A 2012 report from University of Missouri–St. Louis criminologist David Klinger found that, from 2008 to 2011, St. Louis police officers fired their weapons 98 times. “Any comparison across cities right now is still missing the lion’s share of circumstances in which people are shot by the police,” Klinger saidto the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There are only a smattering of cities that report their officer-involved shootings, and when compared against them, St. Louis is on the high end.” The data on police violence is incomplete, as there is no federal effort to pull together information on unjustified homicides.
Well, I think first of all, we should be mandating that cops keep track of how many times they shoot someone to death. The next step of course would be to get them to shoot people to death less often but let’s be generous. Baby steps. Find out how many people they shoot to death now.
As of 2010, 42 years after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, greater St. Louis was one of the most segregated areas in the United States. And segregation comes with a familiar set of problems. Middle-class neighborhoods—and thus middle-class services—are few and far between, with most wealth concentrated in the farther, whiter reaches of the county.
Politicians love to promote racial healing and equality by holding come-together sessions in churches and eating dinner with leaders from various communities and whatnot. You know what they don’t like doing? Talking about building inspections and street-sweeping schedules.
But when you think about a “ghetto,” what do you think about? Boarded up houses, vacant storefronts, cracked sidewalks, gutters that haven’t been cleaned in months and Cheeto wrappers clogging up the sewer drains. You think of trash-strewn lots with rusted fences and graffiti on train platforms.
You know what keeps that stuff in check? Code enforcement. Requiring landlords to maintain property standards. Crackdowns on absentee ownership of apartment buildings and violations of occupancy limits.
That kind of investment is hard and it is expensive and it is boring and nobody wants to talk about it because it doesn’t come with a photo-op of smiling children learning to crochet or whatever, but it does more to improve the reputation of a community than a thousand listening sessions.
Double the number of building inspections in a city and people will start to understand that that city cares about how they live.
Moreover, as New School professor (and former St. Louis politician) Jeff Smith explained for the New York Times, overwhelmingly white labor organizations and other groups run effective get-out-the-vote operations, which bring thousands of voters to low-turnout elections and ensure white dominance in local political bodies. It also helps that area municipal elections are held in the spring, on off years, a Progressive-era election reform that dramatically lowers turnout. In the 2012 presidential elections, turnout for Ferguson blacks was 54 percent. The next year, in municipal elections, turnout had dropped to 6 percent.
Voter registration drives have already started and need boosting and money. It would behoove the national party not currently quoting George Wallace to take what it normally blows on lunch and send it to the chapter office nearest Ferguson. Possibly some interns as well.
Soon enough, demonstrators will be chanting the name of another young black man killed by another agent of the state charged with containing blacks, not protecting them.
Which is a harder nut to crack, since “keep them over there” is practically our national motto.