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Sorrow, seeking solutions to child deaths in St. Louis

By J.A. Salaam -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Sep 6, 2019 - 9:43:07 AM

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Family displays t-shirts of four family members shot and killed fives days apart.
ST. LOUIS—The Black community of St. Louis is outraged and seeking answers to why young children have died in troubling numbers since last spring. A clergy coalition, congressman and NAACP leader recently called for the giving the city authority to determine its own guns laws in response to the deaths and the sorrow over the losses opened the floodgates to emotion and frustration during a community meeting.

Rep. William “Lacy” Clay (D-Mo.), local NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt and the religious leaders held an Aug. 30 press conference to petition Missouri Governor Michael L. Parson to return the ability to regulate guns back into the hands of local municipalities, primarily St. Louis and Kansas City. “What we are asking for is what law enforcement wants, too. There should be strict guidelines and stipulations for people to carry arms. So if you don’t do it for us, then (we) should do it for (our) constituents,” said Mr. Pruitt. Missouri is an open carry state and carrying of firearms is allowed anywhere they are not prohibited, but cities can limit where firearms are allowed. “Open carry typically is not allowed at churches, polling places and federal property, either. And many private businesses legally ban guns from their premises,” observed the Springfield News Leader. “As of Jan, 1, 2017, anyone 19 or older can carry a concealed weapon without a permit and with no special firearms training, which previously was required. People can still obtain a conceal-carry permit from their local sheriff, though that requires them to pass a firearms training course and get a background check.”

“Governor Parson should act immediately to meet with the Missouri Black Caucus, clergy and community leadership. Like I said, if 19 White children had been killed in one municipality, in the same short span of time, we would not have to beg for him to take action,” said Rev. Darryl Gray, social justice commissioner of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

(L) Woman speaks during town hall meeting about violence in St. Louis. (R) Attendees during townhall meeting express their anger, sorrow and frustration on the violence in St. Louis.

Rep. Clay and several St. Louis aldermen held a town hall meeting at Harris-Stowe State University days earlier where concerned residents dialogued about the killings of children in the city. Joining them were Mayor Lyda Krewson, Director of Public Safety Judge Jimmy Edwards, St. Louis police chief John Hayden Jr., and president of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed. They called for stronger gun laws and solutions to decrease area homicides.

“It’s a national epidemic, it is a public health and safety matter and we need to approach it that way. And we need to put the resources necessary to combat this and if it requires an enhanced witness protection program to identify the culprit to identify the killer, then so be it! But it’s time for us to treat it as a national epidemic,” said Rep. Clay.

The congressman talked about a bill he and others in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing, H.R. 3435, which encourages states to allow local governments to implement laws to reduce gun violence, and other purposes. It is called the “Local Public Health and Safety Protection Act.”

The packed auditorium included families who have lost loved ones, community leaders and residents from St. Louis and St. Louis County. They patiently listened, hoping for answers from speakers until about five minutes into Judge Jimmy Edwards’ speech. He mentioned calling on the FBI, CIA and other government agencies to launch a social media exploitation surveillance program. From the back of the room, Randy Williams, 46, shouted, “Man, that’s bulls—t! Y’all ain’t gonna do nothing. We have heard that same (expletive) before while our babies out here dying in these streets.”

He was escorted from the building by a sheriff.

(L) St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson expressed sorrow for the families of murdered family members. (R) U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay

Judge Edwards responded, “Don’t get upset with him for how he feels, I understand how he feels. That’s why I wanted to hear what he had to say. We must listen to each other.”

From that moment forward the meeting became more difficult to control the rest of the evening as attendees expressed their anger, frustration, sorrow and disgust.

Since April of this year, 19 children ranging from ages 2 to 16 have been fatally shot. The deaths have received national attention and Mayor Krewson offered a $100,000 reward, $25,000 for each of four recent killings at an Aug. 24 press conference. The offer expired Sept. 1. The reason for the small window of time was to create a sense of urgency to get people to come forth with information, said the mayor. One of the latest victims was eight-year-old Jurnee Thompson, who was hit by a stray bullet that struck her in the abdomen. Witnesses said shots were fired after a fight involving about 30 people on a parking lot near a high school football jamboree. Jurnee’s father said he dropped his daughter off with his teenage nephew so she could attend the jamboree as a reward for her good behavior. When he arrived home from dropping Jurnee off, he received a phone call from his seven-year-old daughter saying Jurnee had been shot. The single father has two daughters ages 7 and 11. “One of my biggest fears was not waking up to seeing one of them, and I was faced with that fear, so all I can do is be strong for my other two girls,” he said.

The killings of these 19 children have put this Mid-Western city back in the national news again. Since 2014, the same year of Mike Brown, Jr.’s death at the hands of a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Mo., St. Louis has reported the highest murder rate per capita in the U.S, according to the FBI’s 2018 yearly statistic report. With a total Black population of 157,160 making up 49.2 percent of the city’s population, St. Louis had 66.1 murders per 100,000 people compared to Baltimore, which came in second with 55.8 per 100,000. Though Chicago has a larger population of Blacks, numbering 887,608, and more overall killings than St. Louis, the per capita murder rate was 24.1 killings per 100,000 people about one-third of the murder rate in St. Louis. Over 200 deaths occurred in St. Louis last year as a result of gun violence.

Student Minister Donald Muhammad, local representative of the Nation of Islam and Minister Louis Farrakhan, asked clergy during the press conference, “Supposed the governor doesn’t move and give you what you want? What if the laws are not passed and things stay the same, then what are you going to do? We should not just sit around and wait for a bill or law to pass. This is not about their law, this is a spirit issue. We have a proven way to solve the ills of our people,” he said. “We have to go into the community to confront the issues head on. Jesus said go in the highways and byways, then we can make our communities a safe and decent place to live.”