When I was a teenager, I went to an under-18 club called Animal House. We lived in Walnut Park, so either my mom or dad would drive me and my friends just up the road to North County. It was the spot to go to for kids across our region.
The other event I loved was First Fridays, which went to different venues each month giving us “20-somethings” something to do, somewhere to go where we could hang out and have fun in a safe environment surrounded by our peers. Nowadays, those spaces are hard for our babies to find.
When I ran for this office, I ran on a platform of reimagining public safety to address root causes of crime. Let me be clear - police are not the only answer to keep our neighborhoods safe. What helps make our neighborhoods safer is events and destinations like the ones I grew up with, bringing communities together and giving our young people safe and fun places to go. What creates long-term safety is fostering good jobs and opportunities; someone is less likely to pick up a gun if they can pick up a paycheck with a living wage.
At our first public safety town hall last week, I outlined three principles for reshaping public safety for our city. First, we must use smart-on-crime strategies to prevent crime, protect physical safety, and allow police to focus on solving violent offenses. This means expanding our co-responder programs, like Cops and Clinicians, which has already handled 2,100 calls. Second, we must build healthy communities, combating crime through economic investment in disinvested neighborhoods, workforce development, and more. And third, we are moving towards responsive governing that listens to the demands of the people and develops real solutions to meet community needs, like involving community members in the search for a new police chief.
My son and I often fall asleep to a lullaby of gunshots, and he’s almost been a victim of gun violence himself. Crime is an issue that touches us all; poverty, housing instability, and other root causes converge to create it. While Missouri’s lax gun laws limit our ability to take action with common sense gun safety measures at the local level, we are using every tool in our toolbox to try and help people stay safe. Already, we are using $11.5 million American Rescue Plan funds to help improve public safety through increased funding for violence intervention programs and youth programming, as well as millions of dollars for home repair, small business assistance, and an economic empowerment hub in North St. Louis.
Animal House may have closed its doors, but my administration will keep fighting to create healthy spaces and communities for our youth. With the hundreds of millions of federal dollars left in the bank, we’re pulling together an economic justice package to reinvest in North City and other neighborhoods left behind by the status quo. These kinds of steps are a major part of how we make our entire city safer at the end of the day.
Tishaura O. Jones is mayor of the City of St. Louis.