OpinionThe NorthSider

Jaco: State Republicans the problem, not solution, to gun violence

Asking Missouri Republicans for help, understanding and legislation to help solve the gun crisis in St. Louis is like asking for barbecued ribs at a vegan restaurant. You’re bound to be disappointed.

And yet, St. Louis political leaders and black clergy seem to think that politely asking for help from a party that has gained and held power through race and class warfare, extremist laws and outright fraud is somehow a good idea.

In many ways, though, you can’t blame Mayor Lyda Krewson, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and African-American ministers for beseeching the state’s GOP super-majority for help. Missouri Republicans, despite having received a little short of 58 percent of the statewide vote, have parlayed scare tactics, voter suppression and gerrymandering into a mathematically improbable 75 percent majority in the state legislature. 

The late Willie Sutton said that he robbed banks because that’s where the money is. And St. Louis residents, faced with a leadership vacuum in City Hall, have been forced to go, hat in hand, to rural Republicans for help because that’s where the power is.

Nasheed asked Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, of Franklin County, to see if his fellow GOP senators were willing to set up an interim committee to explore urban gun violence. Schatz, who lost his father, mother, brother, sister and two nephews to gun violence when his father went berserk with a shotgun in 1992, is sympathetic enough to at least ask. It’s doubtful his fellow Republicans share that sympathy.

A coalition of black clergy met with Gov. Mike Parson at the Wainwright Building downtown to ask for help. They got tentative indications that Parson might let the Highway Patrol enforce city interstate traffic to free up more city officers, and a qualified “maybe” of about a million dollars for anti-crime programs such as electronic real-time monitoring of gunshots.

Whatever happens with any of these well-meaning requests, the cold fact is that they’ve played right into the hands of a Missouri GOP that’s created some of the nation’s loosest gun laws, kicked 97,000 Missouri children off Medicaid and has held on to power partly through a voter ID law designed to suppress the black vote.

To the Show-Me State GOP, the murders of 18 black children age 16 or under in St. Louis and the surrounding low-income suburbs just since April doesn’t show the need for new gun laws, or a study of the root causes of poverty, or job creation programs. What the murders show, in the minds of white rural Republicans, is that the black community in St. Louis is pathological.

To them, that’s the subtext of city leaders’ and African-American community leaders’ asking for help: that “those people” have created a violent, gun-toting hellscape and that now it’s the job of law-abiding white rural Missourians to bail them out.

As a white guy born and raised in rural southeastern Missouri, let me assure you that not one white voter in outstate Missouri will fail to hear that dog whistle. City leaders and black clergy are smart enough to know that. But given their lack of power over the state’s political and law-making apparatus, they felt it was the only option: ask (or beg) for help.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think it will work. Talking to rural Republicans about the corrosive effects of systemic racism, redlining, disinvestment, loose gun laws and other public policies that led to the city’s increasing violence is like trying to explain quantum theory to them in Turkish. They don’t understand, and many don’t want to understand.

Instead, Republicans will use these requests to reinforce the (often not so) subliminal message they’ve spread for decades: that the Democratic Party is the party of handouts to violent urban black people. They will not use these requests to help. They will use them to beat Democrats in general, and black Missourians specifically, over the head.

Look at the demographics. Between the end of the Civil War and 1920, African-American settlers and landowners “disappeared” from much of Missouri as effectively as if they’d been beamed up by aliens. In 56 of Missouri’s 116 counties, the black population is less than one per-cent. Using code to attack black people is an effective tactic in the majority of Missouri’s geographic areas, where white people are as likely to see a unicorn as they are to encounter an African-American.

Gentle persuasion and meek requests merely provide the Missouri GOP with more ammunition. A tsunami of black votes removing Republican statewide elected officials, from the governor to attorney general, would get their attention. So would mass action protests at the state capitol, modeled after the weekly Moral Monday protests that often successfully took on extremist right-wing policies in North Carolina.

But right now, St. Louis’s leadership and activist class is asking for ribs and will probably get tofu, served with a side of racism.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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