPD officers, cataloged by the Plain View Project of Philadelphia and first revealed in St. Louis by the Northsider/Southsider newspapers and The Jaco Report, has also led to charges that the department has a problem with entrenched and systemic racism.
But Krewson denied that there is any systemic, widespread racism in a department patrolling a city that’s 48 percent African-American. Instead, she said the problems were isolated and resulted from the actions of a few individual officers.
“That doesn’t generalize to all police officers, the vast majority of whom are out there every day keeping us safer, trying to do a good job,” Krewson said. When asked if this was a systemic problem, or just “a few bad apples,” as the mayor has previously said, she responded, “I think it is definitely a few bad apples.”
The racist and violent Facebook posts brought to light by the Plain View Project have resulted in 13 officers’ being fired by the Philadelphia police. In St. Louis, sources claim, only five officers have faced any sanctions for the posts, and those have been limited to transferring the officers from street duty to desk jobs.
When asked why more stringent punishment has yet to be handed out in St. Louis, Krewson said police Internal Affairs was still investigating. Although she held out the possibility that some officers might be fired, the mayor seemed to downplay the posts. She said that some were several years old and others were “open to interpretation” as to whether they had racist intent; and, for the first time, she revealed that some officers had been disciplined in the past for the Facebook posts that have recently been made public.
“Many of those officers, I’m told, have been previously disciplined for those posts, because some of them have been previously been brought to the attention of the police department,” she said. When asked if she could see any of the officers’ being fired, she replied, “Possibly, yeah. Possibly.”
Krewson said that although the SLMPD was still 130 to 140 officers short, the problem was not money. Instead, she said, the problem is recruiting. She said that as in every major city, there had been a steep decline in the number of people who want to be officers, especially in a city such as St. Louis, where violent crime and murder rates are among the nation’s worst.
And at a time when police reformers and activists are calling for more police officers to live in the communities they patrol, Krewson is taking the opposite tack. She is calling for a city-wide election to approve a measure that would lift the city residency requirement for all police officers.
“I’m personally trying to get the Board of Aldermen to put it on the ballot and get the residents, the voters of the city to vote for lifting the residency requirements for all police officers,” Krewson said. “I think it will help in our recruiting.”
But if statistics from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission are any guide, easing the residency rule would result mostly in the hiring of more white officers. Their study of the 75 largest police departments in the country found that, on average, 49 percent of black police officers live in the cities they patrol, while only 35 percent of white officers live inside the city limits of the jurisdictions they patrol.