In East St. Louis, assault weapon fire has become so common that one hardly awakens from one’s nightly slumber because of the sheer frequency of shots being randomly fired.
Neighboring St. Louis is no different, with “We Must Stop Killing Each Other” signs prominently displayed on lawns to illustrate the dilemma of an escalating murder rate, which has gotten out of control, with violence and shootings spilling over into once safe suburban communities.
So-called “experts” state the obvious, that this is the result of insufficient education and high unemployment, compounded by cyclical poverty, single-parent homes, blah, blah, blah. But are these really the reasons?
I’m a product of East Boogie, not exactly the bastion of wealth or the lap of luxury in the Metro-East area. My parents weren’t degreed, but worked hard to achieve the American dream of a home, education for their children and access to upward mobility. I grew up in a neighborhood with everyone from school teachers to blue collar workers to miscreants; there was balance.
Of course there was some criminal activity but nowhere on the scale that we experience today, despite there being a disproportionate number of poor citizens in our midst. That leads me to the conclusion that poverty has become a convenient excuse for crime, murder and devaluation of life.
I concluded this upon returning recently from my second visit to Havana, Cuba (which is truly a poor city). The average salary amounts to about $15 to $20 per month, while degreed professionals such as doctors and lawyers are fortunate to make perhaps $40 to $50 per month. Their biggest luxury these days are cell phones with spotty internet accessibility. Most wear no designer brands, own no cars and exist on basic diets, with meat being a luxury.
Yet, in two years of travel to Havana, I never encountered a beggar, a homeless individual nor anyone of a sinister or suspect nature. I also never once felt afraid, not even at 3 or 4 a.m., as I roamed darkened streets (which appeared to be more like alleys) and frequented local clubs and music venues.
Perhaps it was because policia (cops) were walking beats throughout Old Havana to the Malecon seawall or simply because the culture lends itself to peace. And having traveled throughout the Caribbean, I am convinced that Cuba is the safest island despite being the closest (a mere 90 miles) to the USA. And it isn’t a figment of my imagination or some bias on my part.
Lonely Planet says of Havana that there is “almost no gun crime, violent robbery, organized gang culture, teenage delinquency, drugs or dangerous no-go zones.” That is simply unheard of in 2018. They also boast of a 99.8 percent literacy rate and one of the highest doctor-to-patient ratios in the world, in spite of their poverty.
While back in the USA, East St. Louis is ranked as the “Most Dangerous City in America” by the National Council for Home Safety and Security and St. Louis is ranked as “America’s Most Dangerous City” by the FBI and “the least safe city in America” by a recent WalletHub study.
So what’s the solution? I wish that I knew and refuse to pretend to know as some do. There are groups engaged in everything from foot patrols to concocting clever hooks, slogans and signage (some that are literally bullet-riddled), hoping that it will curtail the violence. Police have tried various policing strategies to no avail. Citizens see crimes in progress but are afraid to reveal the names of suspects for fear of their own lives.
Perhaps a field trip to Havana is in order for some answers on gun control, community policing and just plain community pride. Whatever the solution, I am open because clearly we don’t have one in East Boogie, the STL or America.
And it’s become so bad that, depending on how America eventually normalizes relations, I can envision my eventual bullet-free, crime-free retirement on the beautiful island of Cuba.