ST. LOUIS – If members of an online panel who spoke up Thursday night are right, the best way to cut the murder rate in north St. Louis may be the loving counsel of an adult male.
That was the counsel of Black male leaders of the area who spoke in a video panel on public safety on Thursday.“It’s up to Black men to teach Black boys,” said Benton Park resident Keith Antone, a consultant with a wide background in mentoring young people and in radio. The program was the beginning of an ongoing discussion, said Antone, who served as moderator.
In the program, the group of Black male leaders talked about what’s being done to cut the city’s homicide figure, which stood at 262 last year. Of those victims, 206 were Black. Only 76 of the homicide cases were cleared.
The host of the program was Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.“I’m coming tonight not as president of the Board of Aldermen. I’m coming tonight as a father of four kids,” Reed said.
“When I meet some of the young people, I see so much hope in their eyes. I know that they can achieve more. My heart hurts when I see some of the kids end up going down the wrong road, especially young African-American men,” Reed said.
Reed said one valuable resource was Cure Violence, an anti violence program used in cities around the nation and the world. In it, “interrupters” intervene in the lives of those who might commit violent acts. In St. Louis, the program is based initially in sites in the Walnut Park, Dutchtown and Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods.
Reed mentioned his own family when he was growing up. His parents had nine children, and his mother was strict about making sure he did all his chores before he left home.
“She loved me enough to say, ‘It’s Sunday, and it’s your turn to do the lawn,’” Reed said.
Thursday night’s discussion was meant to show how to lift up and provide the resources and opportunities to our young people that seem to evade them, Reed said.Those in the panel included former police Chief Daniel Isom.
“This issue of young men killing each other is not inevitable,” Isom said. He recalled that when he was 10, his uncle was killed by gun violence.
“We must say that violence is not acceptable,” Isom said. “It went back to who were the men in our lives who were models of behavior.”
The current police chief, John Hayden, spoke of the need for people to tell what they know when they see a crime.“We literally plead on a regular basis,” he said.
“To top it off, our gun laws in Missouri are some of the most lax in the country for pretty much anyone that wants to carry a gun,” Hayden said. “When you find an already-distressed neighborhood and distressed community with social ills, and then you introduce guns into that scenario, it’s like pouring gasoline on fire.”
Hayden said he was very optimistic about Cure Violence.
“Safe neighborhoods are obtainable. It’s not an impossibility,” Hayden said.Sean Joe, principal director of HomeGrown STL at Washington University, spoke of the work of his group, which provides services that benefit Black boys and young men, in areas including individual health and well-being and school to work.
“I wanted to be part of a homegrown solution to what’s going on with Black boys and young men,” Joe said. “We have a lot of good solutions in the region, but for some reason it’s not getting to the point where it’s improving the lives of those who are dying out there in the streets.”
And the Rev. Charles Norris, the pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, spoke of his own mother, who told him, “Don’t go to jail, because I’m not coming to visit you.”
Then one day, while he was with a group of friends at a department store, one of those friends stole a pair of gasses.
“They called my mother, and my mother said to take him to jail,” Norris said. “Sometimes, we’re being a little too soft on our children.”