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HUD Secretary Ben Carson calls for peaceful resolution of protests

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson
Gage Skidmore | Flickr

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is urging people in the St. Louis region to make sure protests do not disintegrate into violence.

During a stop Thursday in East St. Louis, Carson said he hoped the protests would generate a broader understanding of the challenges facing the St. Louis region.

“We, the American people, are not perfect, but we are not each other’s enemies,” he said. Carson then quoted from the Bible. “Jesus said it best. A House divided against itself cannot stand. Never has stood, never will.”  

For the past week, protesters have expressed outrage over a judge’s decision to acquit former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of murder in the death of an Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley, who is white, fatally shot Smith, a black man, in 2011.

Without getting into the specific issues prompting the protests, Carson said, “We need to learn from the defects of our society and we need to use that learning to help improve the conditions of everybody.”

The HUD chief was in East St. Louis to formally end the federal government’s 32-year oversight of that city’s public housing program. Carson said the success of that effort, spurred in the 1980s by protests, could provide an example of how public outcry can produce constructive results.

Praise for housing program

Carson joined East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican from Murphysboro, for the handover ceremony held in the city’s municipal building.

Jackson-Hicks, a Democrat, said she was thrilled that city officials will now take over jurisdiction of the housing program. “It took a lot of hard work for us to get to this point,’’ said the mayor, noting that she had been working on the issue since she took office two years ago.

Jackson-Hicks said she carefully selected five people to serve on the new board that will oversee the city’s public housing program, choosing people of integrity. When the federal government took over in the 1980s, the oversight board was accused of mismanagement and mishandling money.

East St. Louis has more than 2,000 public housing units. Officials estimate that about 6,000 people, almost a quarter of the city’s 27,000 residents, live in public housing.

The city has about $1.9 million in federal money to help pay for new units that will replace some older buildings.

Carson said, running a housing authority isn’t easy.

“It requires the very best of those who manage public housing because the folks who call these units home deserve nothing less,” he said. “I want public housing to be the center of a new dynamic. I want that dynamic to empower residents, to make them better, to give them more self-sufficiency and freedom.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.