WEST END — The very group of people whose lives and livelihoods public servant Joseph Palm is most concerned about making better, almost took his life in a violent carjacking on Oct. 7.
Palm, a 17-year committeeman in the 26th Ward and a veteran boxing coach, had just left Wohl Community Center, where he trains and mentors young boxers.
He pulled up to his home in the West End about 7:30 p.m. and reached to the back seat for his gym bag. When he turned back around he was met with a combination that even a trained boxer couldn’t counter.
Two masked, black-clad gunmen had quickly run up, their weapons pointed at Palm’s face.
Palm is licensed to carry, and he thought of reaching for his gun. But not only did they have the ups on him, they stood about 8 feet from one another. That meant that even if he had shot one of them, the other could have shot him.
So instead Palm got out of his vehicle, fearing for the worst if remained inside. Once outside the car, he slowly walked backwards, tossing the carjackers the keys on demand. Then his work and personal cellphones.
“There’s no problem — just don’t shoot me, just don’t kill me — I’m not trying to die,” Palm reasoned.
Instead of immediately taking off in the car, both gunmen approached Palm. One began hitting him in his head with a gun. The other stood back with his firearm, aiming to freeze any movement from Palm.
When blood began spilling down the Palm’s forehead, he decided to take off running, fearing that he might bleed to death or be knocked unconscious.
Had it not been for his ability to take a punch, especially from slips by two nationally ranked heavyweights that he trains, the gun-jabs would have probably at least knocked him out, he said.
He made it to the alley, where he ran zigzag. He believes that becoming a moving target kept them from firing.
Drenched in blood, Palm made it to the back door of an elder neighbor, who allowed the bloodied committeeman in, aided him and called 911.
“This was the worst thing that ever personally and physically happened to me in my life – I didn’t have any control with two guns pointed at my head,” Palm said.
“People say what they’re going to do, but you’d better be careful what you do when you have two guns pointed at you,” he warned, saying that he was blessed to be alive.
Palm believes that before ambushing him, the two carjackers hid near an adjacent home with tall, unkempt bushes that had been the subject of complaints.
He advises residents to keep their shrubbery and bushes trimmed and to carefully watch their surroundings. People should invest in cameras and increased lighting where affordable, the committeeman added.
Fellow carjacking victim Marie Moore, whose car was taken a few years ago in broad daylight, offered this insight:
“It’s not always the usual suspects either — not always the ones with the signs that say, ‘I’m going to rob you,’” she said. “One minute they were walking down the street dribbling a basketball and the next thing you know, they were driving away in my car.”
Flyers on carjacking prevention that city police Chief John Hayden is passing out to residents at his mobile reserve events list the following facts and precautions:
- Carjackers look for distracted drivers. Always be aware of your surroundings, and keep your car keys out of plain sight.
- Keep your car doors locked, and be aware of people approaching your vehicle. Park in well-lit, busy areas where there’s less chance of becoming a victim.
- Your property can be replaced, but your life cannot. If you become the victim of a carjacking, do not chase after the subject. Get to a safe place and contact police.
Palm said the violent crime not only cost him a banged-up head and scar (a nurse at the treating hospital got a smile out of him, relaying that “chicks love boys with scars”), it rocked him financially.
There were the costs of the ambulance transports, insurance deductible and getting his car rekeyed and out of impound in East St. Louis, where it was later found.
“Crime costs,” Palm said, “especially Black people because a lot of the crime is happening in north St. Louis (and probably north St. Louis County), and it will change your whole damn existence if you get jacked like I did.”
Continuing, he said, “We have to do something better with schools, employment and economic development for these communities; we’ve got to do more to help these young black men, because we can’t let this be the norm in our community.”
Ironically, Palm, a public servant, has been working to make things better for those communities on both the city and state level.
“That’s what hurt me most — as a public servant, I’ve tried to help youths and elders for years,” he noted. “It’s like trying to bring someone a meal and they’re shooting at you.”
Still, Palm has a soft spot for at-risk black youths, including the two that accosted him. If he could talk to them, he said, he would ask them what got them to that point and what he could do to prevent them from arriving there again.
He believes they should pay for their crimes, but be rehabilitated and help someone else who is heading down their road.
As of Nov. 5, there have been 297 incidents coded as “carjackings” citywide, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. That’s 20 fewer than the same time last year.
There had been 10 carjacking incidents from January to September of this year in Palm’s West End neighborhood. There were seven during the same time period last year, a 42.9 percent increase.
The SLMPD relayed that they had an anti-crime force, a group of officers who specialize in dealing with stolen vehicles, which was paramount in establishing the Metro Carjacking Task Force. It’s a multi-jurisdictional group including local and federal partners.
“Because carjackers are not confined by boundaries, our department decided to create a group and have meetings in which the goal was to streamline the information-sharing between agencies,” said Michelle Woodling, public information officer for SLMPD.
“This group has assisted us in intelligence-led policing when investigating carjackings. Through this network we are able to notify other departments about the carjackings in almost real time.”
Palm thanked the police department, which he said reached out to him, including the chief and officers on his case who checked up on him daily.
He also thanked fellow local officials who reached out to him, including his neighborhood’s state senator, Karla May (D-4th Dist.), and alderwoman, Shameem Clark-Hubbard (26th Ward), who drove him home from the hospital.