Sunday, September 17, 2017

Whose violence?

I was in St. Louis September 14-15, 2017, to speak at the Pulitizer Arts Foundation.  While there, Sophie Lipman, the public programs and engagement manager, took to me to see neighborhoods and meet local activists.  Everyone I met on Thursday, the 14th, shared their anxiety about the Stockley Decision, which was expected on Friday, the 15th.  This was the case of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, who had killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a high speed chase.  Stockley was recorded as saying he was going to kill Mr. Smith; Stockley was also accused of planting a gun on him.  Activists in St. Louis were deeply involved in the protests in Ferguson, after the death of Michael Brown.  Their agitation was evident, their pain at the situation deep.

Their emotions, I thought, were resonances of the harsh reality of segregation in the city.  They explained the "Delmar Divide," a boulevard that divides the city into white and affluent and black and devastated.  The landscape is so shockingly different that I gasped when at the difference when we crossed from the black neighborhood into the white neighborhood.  One of the activists I met was new to the city.  She shared that when she first started to travel around the northside, she would weep at the catastrophe.

When the inevitable "not guilty" verdict was delivered, the protests sprang up, decrying, once again, that a policeman could not be punished for obvious murder.  As the anger erupted, and some violence flared, Mayor Lyda Krewson was quoted as saying, "We understand the desire to disrupt but we will not understand the desire for destruction or for harming people.  We will protect all our residents."

One doesn't have to spend more than five minutes north of Delmar Boulevard to feel the hollowness of this statement, and the decrying of violence on the part of protesters.  The systematic violence of racism and class oppression is the great violence in St. Louis, as elsewhere in the United States.

We might make a new chant, to follow, "Whose streets? OUR streets": "Whose violence? THEIR violence."

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