The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis has been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, working to ensure the communities hardest hit by this deadly virus have some relief.
We have provided more than $3.75 million in food to over 85,000 families and distributed more than 300,000 masks, gloves, sanitizer and other protective gear to help stem the virus’ spread.
But there is another crisis in St. Louis that also presents a very clear and present danger to our community — crime, more specifically the alarming homicide rate.
As I write there have been 249 homicides in St. Louis this year, representing the highest number of deaths since the mid 1990s.
For some context, last year St. Louis had 194 homicides. The higher number for this year represents a 28% increase this year. And we still have a week left in the year.
To provide even more context, the highest total number of homicides we’ve ever recorded in a single year was 267 in 1993 … and we had 65,000 more people living in St. Louisthen.
Our homicide rate is one of the highest in the country and we are consistently placed on the list of Most Dangerous Cities in America. In late November, a study ranked St. Louis as the second least safe city in America.
Our mission at the Urban League is to empower African Americans and others throughout the region in securing economic self-reliance, social equality and civil rights.
We envision a region where all people can live in neighborhoods that are vibrant and thriving. But that vision, and all of the work the Urban League and others undertake to improve our region, is undermined by a spiraling crime rate.
The 110,000 people we serve each year with employment, utility assistance, financial coaching, food, and other support services, remain at risk despite our best efforts. This is unacceptable and left unchecked it will lead to continued decline and disinvestment, causing even more poverty and inequity.
This year, The Urban League doubled down on our efforts to change lives and empower communities by launching the Division of Public Safety and Community Response, headed by James Clark. In just a few months, the Division has worked to de-escalate several disputes that had a trajectory towards violence, engaged more than 2,100 households with information on human service programs, implemented the Cure Violence model in Walnut Park, supported the JVL, Hyde Park, and Kingsway East neighborhoods with trauma counseling, substance abuse support, employment opportunities and more.
We recognize the challenges facing law enforcement and appreciate the very real concerns raised about policing in communities of color. Police reform and accountability is a non-negotiable. We cannot continue old strategies that are proven to be deadly in our community.
To that end, we welcome critical reviews of our local police departments by public and private entities — especially those with public input but it is clear that we cannot rely on law enforcement alone to manage crime and address criminal behavior. We all have a role to play.
The Urban League is as committed today to creating a better St. Louis as we were 102 years ago. We all must recognize the urgency of now and commit full on to fighting crime in the same manner we are fighting COVID-19. We really are all in this together.