This is my great-niece that I refer to in the article. Her name is Genevieve but I call her Zawadi, KiSwahili for gift. Watching her fight for her life, to be a part of this universe became a metaphor for what’s happening right now in the Black community: We are in the fight of our lives. Baby G aka Zawadi fought to survive and now she’s on her way to claiming her space, her voice in a world that wants to pre-determine her destiny as a Black warrior-child. It ain’t gonna happen. Not. on. my. watch.
Published in St. Louis American, June 23, 2017
After my fellowship in Madison, Wisconsin, I headed to Kansas City to check on family including the premature arrival of my great-niece. I don’t know why she was so anxious to come into this world. During my time there, there were seven deaths including that of a 3-year old child.
Then I came to St. Louis where violence took the lives of 11 people in a week – five homicides happened in a 24-hour period. In that count were the deaths of a seven-year-old and a 13-year old. The combined magnitude of the human carnage was enough to temporarily bring down my high spirits.
The senseless deaths are painful enough, but I know what always comes after deadly episodes like this are more pain, outrage and frustration. The community trauma is real and persistent. But this is the time to be wary of those peddling tricky explanations and fake remedies.
I took to social media after hearing Mayor Lyda Krewson’s response to the current violence with a proposal to find $20 million for more police. This is exactly what you’d expect from someone who received the endorsement of St. Louis Police Officers Association. We should oppose any tax hike or city budget proposal to increase salaries or numbers of cops until black folks inside and outside the department get respect.
There’s a big issue with this re-occurring cure for violence. St. Louis already spends nearly 60 per cent of its annual budget on arresting and incarcerating its citizens. How’s this working for us? It doesn’t work – it is a model that has proven to be ineffective and expensive.
The mayor and other elected officials need to stop hurling these non-working therapies at a desperate and violence-weary public. Stop chanting phrases as if they will release some magical powers. Example: Regarding the recent wave of violence, Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole said, “This has got to stop.” Why? Because you said so?
Cameras are now being pushed to make us safe and catch criminals. Really. Several surveillance cams were put up in the 21st Ward a few years ago when residents were desperate for answers to the violence in their neighborhoods. Today, most of the cams don’t work. I think if people are told the truth about the limitations and costs of these fixes, we could have a more serious, balanced discussion about addressing the root causes of crime and violence. I know the residents could’ve figured out a better use of $600,000-plus with more long-term, meaningful results. It’s called “re-envisioning public safety.”
When oppressed and neglected communities cry out for decent-paying jobs, for more programs and services, including mental health services, our voices are put on “mute.” Those in power don’t think we are deserving of jobs with livable wages and humane working conditions so that we can take care of our families and develop our neighborhoods. We are pushed into economically depressed geographical spaces, and forced to fight for resources in the face of intentional public and private disinvestment. We watch in dejection as other neighborhoods get an economic boost and an affirmation that their lives matter.
Our communities must organize to fight for realistic solutions to these problems and stop handing them off to people who don’t care what happens to us or who don’t know what to do. Until St. Louis and other cities take up jobs and neighborhood stabilization as the starting point of the discussion on violence, our communities should reject magical thinking and their expensive propositions.