St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards spoke to The St. Louis American two years ago, the day he was appointed by Mayor Lyda Krewson on October 13, 2017. “I understand that a lot of my job will be setting the appropriate tone,” Edwards said, “and reassuring citizens and businesses and visitors that when you come to the city of St. Louis, it will be a safe place, it will be a place that is not in chaos, and it will be a place of peace and beauty.”
If Edwards’ job is “setting the appropriate tone” and reassuring people that St. Louis is “a place that is not in chaos,” he has failed miserably in his shameful handling of the violent deaths of 14 young people, ages 2 to 17, in St. Louis in recent months.
The “tone” he first set in his comments about this tragic carnage on St. Louis Public Radio provoked public condemnation from a coalition of community groups. “Many of the kids that unfortunately were violently killed were teenagers engaging in criminal behaviors themselves,” Edwards said, live on the radio. “And so, while I don't want to be callous, I do want to make it very, very clear that many of the kids that died this summer were very sophisticated.”
A coalition of community groups – Action St. Louis, ACLU of Missouri, ArchCity Defenders, The Bail Project, Close the Workhouse Campaign, CAPCR, Deaconess Foundation, Forward Through Ferguson, Jobs with Justice, Metropolitan Congregations United, Organization for Black Struggle, SEIU Healthcare and WePower – responded with outrage. “This kind of demonization of our children is shocking and unacceptable,” they said. “It builds on racist, dehumanizing tropes about black children and distracts from the public policies that continue to deepen poverty and despair instead of investing resources to create safety and opportunity.”
They called on Mayor Krewson and the Board of Aldermen “to publicly condemn Edwards’ harmful and offensive statements.” Krewson and the board did no such thing. Krewson and aldermanic President Lewis Reed and their chiefs of staff all ignored The American’s request for comment. Krewson’s chief of staff, Steve Conway, did respond to the Post-Dispatch, not commenting on Edwards’ statement but vouching for his “incredible reputation” and “track record” of working with troubled youth. When Edwards appeared before the aldermanic Public Safety Committee on Thursday, October 10, two days after The American published and many others posted the open letter condemning Edwards’ comments, Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard thanked Edwards and Alderman John C. Muhammad told Edwards he was “doing a fantastic job.”
The aldermen, more preoccupied with Jeff Roorda’s posts on social media about allegedly decrepit cop cars, seemed ignorant that they had been publicly challenged to censure Edwards. Edwards himself alluded to the public condemnation of his comments, saying he did not “intend to demonize anyone, but the facts are the facts.” He then proceeded to cite privileged information from ongoing police investigations that publicly incriminated dead young people who could not exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves because they are dead.
In an apparent attempt to mute the outrage at blaming dead children for their own deaths, Edwards testified to the committee that the youngest victims were all “innocent.” That narrows down which of the “many” dead youth were “sophisticated” criminals. Edwards also cited more of the alleged police evidence before the committee, making specific, incriminating claims – but without naming which of the dead youth was killed allegedly carrying the guns, drugs or loot. It’s amazing that Edwards doesn’t see how this is only deepening the hole he is in, as he is making increasingly criminal accusations about a group of dead youth without saying which of these youth he is talking about – and without providing a shred of evidence or the accused having the benefit of any of the criminal justice system’s checks and balances.
This was so outrageous that it drew international coverage from The Guardian US, the New York-based affiliate of the fiercely liberal British daily (so much for “reassuring citizens and businesses and visitors”). Needless to say, given that the dead can’t mount a defense, it’s utterly unfair for a public safety official to accuse and convict them of crimes. When the unconstitutionally accused dead people were never old enough to vote for (or against) the mayor who appointed their accuser – when they were innocent victims of a political system in which they never were given a voice – it’s an unforgivably inappropriate act.
Whatever past “reputation” and “track record” Edwards may have had as a juvenile judge and founder of an alternative school, he failed these dead youths – he is, after all, directing our public safety – and the city that also failed them. His handling of the most troubling and shameful events in our city since the police riots against Stockley verdict protestors two years ago reveals a temperament and judgment that are ill-suited for the task at hand. If his job is to set “the appropriate tone,” he failed when we and our youth needed him most. He is showing us that he is the wrong man for the job of Public Safety director, and St. Louis would be less a place “in chaos” if he resigned.