As a mother, an elected official, and a St. Louisan, I am deeply saddened by the recent deaths of several children in our community.
Failing to protect our children is a tragedy. Child safety isn’t just about solving individual crimes, but is a byproduct of living in a community with thriving neighborhoods that invest in people.
Recently, Mayor Lyda Krewson opened a press conference by admitting that “conventional policing tactics are not enough.” Then she called for more of the same.
The mayor announced a $25,000 reward, courtesy of billionaire conservative political donors Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, for information related to the recent shootings that claimed the lives of young children. The reward has a one-week deadline.
Like so many others in our region, I want these murders solved, but we cannot divorce Sinquefield’s small acts of charity from his assault on government, which funds the types of neighborhood investment and services that reduce violence.
In Anand Giridharadas’s book “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” he argues that philanthropy can’t outweigh the misdeeds of wealthy benefactors. Sinquefield has spent millions of dollars trying to eliminate St. Louis’ earnings tax, sell our airport to a private entity, and eviscerate black leadership through a failed city/county merger scheme ironically named “Better Together.”
So what can we do now to protect our children? We cannot double down on outdated, ineffective, expensive “arrest and incarcerate” criminal justice tactics. This is not the transformative change St. Louis needs. There is no silver bullet for violence, but we can act by doing the following:
- Decrease poverty by raising minimum wages for city workers to $15/hour or more and encourage local businesses to do the same;
- Fully fund evidence-based violence prevention models for every neighborhood with violent crime;
- #CloseTheWorkhouse and invest the $16 million annual savings into prevention programs;
- Increase access to medical treatment for mental health and substance abuse;
- Donate to the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation and fund social services to give our families the education and support they need for a better future; and
- Invest in financial empowerment programs, including College Kids, and mortgage lending programs, to help our communities invest in themselves and reduce the racial wealth gap.
Reducing poverty isn’t just about freeing up more money to fight crime. Police have difficulty solving crimes because they devote too much of their time dealing with the symptoms of poverty. Evidence-based programs realize that communities, not police, prevent violence. Prevention models such as Cure Violence, Focused Deterrence, or The Richmond Model provide community members with jobs, stipends, and other resources as alternatives to criminal activity.
Additionally, locking up people for minor drug infractions can lead to a negative relationship with the same community they are trying to police. Holding citizens for long periods of time who cannot afford bail in the jail or Workhouse further erodes trust in the justice system. As a result, community members may be less willing to work with the police to solve violent crimes. Improving community interactions with the police will lead to a higher rate of crimes being solved.
Our children are worth more than $25,000 and one week. Our children’s futures are priceless and limitless. Let’s use a portion of the city’s $23 million surplus, and savings from closing the Workhouse, to invest in real, transformative change.
No more ineffective jails or tax giveaways for wealthy developers. It’s time to invest in people.
Tishaura O. Jones is the treasurer of the City of St. Louis, the first woman and first African-American woman in that position. Her office’s investment strategy has yielded over $25 million for the city, and its College Kids program has helped 13,500 city students save nearly $1 million for higher education. Jones previously served as Minority Floor Leader in the Missouri House of Representatives.