Wednesday night, in the Shaw neighborhood an unfortunate shooting incident resulted in the death of Vonderrit Myers, Jr., an 18-year old man. Technically, he was a man, but really, he was still a kid. He was a young black man starting on the path to discover who he is and the man he will now never become. I met him last week while volunteering at the neighborhood food pantry. My heart aches for his mother and family.
While this young man’s death is tragic, I cannot condone carrying a weapon and utterly reject attacking, shooting or threatening an officer of the law. I also reject and deplore violence and protesting that threatens the property and safety of our city and residents. We must remember what Dr. King and the scriptures taught us, that violence only begets more violence.
I personally understand the anger and how these events make African Americans feel like second class citizens. I also believe strongly in the 1st Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, especially, to peacefully air grievances over injustice. However, destroying property and threatening the safety of people we need to convince to affect real change further distances us from achieving a more egalitarian society.
This case, the third such incident in two months, of police officers shooting young black men and the resulting community anger confronts us with questions. Why does this keep happening? How do we stop it? And, how do we bridge this racial divide these incidents have exposed in our community?
As a former Mayor of a different city and a candidate for Alderman in this one, I choose to channel my anguish and frustration towards finding real solutions to move our city forward.
I believe it is time for a community intervention. Over the course of the next few months I will explain these solutions in greater detail, but the following three points are the summation of where we need to begin.
- City officials need to examine and change overall policing strategy and revise the rules on the use of police force. I firmly believe we can police our city without jeopardizing the safety of officers and citizenry; all the while, operating with more racial sensitivity while we do it.
- Everyone, but especially African Americans, need to work to change the level of violence that exists between young black men. We need to focus our efforts at those most at risk. We as a community must advocate for effective policies that achieve this, from strategic overhaul of policing strategy to youth outreach programs. Our criminal justice system focuses on punishing individual acts, not influencing group behavior. No law, no judge, no gun court will change this dynamic. Proven policing policies that truly reduce gun violence exist and have been utilized effectively in cities across America. Now is time we bring them to St. Louis.
- If there is one thing we as a community have learned these past few weeks, it is the ugly specter of racism looms large over our city. Those anonymous comments usually seen in news sites are now being said out loud. I won’t begin to claim I have a solution to this problem, but, now that it is out in the open, maybe the first step is that we all acknowledge the prejudices that exist in our own hearts and strive to understand the different perspectives of one another. Without serious introspection, we can never begin to bridge our differences.
Although we may never end racism or end gun violence, we can find a way to reduce both significantly and heal our city in the process, but only if we move forward together.