What?—A Peaceful, Progressive City—Why?—How?—When?

Posted: October 19, 2017 in Life's Design, Uncategorized
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Here is a reflection on the state of our peaceful, progressive city of Saint Louis after a


Peaceful protesters tduring the second day of demonstrations.
Lawrence Bryant / Reuters a caption

month since a judge found Jason Stockley, a white former police officer, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man. Immediately after the verdict was announced (on Friday, September 14, 2017), people began to protest in the streets in anger against the decision. Some of their anger turned on businesses, breaking windows. Arrests were made. Protests continued in the days that followed. I acknowledge that this reflection is filled with naiveté and lack of complete knowledge. Even so, there may be a little nugget somewhere within these words that has Four weeks after the verdict, I wrote the following:

Saint Louis appears to be functioning normally this morning as I view it through the window of Chris’ at the Docket at Chestnut and Tucker. The constructors working on renovating the War Memorial are busy pouring concrete for new sidewalks around the memorial. The “fast-food” vendor has set up his stand on the southwest corner of Market and Tucker, the corner of the block on which Saint Louis City Hall sits. Traffic on Tucker is flowing as normal. Homeless people are hanging out in Kaufman Park, and the guy who “lives” in the park has his belongings neatly bundled under heavy-duty plastic bags. Law-school students are coming and going, on schedule I presume. And diners at Chris’ is normal. It seems on the surface that we have a peaceful, progressive city. Nothing about this scene in the heart of the city would indicate any unrest. Yet, the leaders of protests vow to continue their disruptive actions.


However, a peaceful, progressive city eludes us. Interestingly, last night’s newscast depicted a protest scene in which all participants were white. I could not see an African-American among them. On the surface it appears that the concerns of the Black caucus has become more than an issue between black people and white people, that there are Caucasians who have taken up the issues of the Black community as authentic issues and are making their presence known. I think this is good as long as both Black and White in the protest movement are communicating among themselves. A concern I have, one that rises out of the rhetoric, is that people are looking at a single aspect of a much larger concern. It will be difficult to achieve the results that are demanded with such a myopic vision, even though progress takes place at the point of the particular.


The loud and clear rhetoric of the Black community is a demand for the police to stop killing Black people, particularly unarmed Black people. I understand that there are people in the movement that see larger issues, systemic racism for one. Those larger issues would become clearer in a serious conversation that answers the question “Why?” But the nose of the issue, as stated, is the police killing of Black people. I understand and agree that unarmed people should not be killed by police. What I don’t hear being addressed is the question, “Why are police killing Black people, even those who are unarmed?” That question needs to be discussed before assuming the answer. I could name some assumptions, but assumptions is all they would be.

I would like to hear that there is a serious conversation around why police kill Black people. The conversation needs to include all stakeholders—protestors, law enforcement, clergy, political office holders, educators and students, government employees and politicians, community residents—Black, White and integrated communities, Hispanic and other ethnic communities, etc. I’m not thinking of a town-hall meeting; rather, a conversation of equals. It would be necessary for all participants in the conversation to guard against being defensive. Everyone would have to pledge to listen actively and earnestly seek to understand the speaker’s position before speaking, and only then voice something that would move toward a solution rather than make demands. It’s easy to make demands; it’s hard to wrestle through the tough issues with an open mind.


Only when there is an understanding of why the killings have happened can we consider the next question: “How?” How can we strategically move toward a more peaceful, progressive city. My suspicion is that by that time we will have surfaced many more issues that brush up against the single issue of police killings of Black people. We may discover other issues that must be addressed, and in doing so, the concern of Black and White police officers killing Black people will find quicker resolution. Therefore, out of the conversation around why are Black people being killed by police officers, other important issues will surface. Those issues may become significant pieces of strategy that will address the killings.


The final question, “When?” depends on the energy and commitment given to the process. A prioritized process will rea results quicker than a concur that is one among many and is simply added to people’s already full agendas. Priority means up front, continually working on it. It means the commitment of personnel, both government and community, whose sole responsibility is dealing with this issue. It also means committing resources, both material and financial, to the process (not resources that are to be applied to the solution) so the results desired, a peaceful, progressive city, can be achieved.

This approach to moving toward a peaceful, progressive city requires de-emphasizing political solutions and an elevated emphasis on collaboration. Various political solutions have been offered—merge Saint Louis City into the county, create a task force, etc. What I’m suggesting is something that precedes any such action. Rather, I’m talking about a highly prioritized process of dialogue and conversation, which includes all stakeholders, and that precedes any attempts at political, or any other form of solutions. Such conversation would be devoid of attempts to prove, convince, coerce, or otherwise promulgate any idea before all concerns are fully understood from the viewpoint of the one who has the concern, and people from all perspectives truly feel they have been heard. Only then can ideas for achieving a peaceful, progressive city be entertained.

I have heard some people say that they are through with conversation, with talking, that they want action. I too want action, action that will bring peace and unity and progress to Saint Louis. Action becomes more difficult by making demands, which creates defensiveness. However, there will be action and we will have a peaceful, progressive city, I sincerely believe, when hearts are opened and honesty prevails.

It is now October 18th and there are some promising developments. A significant one is Mayor Lyda Krewson’s appointment of a new public safety director known for giving second chances to young black men he sees often in his courtroom. But much is yet to be done: respect for the law (A lot of conversation needs to happen around this issue.), non-police involved killings (What is being done to address neighborhood killings in which police are not involved until after the fact?), education (It must become culturally expected, in the Black community and in the greater metroplex, that all youth will receive the minimum of a high school diploma.), among many other initiatives. We still need all stakeholders in conversation together to identify What, to discover Why, to decide How, and to determine When. Then we can move toward a Peaceful, Progressive City.

It has been 35 days since the Stockley verdict was announced.

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