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Editor's Weekly: Behind St. Louis' bad news week

Members of the Board of Aldermen look on as Tuesday's meeting rolls on.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Bad news hit St. Louisans this week like a hailstorm. But beyond that blast of mayhem, St. Louis Public Radio reported on some glimmers of progress in the efforts to address the region’s longstanding issues.

The storm of bad news began last weekend when St. Louis County police killed Thaddeus McCarroll. Like many police shootings, the encounter started with a call for help. McCarroll’s mother told police he was acting strangely. The police talked with McCarroll for an hour before he emerged with a knife and a Bible. When a rubber bullet failed to stop him, and he failed to drop the knife, they fired lethal rounds.

On Tuesday, separate police standoffs in Ferguson and St. John ended without shots. Still, the incidents were unsettling, and students had to stay late at nearby schools until the danger subsided.

In other grim news Tuesday, police evacuated St. Louis City Hall due to a bomb scare. New aldermen gathered in a park across the street to be sworn in – a fitting image for a region where business as usual is no longer usual.

Human beings are hard-wired to respond to danger, and many of us kept a close eye on these alarming events. We don’t seem to be as hard-wired to keep paying attention when the moment of crisis has passed. Yet in the long run, our individual and collective success depends not only on our reflexive response to danger but also on our ability to address dangerously persistent issues.

In fact, some of this week’s seemingly random events were just the latest manifestations of long-standing problems -- gun violence, for example, and treatment of deranged individuals. In addition to covering the breaking news, St. Louis Public Radio’s reporters focused on ways that some important regional issues have been or could be addressed.

Following McCarroll’s death, Stephanie Lecci explored ways to defuse or avoid police confrontation.

Jason Rosenbaum covered the swearing in of three new Ferguson city council members – a significant step in the community’s effort to come to grips with issues that exploded there. Incumbent council member Dwayne James urged the public and the council to hold each other accountable. “Basically, be tough on us,” James said. “It’s not just us seven, eight or 10 people on the dais that’s going to get this together. We need all of us to basically work on this.”

Jason also provided a progress report on the Ferguson Commission. In addition to holding tumultuous public comment sessions, the commission has formed working groups where people can grapple with their intense differences – and sometimes even resolve them. In a workgroup on municipal courts, Jason reported, “a mayor, city manager and municipal court judge clashed with academics and activists who feel the current system is unsalvageable.”

Said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a commission member: “I think it’s wonderful that we can have this conversation and be challenged and have to sit here together and figure it out.”

Durrie Bouscaren and Dale Singer reported recently on Washington University’s year-long focus on gun violence as a public health issue. Shooting victims are getting younger and younger, Children’s Hospital physician Bo Kennedy noted at a panel discussion Tuesday, and reversing that trend will require attention to many factors.

Maria Altman’s reporting this week shed light on another complicated public issue – redevelopment of north St. Louis. Paul McKee – the developer who has property, plans and tax assistance for a massive project – still owes millions from a court judgment involving another project in Hazelwood. This follows Maria’s earlier story that he’s failed to pay taxes on much of the property he owns in St. Louis.

Gun violence, police shootings, mental health, municipal court reform, rejuvenation of north St. Louis – all these are complex challenges. While the problems produce urgent news, the search for solutions is not usually so dramatic. This week, St. Louis Public Radio’s reporting helped St. Louisans understand not only the unexpected events that happened but also the long-term issues and efforts that don’t always make headlines. 

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.

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