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Who is responsible for 'black-on-black' crime in St. Louis? MLK Day remarks prompt sharp response

St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards speaks at a Citizen Advisory Committee meeting in 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards speaks at a Citizen Advisory Committee meeting in 2017.

St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards made remarks about crime in St. Louis that prompted a sharp response from civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders.

Edwards told a crowd at a Martin Luther King Day event that black-on-black crime was a problem African-American residents need to tackle.

The following day, as part of a thread of 11 tweets, ArchCity Defenders posted “newly appointed Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards chose to publicly demonize black St. Louisans by employing overly-simplistic racial rhetoric that has long been used to preserve the status quo.”

When St. Louis Public Radio asked Edwards about the response, he said he didn’t believe his statement garnered pushback, but rather “was celebrated.” He said his understanding of the issue comes from years of experience.

“For 25 years, I sat as a circuit judge and I’ve tried cases, and my heart has been broken with respect to victims and defendants alike,” he said.

Edwards, who became public safety director in November, said the issue of black-on-black crime concerns him and listed areas that might help improve crime in the city, including better educational systems, housing and employment.

But some saw his statement as an attempt to absolve the wider St. Louis community, which includes people of different races, from also having to solve problems around violent crime.

The latest FBI crime statistics show St. Louis had the most homicides per 100,000 people in 2016 and ranked second for number of violent crimes.

During his address at the Martin Luther King Day event Edwards said all but one of the city’s 205 murder victims in 2017 were black and all the people caught and accused of those crimes were also black.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department statistics for 2017 show:

  • 192 murder victims were black
  • One victim was Hispanic
  • 12 were white
  • All but one of the 138 listed suspects are black
  • 137 suspects are identified as male and three as female — totaling 140.

It is unclear from the report if the race of all the suspects is known. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department closed fewer than half of its open homicide cases last year.
As part of its Twitter response, ArchCity Defenders listed 10 topics "Edwards could have addressed," including homelessness, poverty, incarceration and other socioeconomic issues would have been brought nuance to the issue of crime in the city.

Blake Strode, ArchCity's Executive director, cautioned against statements that make black-on-black crime appear to be a unique phenomenon.

“One of the things we know about crime is it tends to be intraracial,” he said. “Black people tend to be victimized by black perpetrators. White people tend to be victimized by white perpetrators and so on.”

Strode said he believes every resident should be a part of addressing violent crime in the city. He said a combination of public policy choices and individual choices affect circumstances that give rise to crime.

“It’s misleading to suggest that black people are in some sense are the cause of their own dilemmas,” he said.

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative “Sharing America,” covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland (Oregon). Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.

Rachel Lippmann contributed to this report.

Ashley Lisenby is the news director of St. Louis Public Radio.