Going to the football jamboree at Soldan High School on Friday, August 23 was a “reward” for eight-year-old Jurnee Thompson’s good behavior during her first two weeks at school.
“I got not one call from the school and not one bad report,” said Rasheed Thompson, Jurnee’s father. “I asked my baby twice if she wanted to leave. She said, ‘Yea.’ She hugged me. She kissed me and told me, ‘Bye,’ not knowing that would be the last time I would see my baby.”
Jurnee was shot and killed by a stray bullet while leaving the football game that night. Thompson spoke at the candlelight vigil held for his daughter at her school Herzog Elementary on Wednesday, August 28. It was also a vigil for the 20 children killed by gun violence in St. Louis in 2019. The event was organized by radio stations 95.5 The Lou and Radio One Hot 104.1 and community organization Better Family Life Inc.
Jurnee’s killer remains at large, and CrimeStoppers is offering $25,000 rewards until September 10 for supplying information about her case and those of three other children. While several others speakers emphasized the need to “say something if you know something,” Thompson’s heart-wrenching words brought the hundreds in attendance to tears.
“I think people got it confused between snitching and telling,” Thompson said. “Snitching to me is you go do a crime and one person gets caught and they bring up your name. When a grown person or teenager murders your eight-year-old child and you don’t come forward, it’s heartbreaking.”
Before this happened to his family, Thompson would see the murders of other children and the police’s pleas for information on the news. He understands that desire to switch the channel or go back to playing video games, but he pled with the crowd not to do so.
“When your household is affected by it, it’s a whole different thing,” Thompson said. “I still have to move forward with my other two children, who are seven and 11, and be there for them.”
Marnee Warren attended the vigil with her eight-year-old son.
“I’m ready to work with people to make a change because something has to happen,” she said. “It’s overwhelmingly heartbreaking to see that many kids on the screen. And it’s not even the end of the year. We still have four months left. That’s why we came. Whatever the movement is going to be, I’m going to be part of it.”
The Warrens came with Pamela Ellis, who called on neighborhood churches to start hosting more activities for children. She also wants to see more afterschool programs and community outreach.
“My husband tells me all the time, ‘You let those kids stay in that room and play that game,’” Ellis said. “But if they go outside, we worry about gunshots.”
While they both grew up riding their bikes freely in the neighborhoods, they don’t feel they can do that with their own children.
“If I’m not outside, he can’t go outside,” Warren said.
Black leaders call for action
On the same night, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s black caucus and U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) held a town hall meeting at Harris-Stowe State University, where about 1,000 people attended.
“We’re here tonight because our nation, and this community, have reached a tipping point,” Clay said. “We are in the midst of an epidemic of gun violence that is inflicting devastating carnage on our community because of the culture of easy access to guns, and the failure of some elected officials to stand up to the gun lobby.”
Clay spoke about his bill, the Local Public Health and Safety Protection Act (H.R. 3435). This bill would — for the first time via federal legislation — prohibit any state that receives public safety grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice from restricting the ability of a local government to enact tougher gun regulations than the current laws of that state.
Introduced in June, the bill is co-sponsored by over 20 congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Kansas City; U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts; and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.
“We need Congress to act now,” Clay said. “Congress has the power to save American lives, and we should be doing nothing less.”
On Tuesday, September 3, leaders of the Missouri Black Caucus met with Gov. Mike Parson but left without much hope for stricter gun control, St. Louis Public Radio reported.
State Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D-Kansas City) said the governor did not see legislative interest in making changes.
“There was discussion, but he seemed to be disheartened about his sway and making gun control an issue that we take over at a state level,” she told St. Louis Public Radio. “He likes background checks, but he is concerned if he can make other people move based on their Second Amendment rights.”
Among the initiatives suggested were allowing municipalities like St. Louis and Kansas City to be able to require permits to carry a concealed weapon or restricting the sale of ammunition to anyone under 21.
State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley (D-St. Louis) said it was a starting point.
“That’s what this meeting was about,” said Bosley, “to try to find those avenues where we can come together as a General Assembly, as the Black Caucus, as St. Louis city and Kansas City, to find functional things that work.”
St. Louis is in the process of negotiating a contract for an alternative violence prevention program. The Cure Violence model — which treats violence as an epidemic outbreak and therefore a public health issue — is active in more than 25 cities throughout the world. The idea is to employ local residents who have respect, often ex-convicts, on the streets to prevent gun violence by de-escalating potentially violent situations before they happen.
On Thursday, Sept. 12, the community can hear updates and give input about this process at a meeting held by the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR). The meeting will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Deaconess Center for Child Well Being, 1000 N. Vandeventer Ave.
St. Louis Public Radio contributed to this report.