At this time last year East St. Louis, had a murder rate per capita that was 20 times the national average and 5 times that of Chicago and had been dismissed by many as a hopeless situation.
Our neighbor St. Louis has led the nation in big city murders since 2014 and has a current murder rate of 66.1 per 100,000 residents, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, as we close out 2018, East Boogie has recorded a phenomenal 42 percent drop in homicides, down from 36 to 21 at this same time last year. That minor miracle isn’t coincidental or some computational error, but rather the result of a year-long collaborative effort and partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as with the East St. Louis community.
Project Safe Neighborhood, a federal strategy designed to crack down on violent crime, began one year ago, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Weinhoeft, by targeting violent crime in ESL. One year ago, Weinhoeft met with ESL police to solicit their input in providing the names of the worst and most chronic violent offenders from their community. The project then prioritized those individuals for prosecution on provable offenses as a means of disrupting the violent cycle and patterns prevalent at that time.
As a result, 16 known violent offenders were charged and taken off the streets. The strategy is tantamount to punching an old schoolyard bully in the face and causing his cronies to flee.
During a recent press conference Weinhoeft, along with St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, heaped praise on the Illinois State Police, East St. Louis police, federal and state prosecutors and U.S. marshals, who rank second in the nation in seizure of firearms.
East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon expressed his surprise at the success of the program and cited an incident where he was given the name of a man who routinely carried and fired his assault rifle, to the terror of the elderly in his community, leading to his subsequent arrest.
Notice that last part. An East Boogie resident, despite the mantra of “snitches get stitches,” took the courageous step of providing the necessary information to authorities which led to the arrest of a violent offender form their midst.
I think it speaks to the reality that courage, just like apathy, is contagious. This citizen and others have seen law enforcement step up their game and, therefore, have stepped up their game as responsible citizens who are fed up with the status quo and are now coming forward.
And the more that folks feel comfortable (and their anonymity protected), the more villains will begin to understand that business as usual will not be tolerated and law enforcement will have gained a new ally in their crime-fighting efforts.
This to me spells a Happy New Year for the citizens of East Boogie and a tough new year for would-be offenders. We can only hope that this new found courage by ESL citizens will eventually permeate ESL “politricks” as well.