Thirteen community groups (undersigned below) issued the following open letter to St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards.
In recent months, St. Louis has experienced a series of tragedies stemming from fatal gun violence in our communities. Most heartbreaking of all, many of the lives lost have been those of children.
In St. Louis city alone, 14 children age 17 and younger have been shot and killed since April. Seven of those children have been age 11 and younger. This painful reality has been a call to action for so many in St. Louis, including those who came together just over a month ago for a rally that centered the voices of young people growing up in this city and demanding a change.
And yet, when asked just days ago about this tragic pattern of children shot and killed this year, St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards chose to blame the children themselves.
“It is important that our children do not engage in risky behaviors. I have been very careful not to talk a lot about the children this summer. Many of the kids that unfortunately were violently killed were teenagers engaging in criminal behaviors themselves,” Edwards told St. Louis Public Radio.
“When they engage in criminal behaviors, unfortunately we end up with 13 children dead. 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."
This kind of demonization of our children is shocking and unacceptable. 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.
Edwards is the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the City of St. Louis. If this is what he thinks of children dying in the streets, it is no wonder that the response from public safety officials continues to focus on police, surveillance, and incarceration.
These people whom we have lost to gun violence were, first and foremost, children. We strongly reject and condemn this effort by Edwards to blame these children for our collective failure to protect them and create the conditions necessary to keep them safe.
Further, we are calling on Mayor Lyda Krewson to publicly condemn Edwards’s harmful and offensive statements, and commit to a major investment of non-police resources in the communities most impacted by violence. Mayor Krewson, the question is simple: Do you agree with Edwards’s view of our children as “sophisticated” criminals? If not, you must speak now and take action to ensure that we save lives, not place blame on the victims we have already lost.
And while Edwards is most directly accountable to the mayor who appointed him, we also call on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to make clear where they stand by censuring director Edwards and affirming the value of life for our community’s children. Edwards’ words are as painful as they are dangerous. In moments such as this, silence is complicity.
There are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings and grandparents still mourning the sudden loss of their beloved children. They do not deserve to have their memories so disrespected by a public official whose job is to serve all of us.
In memory of the children we have lost: Nyla Banks, 10; Myiesha Cannon, 16; Sentonio Cox, 15; Kristina Curry, 16; Jason Eberhart Jr., 16; Eddie Hill IV, 10; Jashon Johnson, 16; Kayden Johnson, 2; Charnija Keys, 11; Kennedi Powell, 3; Jurnee Thompson, 8; Xavier Usanga, 7; Derrel Williams, 15; Devaun Winters, 17.
Undersigned by 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.