"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
I bring up the issue of race because even though this was obviously the terrible act of an incredibly unbalanced person, it -- and how it is being covered -- are a window into some of the terrible problems in our metropolitan area that are all about race and class.
I'm a big supporter of Barack Obama's and am on the St. Louis for Obama listserv. Earlier last week, someone posted on that list disputing someone else's claim that St. Louis was one of the most racially divided cities in America. Today, someone posted a rant about what had happened that showed absolutely no consciousness that extreme racial tensions exist in this city.
For any who are interested, below are my two responses to those respective emails. I'd be interested in any comments or discussion.
Over the past 20 years, St. Louis has consistently been in the top 10 on lists of the most segregated cities and metropolitan areas in the country. I remember a few years back we were at the top of the list (prompting a cover story in the Saturday P-D). I live in a somewhat diverse neighborhood, too ... but our neighborhoods are the exception rather than the rule.
I'm on jury duty (on a lunch break) and yesterday I was with a group going through voir dire, and one of the questions the prosecutor asked was whether we were likely to give a police officer more credence or less credence than another witness. Of those who didn't say "same" it was absolutely divided down racial lines -- with people of color saying they didn't trust the police and white people saying they gave them more credence.
When we were asked about we or our families being victims of violent crime, almost none of the white people in the room came forward while a substantial number of people of color raised their hands -- and most of them felt the police had done little or nothing to help them.. Ditto for having family members convicted of violent crimes ... and most of those who said they had family members convicted of violent crimes felt they had been screwed by the criminal justice system.
Now, you can have a legitimate debate about perception and reality in terms of whether people were actually screwed by the justice system, but this speaks to a huge racial divide in our city. Remember, this is a random sampling of St. Louis citizens.
One of the big hopes I have of the Obama campaign is that we will finally have a president who has the courage to take on the problems of our cities and not sugar-coat them.
Two days later, an African American man walks into the Kirkwood City Council Meeting and starts shooting.
a few days back I wrote a post to this list about someone's objection to calling St. Louis a racially divided city. My point then was that both statistics and personal experience for those who have eyes to see bear out that we have serious racial problems in our city/metropolitan area. This does not make St. Louis unique in America but St. Louis certainly is a tragically excellent example of what life is like in many urban areas across the country.
I would hope any rational person would agree that the shootings in Kirkwood last night were horrific and there is no defending them. I have not heard anyone on this list say otherwise.
But events like this rarely happen in a vacuum. One of the gifts John Edwards brought to this campaign was his lifting up of the reality that there are two Americas. There are. And there are certainly at least two St. Louises. There is the St. Louis in which I live where events like this still shock me. And there is the St. Louis that many poor, mostly African-American people live where shootings and violent crime are a normal part of life.
Shootings happen all the time in that "other" St. Louis. But the Today Show doesn't lead its broadcast with the shootings that happen in that "other" St. Louis. The St. Louis I live in doesn't wake up stunned and angry the way I and the other citizens of my St. Louis woke up this morning. That's because it didn't happen in our St. Louis. We can agree it is tragic and "a shame" ... perhaps the same way we look at civilian casualties in Irak ... but it doesn't rock us to the core like this shooting. And that's to be expected. Because we live in two Americas, two St. Louises. And except for incidences like what happened last night, it's not really happening to "us".
What John Edwards lifted up and what I believe Barack Obama continues to lift up is a message of unity -- of there being one America, one St. Louis. That's not a pep rally, folks. That's hard work. That's those of us with the privilege of not living on streets where shootings and gunpoint robberies are an everyday occurrence putting ourselves out there in common cause with those for whom they are. That's about us being every bit as outraged at the elderly woman who was gunned down by stray bullet fire from a driveby in north St. Louis this month as we are by the senseless death of the people in Kirkwood last night.
Yes, it's about us holding the people who do these things accountable. But it's also about recognizing that the Meacham Park neighborhood is in the state its in today not just because of its own actions but because of a long history of segregation and discrimination and that unity means TOGETHER we are going to have to look honestly at the past we have wrought and how we can walk TOGETHER on the hard road to a future we can embrace.
I was listening to talk radio this morning and someone was railing against the "idiots" in Meacham Park, showing a profound ignorance of the deep racial divide in our city and the deep pain and frustration of the people who live there. That's not about excusing the action, it's about opening our eyes and ears and truly seeing what the world is like -- all of it.
My wife is a Hillary Clinton supporter. One of her beliefs about Barack Obama is that we who are supporting him have been captured by inspiring flowery rhetoric ... and that both the rhetoric and we who have been captivated by it lack substance behind it.
What happened last night is a tragedy, but it is also a moment of opportunity. I believe there is substance behind Barack Obama's message ... but it is a difficult and challenging substance. It is the substance of opening our eyes and honestly tackling our past and our future. It is the substance that goes beyond rhetoric and easy answers to the complexities of life in a stratified society where there are at least two Americas and St. Louises and Philadephias and more.
If we are really about the "Audacity of Hope" ... then that cannot just be a pie in the sky phrase. Because true hope comes not from ignoring the past and the present but honestly examining them -- especially the worst parts -- so together we can create a future that doesn't just look good, but truly is good ... for everyone.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."