Editorial: St. Louis In Flames Because The Process Worked

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November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

A few months back, when the St. Louis Cardinals were in the thick of the pennant race when the steamy St. Louis summer was still going strong, I was on Delmar Boulevard with some friends in the local theatre community, helping pack up after a fundraiser. I walked along the street in front of the Big Shark Bicycle Company, towards the Pageant concert venue, and my waiting car behind it. That night, nothing happened. Just a few short hours later, in the full light of day, a group of punks walked up on an unsuspecting bystander and beat him down hard, just past the Big Shark building where I'd been the night before. How do I know this? The punks videotaped the whole thing and posted it on the Internet. I would point out that both the victim and these punks were African Americans. This wasn't a crime with racial overtones. It was simply violence for the sake of violence. Along with this shocking video were reports of several murders in St. Louis that previous evening.

Sadly, that's nothing new here. St. Louis is the murder capital of America. Oh, the city will argue that the numbers are misleading because of any number of reasons, not the least of which is St. Louis City is actually pretty tiny compared to the larger metropolitan area made up of various townships and municipalities that surround the city itself. You might have heard of one recently: Ferguson. We'll come back to that in a moment. As I read about the Knockout Gang striking again, about the nightly tally of murder and violence, I found myself getting increasingly angry. What the Hell is wrong with this city? Violence seldom solves anything but boxing matches. Two famous Kings, peace-advocating Dr. Martin Luther King and unlikely cultural icon Rodney King both have offered the same suggestion some 30 years apart: "Can't we all just get along?"

I responded to that article with a short commentary stating my personal view of the subject. I don't give a damn what your race, religion, sexual preference, political point of view, or anything else is. Leave me the hell alone. This stuff, the fear of crime, the fear of getting knocked unconscious and getting kicked and beaten by thugs who don't even have the sense to rob you but just want to knock you out and flash some gang signs on their social media video, the general fear of doing anything in St. Louis anymore was getting to be too much. This wasn't simply local crime. This wasn't just punks being punks. This was terrorism, domestic terrorism. We have a response to it when it comes from Al-Qaeda but when it comes from local punks we just ignore it and wait to see the local media smile their fake smiles while they tick off today's tally of murder, beatings, rape, arson and robbery. Mostly we're just waiting to see what the weather is going to be despite most of us having at least one weather app on our ever-present smartphones, and of course we want our Cardinals highlights. My post got some angry reactions and four times as many "likes." The ones I'd made angry were the bleeding heart, every criminal is someone's son or brother or husband--how dare I suggest an armed response on par with what we'd do if a "real" terrorist committed these acts! I didn't bother countering that every victim was someone's child or sibling or spouse too.  

A week later, Michael Brown was dead in the middle of the street in Ferguson. The first thing I thought was, "This ends with an army involved." I wish I was wrong. My comments from the week before now seemed prescient. 

Now, roughly 100 days later, the words "Ferguson, Missouri" have been uttered by every newscaster in America and many across the world. President Obama interrupted his vacation to address the matter. It's even been discussed at the United Nations. All of this is pretty incredible...and incredibly embarrassing for St. Louis. I grew up near there. I had family that lived there. I drove through Ferguson daily on way to the University of Missouri--St. Louis as an undergrad in the early to mid 1990s and occasionally stopped in town for breakfast or lunch. Over the years, I became the minority. Surprise folks! That works both ways! I've felt the stares as I walked into a all-black store or restaurant. I didn't care, and I still don't. In this country, the only color that should matter is green. My cash spends just the same as that of an African American, or a Latino, or an Asian or a real American--the native people who should be first in line with an axe to grind--no pun intended. 

I've been privileged to call people of a wide variety of colors, faiths, politics and sexual preference friends over the years. I've even befriended a Cubs fan or two (how's that for tolerance?). I'm a pretty patient and open-minded fellow, but using a young man's death as an excuse to cripple our city in the grip of fear is something I cannot abide.

Standing in the rain, snow, highway, whatever, demanding things you can't get that way isn’t helping anyone. Nobody had ever come up with a job package, an economic stimulus, an education plan, or multicultural unification blocking traffic in the middle of the damned street. The real work is done in courtrooms, in city halls, in Board of Education meetings, in electing better officials than the ones we're always offered or in voting out those that aren’t working for you but merely pocketing special interest money for themselves. Dr. King's protests for equality didn't cripple local businesses or burn down QuikTrip gas stations. They got people's attention. The real work was done inside, behind closed doors, between smart people representing the movement and presumably smart people who wanted change too. Nobody wants the police in St. Louis to be able to shoot suspects at will. Police don't work that way. It is true that the police forces in this community, in general, are not terribly representative of the communities in which they serve. Statistics almost unquestionably show a higher degree of stops, searches, arrests, tickets, etc. for minorities, especially African Americans. Quite frankly that sucks. It's deplorable. It's intolerable. It's no excuse to burn down your community. And it only in broad terms has anything to do with Michael Brown, a black teen killed by a white officer in a predominantly black town. It could have been anybody else and it would still be tragic. Officer Darren Wilson probably could have handled the situation differently, but he didn't. A grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict him on criminal charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to murder in the first degree. Was it a bad shoot? I don't think too many folks, even in law enforcement, would arge that it wasn't. Was it a criminal action by Officer Wilson? No. The process worked.

That's when all Hell broke loose tonight. 

No justice, no peace, that's the motto, right? I know that there are a number of peaceful protestors on the streets tonight. I know they think they're doing something good, something constructive. Their message isn't being heard. It's been hijacked by domestic urban terrorists. These terrorists aren't interested in justice. There's none to be had. I'm sorry that the truth hurts to hear but it isn't a crime for a policeman to shoot a suspect who, as made evident by the media already, had attacked the officer. It could have been handled differently. It could have been handled without gunfire and a loss of life. It wasn't. And it will happen again. Do I have to live in constant fear not only of criminal activity but of reprisal to random businesses and civilians every time an officer of the law deems it necessary to protect the public welfare, or at the very least his own, with his legally issued sidearm? Even without a grand jury indictment, Officer Wilson cannot continue his career in law enforcement in Ferguson, and quite possibly not in Missouri. His life will be forever changed by his actions resulting in Michael Brown’s death, and that’s all the justice there is to get here.

 The Constitution gives everyone the right to peaceful protest. It gives no one the right to shut down businesses and schools and put fear into the hearts of the people. That's not justice. That's not peace. That's terrorism, and there's no place for it in America no matter what race you are, or where your outrage lies in the Michael Brown/Officer Wilson case. 

Grow up, St. Louis. Try to create positive change in this town by exchanging your grievances and your ideas for a better, more tolerant St. Louis in a diplomatic fashion. Terrorizing the town through mob mentality will get you precisely want you don't want: more bad press, more negativity towards otherwise legitimate grievances and more dead in the streets.