Racist Reflex or ?

| April 14, 2011 | 3 Replies

A 21 year-old man was released without charges after being arrested near the Delmar Loop MetroLink in St. Louis on Saturday. The police officer who arrested the 21-year-old experienced a minor head injury. The St. Louis Dispatch and KMOV report that the officer was breaking up a fight that allegedly drew a crowd of between 50 and 100 people, including many teenagers.

In response to the “incident” and complaints that teens who are “not from University City,” are “wandering,” “roaming” and “brushing up against customers,” along the Delmar Loop, a Tuesday meeting was called between Delmar Loop business owners, representatives from Mayor Slay’s office, University City officials and representatives of Washington University. (Washington University’s Office of General Counsel denied any involvement in this meeting).

Several proposals emerged from the meeting. These include “lowering the city’s curfew to 6 p.m.,” rounding up teenagers to “let them sit in a paddy wagon for three hours,” adding a police substation to process them and “closing the Loop’s MetroLink station early on Fridays and Saturdays.” To curb the influx of “unruly” young adults, the University City manager promised “active enforcement of all ordinances.”  According to KMOV, $160,000 has been allocated by the Saint Louis Economic Development Corporation for increased surveillance of the Loop area.

One wonders whether any youth advocates or African-American community leaders were invited to the summit.

For those who don’t know “The Loop,” some background: The Loop is a commercial section of Delmar Boulevard populated by fashion boutiques, restaurants, bars, a weekend farmer’s market and Chuck Berry’s favorite venue, “Blueberry Hill.” It’s located in a St. Louis City enclave called University City because it is adjacent to Washington University.

Many affluent professionals live in University City where the streets are named after Ivy League colleges. Joe Edwards, the owner of several properties along The Loop, including Blueberry Hill, has been funding business and development east of Skinker Boulevard. A Church’s Chicken sits on the corner of Delmar and Skinker. As you travel eastward along Delmar Boulevard past the MetroLink Station, the sparkle of commercial activity fades and instead you see barber shops with barred windows, empty retail buildings and an older urgent care center. The northeastern section of University City is populated by more African Americans and has lower property values. Some might characterize University City as segregated.

University City marks the eastern boundary between St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis. According to Wikipedia, “when compared to other large urban counties, St. Louis County’s crime rate per 100,000 residents is among the lowest in the nation.” The 2000 census lists St. Louis County as both the largest county and the county with the highest per capita income in Missouri.

Is strict enforcement of local ordinances against loitering and curfews an appropriate response to recent events in the Loop? Does the history of segregation in Saint Louis belong in a discussion of this response?

National Guard Protects Freedom Riders, Courtesy of The Birmingham News. Photograph by Norman Dean

Katherine Hunt Federle, Children, Curfews, and the Constitution, 73 Wash. U.L.Q. 1315, 1329 (1995) (“While many ordinances purport to reduce criminal activity and the victimization of children, curfews seemingly have little impact on delinquency and victimization rates.”)

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Category: Bigotry, Civil Rights, Community, Current Events, Ingroup/Outgroup, law and order, Orwellian, Saint Louis, Social justice, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Zoevinly is a poverty lawyer practicing in the bible belt.

Comments (3)

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  1. Tige Gibson says:

    It is a foregone conclusion that increased racism is the automatic reaction to awareness of the existence of racism just as sexism is the automatic reaction to feminism. The mental business of racists is entirely trying to keep themselves unaware of their own racism so they can easily deny it and go on their merry ways as the projecting hypocrites they are.

  2. Zoevinly says:

    It seems to me that by aggressively enforcing ordinances that aren't normally enforced, the police may legally detain teenagers for things that everyone else does. For instance, jaywalking. I'm from NYC. We jaywalk whenever it feels safe to do so. One might even say that we are roving gangs of jaywalkers. If there's a critical mass of people on the sidewalk, we just all cross at the same time, regardless of whether the street light says we should, because there's safety in numbers (and the police aren't writing tickets).

    Unfortunately, if you're young, not-white (or a model minority like me) and don't think your parents can afford a lawyer to get you out of any trouble you might get yourself into, the threat to strictly enforce jaywalking or loitering ordinances could keep you out of the Loop entirely. "Stay home because we don't want you brushing up against the paying white customers or making them feel uncomfortable." Is that the message that we want to send to youth? I think we'd just be fueling the cycle of racism by arresting teenagers who walk around late at night and introducing them personally to the criminal justice system, as if the systematic institutionalization of African-American men wasn't enough.

    We all make choices, but some people's choices are more limited than others'. Say that we're a couple who admits that we don't like hanging around "urban" teenagers. We could expel teenagers from the streets before the sun even sets with legal consequences for those who failed to follow the rule. We could take our chances and mingle in the Loop until 9:00 p.m. We could choose to stay out of the Loop until after the 9:00 p.m. curfew. Or we could avoid the Loop completely. Why enforce a law that some might not follow, which hasn't been proven to decrease crime, and forces youth indoors when we have the freedom to avoid them completely?

    Business owners in the Loop may not want us to avoid the Loop, but if they can't find a way to mediate the jarring physical reality of white wealth thinly segregated from black poverty – by funding activities in the Loop for youth, encouraging everyone to use the MetroLink or creating a public space for recognizing the history of racism in St. Louis, for example – then we should not patronize them.

  3. Ed Reggi says:

    It seems to me University City is grasping at straws to solve an issue that is more about overcrowding than creating laws that target black youth.

    Please help me tell the University City Council and Mayor to not pass bill 9112. Sign my petition if you can and please show up on Monday May 23, 6:30pm and voice your opposition against this bill which will be used unfairly to criminalize black youth.

    http://bit.ly/baducitylaw

    Thanks!

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