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Commentary: Identify problems and focus on solutions rather than pointing fingers about crime

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is reach for my phone and check my email and my Facebook notifications. If there are no notifications and no children needing breakfast, I peruse my Facebook feed.

This morning, it was this story from the New York Times about crime in North St. Louis that was blowing up my feed. Responses varied from "Is this really _news_?" to "It's not just North St. Louis" to "I know some of these stories first hand and this article is pretty spot on."

Whether it's France telling people not to come to St. Louis, the BBC reporting on the Delmar Divide or yet another crime listing with the city in the top bracket, it's become a pastime for St. Louisans to go on the defense. It's tiresome. And I continue to question why we don't spend the same energy we spend on the defense on the offense - or better yet, the "nofense."

Just as it's a fact that the St. Louis crime statistics are complicated by a myriad of factors, it's also fact thatsome areas of St. Louis have disproportionately high crime. The defense approach often seems to lead to a "those people" tinged discussion. The offense, while wrapped in the positive, leads to a different approach to the same level of separation: "Look over here! Don't look over there!" 

So what if we just accepted that St. Louis is made up of all and both of these things -- high crime areas and trendy neighborhoods with people of all stripes living and creating together -- and all the combinations and extremes of both that exist in between. Facing the whole complicated picture involves being pretty uncomfortable about a lot of things. Proximity, privilege, accountability, responsibility, connectivity and so on. It becomes easier and more advantageous (ratings, funding, exposure, traffic, sound bytes) to pick a side and point a finger rather than sit in the middle and start untangling things.

When people are deciding to move their company and/or family here, to go to college or to vacation, the truth is that most will see St. Louis as a whole. They will not care about the neighborhood lines we so vehemently cling to and separate ourselves with. We are all St. Louis. We're complicated, we have challenges, and the region is full of small big steps and big small victories. And if we can't accept that, we can't move forward. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

The "we aren't them" or "they aren't us" approach might make good copy or Facebook debate fodder, but doesn't leave room for the reality, for solutions. So if we let go of the offense and the defense, does it let us start to see how to put one foot in front of the next and make some progress? Can we point out a problem area and go deep on the possible solutions instead of piling on the condemnation? Can we tell stories of success without sounding like cheerleaders and dismissing the reality of the things left to be done?

The digital age has put tools in our hands for taking conversation and debate to new levels of action and awareness. What if we saw pieces like the NYTimes article, the BBC report and the French government warning as parts of a conversation instead of points of debate? What if we answered with content and thought and actions instead of getting defensive? We don't need to wait for someone else to tell the rest of the story. We have the tools to tell it ourselves.

Nicole Hollway is the general manager of the St. Louis Beacon.