EXCLUSIVE: Congressman Lacy Clay (D-MO), sat down for an exclusive interview this week with Antonio French, publisher of The NorthSider, live by remote from his office in Washington, D.C. In this wide-ranging interview, the nine-term congressman, who was recently elected to his tenth, discussed what we can expect when the Democrats take over the House of Representatives in January; the possibility of impeaching President Donald Trump; making the police department pay for settlements in police brutality cases; the make up of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen; and what it will take to bring people back to north St. Louis.
The NorthSider: So let’s get right into it. Obviously, Democrats won a huge victory in winning back the House of Representatives. So what does that mean for Congress, the national agenda, and for you personally?
Clay: Well, what it means for the nation is that there will be a balance in government. That now you will have a Senate that will still be run by the Republicans and the administration run by the Republicans, but in the House of Representatives, the people’s house, the Democrats will be in control. So we will have oversight responsibility over this administration, over the agencies that impact people on a daily basis. And we will be pushing legislation that we think will help Americans in various areas—be it education, be it student loans, be it consumer protection, housing, the environment… We think we can appeal to a large segment of America by pushing an agenda that benefits them.
As for St. Louis, I believe that it will make a difference in the daily lives of St. Louisans, and particularly on the north side, because I will be the chair of a subcommittee in the Financial Services Committee, along with our full committee chair, Maxine Waters, who hails from St. Louis. And we will be looking at issues like strengthening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has, over the last two years under this administration, been rendered toothless and has not enforced the issues like protecting consumers with student loan debt, or that have been red-lined by the housing industry, mortgage industry, or insurance industry. And so those are the issues that I think are relevant to St. Louis that I will be working on, as well as on how we bring some sanity and order to this whole debate around guns, firearms and violent deaths that occur on a daily basis throughout American communities. So I will be looking at legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban as well as background checks, and giving local communities authority to pass laws and ordinances that are more stringent than state laws.
The NorthSider: Even with Democratic control of the House, the Republicans still control the Senate and The White House. How likely do you think it will be that any of this legislation actually becomes law with that kind of make up?
Clay: Well, that remains to be seen. We still have to make the case to those senators who may have an R behind their name, but are up for re-election in 2020. They can pick their poison. They can choose to side with this administration, with Donald Trump, and hope they get re-elected. Or they can do the bidding of the American people and the majority of their constituents who want to see Congress produce legislation and laws that benefit America as a whole.
The NorthSider: Where do you stand on the issue of impeachment? Do you think that the House will move to impeach the President, especially on some of these charges that have been made in the last couple of days? And do you think it’s politically wise for the Democrats to do that? Some Democrats have expressed some apprehension about going that route.
Clay: I think that the House will exercise vigorous oversight over President Trump and the departments and agencies. And I think as a House, whether we go down that path of impeachment or not, we first have to look at the overall report from Mueller. Yes, has there been some laws broken by this president? I think so. Just from who has been indicted, who has pleaded guilty. But I think we need to wait for the final report and see what Mueller’s recommendation is. And if it is to the House: laws have been broken, that this president colluded with Russia and broke campaign laws and other laws, then sure, I don’t think anyone is above the law and I would hope that the House Judiciary Committee would then start those proceedings.
The NorthSider: Congressman, I want to bring it back to Missouri. Four years after Ferguson and the events that caught the nation’s attention, there still remain issues related to the community’s—African-American community, specifically—relationship with the police and how police are held accountable here and around the country. Last week, we saw four St. Louis City police officers get federally indicted, being charged with beating an undercover African-American officer and covering it up. What do you think about that situation, what kind of work still needs to be done? And what, on the federal level, can Congress do to restore that trust between the community and the people who police it?
Clay: Well, it certainly cries out to the fact that police need to be trained better in how they interact with communities that they are supposed to serve and protect. And that includes sensitivity training, unbias training—things like that. On the federal level, I do have legislation that I will be reintroducing to allow for training, or to require training, of all police officers so that there is a level of sensitivity there.
And when you look at St. Louis, it tells me that the city has proceeded in a direction that is going to bankrupt us eventually. And I’m curious as to how much, over the last four years, the city has paid out in these lawsuits to parties that have been abused by police and have been shot and killed by police officers.
I just saw that in the Stockley [case], the victim’s family was awarded an additional $500,000 last week because the state withheld pertinent evidence that could’ve made a different outcome out of the initial trial.
It’s kind of a reckless attitude, a cavalier attitude on the part of the city who funds the police department, to not have control. And it’s got to be costing taxpayers and exorbitant amount of money and I wonder if that comes out of the city’s budget or the police department’s budget.
The NorthSider: It comes out of the city’s budget. Annually, right now there’s an allocation of about $3 million to cover such lawsuits and there’s already concerns that these payouts, especially related to the Stockley protests of last year, are going to exceed that amount and there may need to be some emergency budget requests to add more money to that.
Clay: And I don’t agree there should be an emergency budget request. It should come out of the police budget until they figure out: hey, you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing. You have to train your officers better to interact with the public in a more respectful manner and stop costing taxpayers money because you’re so reckless in the type of officers you put out there on the streets.
The NorthSider: We have our issues, obviously, here in the City of St. Louis. You also are well aware that there are dozens of small police departments in St. Louis County. But these issues are also being felt in cities and towns all over the country. Is the solution a local one, or do we need some national solution to these issues that are so prevalent across the country?
Clay: I think it spreads across all kinds of jurisdictions: federal, state, and local. But when you start talking about the make up of police departments—and I’ve expressed this to our public safety director and the police chief in St. Louis—perhaps you need to start bringing in classes that are more reflective of the diversity of a community. And that applies to all jurisdictions. And so, OK, so you’ve lifted the residency requirement for the City of St. Louis police force, but why not allow young men and women who grew up in north County, who may not have the best record. Maybe they were stopped as teenagers. Or maybe they were caught with some marijuana on them in their younger years. Why not allow them to be a part of your police academy?
So we need to look at policing differently at all levels. And here on the federal level, you know as well as I do, that the leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice makes a difference. And right now, we just went through Jeff Sessions, and now we have [Acting U.S. Attorney General Matt] Whitaker who is acting as A.G. But all of them are hostile to any kind of forms of criminal justice reform or restorative justice of any nature. So that’s part of the battle up here, but you still cannot give up.
The NorthSider: Congressman, bringing it back home to St. Louis and specifically north St. Louis, we are looking at another Census coming up that will surely reflect a continued loss of population in north St. Louis. What is the solution to stabilizing these neighborhoods? What is it going to take in the way of investment, or bringing folks back to these communities? How can we repopulate these neighborhoods?
Clay: Well, you [French] being recently retired from local government, you know as well as I do, that there has to be a concerted effort on the part of the City of St. Louis to want to invest in neighborhoods north of Delmar. So when your policies dictate that you don’t put in services, that you don’t have adequate police protection, and the police don’t respect the people that they are supposed to serve and protect… when you don’t direct incentives to an area then you won’t get development. You won’t get affordable housing. When you overload an area of the city with homeless shelters instead of spreading them out so that every neighborhood shares the burden of homelessness, instead you put it all in a community like north St. Louis that needs more than homeless shelters, but affordable housing as well as good-paying jobs, then you are going to continue to lose that population base in that part of the city.
Now the way to counter it are things like we have been doing to attract the National Geo-spacial Administration. We are about to transfer the land from the City of St. Louis to the U.S. Air Force this week. We hope that that helps spur affordable housing development. We hope it helps spur additional job creation. And those are the kind of efforts you’re going to need… in order to rebuild an entire section of a city that has not had major investment in over 50 years.
The NorthSider: We’ve seen some changes at the Board of Aldermen. And more changes to come with the reduction of the board coming soon. Recently, we’ve had the alderman from the 26th Ward, Frank Williamson, resign. That’s going to be an open seat. That ward has been important to the Clay family for a long time. Have you picked someone to support in that race? Do you have a dog in that fight?
Clay: I really don’t have a horse in the race. I think that when the filing closes, I will assess who I think would be the good candidates. I talked to one of them, Letta Price. But I don’t know who else is running. I’ve known Letta for a long time, but I will wait until the filing closes and then share with the residents of the 26th Ward who I think who would best serve them.
The NorthSider: The 26th Ward is vacant now. In the 18th Ward, Alderman Terry Kennedy has retired after many years. That seat is vacant as well. We published an opinion piece two weeks ago here in The NorthSider about several majority-black wards now being represented by white progressives, making it impossible to have equal representation on the Board of Aldermen. What do you think about the possibility of white progressives winning these black seats?
Clay: Well, it’s going to all depend on how we draw the lines of the new 14 wards. We have to be aware that we need to adequately represent all portions of the city, but also ensure that we don’t strip away or lessen the amount of power that the African-American community has. When you think about it, I believe we are still a majority African-American city, but the Board of Aldermen doesn’t reflect that. And like you said, it may be just the choices of the voters or who is motivated to go out and speak through their vote when selecting an alderperson. But when we draw those lines, we need to be cognisant where African-Americans live, the history of those areas, and to ensure that they are adequately represented at the Board.
The NorthSider: Well, we know you have to run to a vote, so let’s close with a sports question. Are you excited about the possibility of football returning to St. Louis in the form of the XFL and another form of football in Major League Soccer?
Clay: [Laughs] Hey, those are both good questions. XFL, I don’t know much about them. I guess that’s like area football. But believe it or not, I miss the Rams, who are now the Los Angeles Rams and they seem to be playing much better than the last ten years when they were in St. Louis.
For soccer, I’m a soccer fan so I watch the World Cup. I don’t keep up with it as much as I do the other U.S. major sports. But hopefully that will translate into something positive for our community. And hopefully we can steer young people into soccer as well as the other major sports.
The NorthSider: Well, Congressman, we appreciate it. Thank you so much and good luck in that fight there in D.C.
Clay: Thank you for having me. And congratulations on the new NorthSider.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is collaborating with local officials and law enforcement to ensure Natural Bridge Avenue is a safe roadway for pedestrians and drivers.
MoDOT Area Engineer Michelle Forneris said the department became engaged in 2017 when they had a series of complaints after several fatal crashes on Natural Bridge Avenue. MoDOT reviewed the four-mile corridor where the speed limit is 35 mph. Data showed drivers clocked at speeds of 60, 70 and even over 100 mph on the busy street. Residents have complained about cars driving on the wrong side of the road and in bike and parking lanes. People have also complained about traffic signals not being obeyed and pedestrians not utilizing the crosswalk.
“When we talk about roadway safety,” said Forneris, “it boils down to partnering together as a region to help change the narrative of this corridor.” She adds, “working as a team we can help answer the critical question: Why are there so many crashes and fatal accidents on Natural Bridge?”
According to Forneris, the number of car wrecks and fatalities on Natural Bridge is three times the state average.
After several public meetings and data collected, MoDOT declared Natural Bridge Avenue a Travel Safety Zone (TSZ) between Parnell Street and Goodfellow Avenue in September.
According to state law, a Travel Safe Zone is any area upon or around any highway where a highway safety analysis shows the number of fatal or disabling injury crashes exceeds a predicted safety performance level for comparable roadways. MoDOT uses TSZs to improve safety of a clearly defined roadway segment. This law also allows for doubling the fines for moving violations in these zones.
“When we talk about roadway safety, it boils down to education, hearing from community members, police and engineering, and how those pieces come together to make a safer roadway for everyone,” said Forneris. “We’ve had 18 fatal crashes since 2012, 13 of them were pedestrian related and primarily in designated crosswalks. We had to start diving into the data and dissecting it to see what’s going on.”
Valerie Votwell, who lives at the intersection of Natural Bridge Avenue and Goodfellow Avenue, said she has witnessed motorcyclers speeding and doing unsafe stunts like popping wheelies. She believes police refuse to do anything about the dangers she has seen in her neighborhood.
“These jerks treat those of us who live along Natural Bridge like we’re expendable litter on an abandoned backcountry road,” said Votwell. During the summer months, she says she dreads nice weather because she knows they will be riding along that strip.
But Forneris said there are limits to what MoDOT can do.
“Engineering can only do so much. We can put out signs, but without the enforcement piece, people still make choices to speed, drive in the bike lane or run a traffic light. It really has to be a collaborative effort. Talking with community members and prompting them to be an advocate for change are all a part of this puzzle in creating a safer Natural Bridge street,” said Forneris.
Many residents who live along that area find the speeding and reckless driving extremely alarming considering Beaumont High School is located along that stretch in the TSZ.
According to Forneris there are bright yellow signs posted in both directions notifying drivers and pedestrians of the TSZ and the double fines.
In the months since the changes were implemented, there does appear to be a reduction in fatalities.
According to Forneris, there were 14 fatal crashes on this street between 2012 and 2016. In 2017, there were four. Since the announcement of the TSZ in September, there have not been any fatal crashes.
Forneris said MoDOT plans to annually evaluate the four-mile corridor with law enforcement and public safety officials to review best practices and areas that may need improvement. In the summer of 2019, she says MoDOT plans to add new traffic signals on the corridor between Euclid Ave. and Parnell St.
In 2020, MoDOT plans to put in a new driving surface by doing a “road diet”, which is cutting down the lanes on the road, making them narrower. They also plan to add additional parking.
Forneris urges the community to stay involved during the process of making the Natural Bridge corridor a safer roadway. Officials and engineers value community input, she says.
“Together we will make a safer roadway,” said Forneris.
Filing opened this week for candidates for city offices, including President of the Board of Alderman. Current Board President Lewis Reed filed for re-election, and will face challenges from 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green and Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed during the primary election on March 5, 2019.
Reed is the first African American to be elected to that office, and has served since 2007. In addition to presiding over the Board of Aldermen, the president also sits on the powerful three-member Board of Estimate and Apportionment (E&A) with the mayor and the city comptroller. Green announced her intention to run nearly a year ago after she and Reed publicly feuded over the funding of the football stadium. Nasheed currently represents the fifth district in the Missouri Senate, but cannot run for that office again due to term limits. She has already made critical comments to the press about Reed’s decision this week to vote for a major league soccer stadium without the protection of a community benefits agreement.
Voters will also go to the polls to vote on 14 aldermanic seats in even-numbered wards to decide which candidates who will appear on the April general election ballot. Presently all members of the Board are Democrats. As of Wednesday, incumbents in Wards 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 28 were unchallenged.
On the south side, Alderwoman Carol Howard (14th Ward) faces a challenge from labor activist Tony Pecinovsky; Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who is white and represents the majority black 20th Ward, faces one challenger so far, Satia Hutton. Scott Ogilvie, the current 24th Ward alderman, announced last month that he would not be seeking re-election, and two candidates, Loraine Cavin and Bret Narayan, have filed to replace him.
On the north side, 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd is being challenged by Tonya Finley McCaw. Following the retirement of long-time 18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy, Democratic Committeeman Jesse Todd and activist Jeffrey Hill, Jr. have filed to replace him. As reported by St. Louis Public Radio on Monday, November 26, The Rev. Darryl Gray stated his intentions to file early next month after Kennedy officially leaves office. As of Wednesday, no one had filed for 26th Ward alderman. That seat is currently held by Frank Williamson.
The filing window for these offices opened on Monday, November 26. The last day for candidates to file is January 4.
A St. Louis trauma surgeon who has treated hundreds of gunshot victims is teaching north side kids and community members how to “stop the bleed” in a life-or-death situation.
Dr. Laurie Punch, a trauma surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and an Associate Professor at Washington University, is the co-director of Stop the Bleed STL. The nonprofit offers free, one-hour seminars led by doctors, surgeons and EMT professionals that teach people how to control life-threatening bleeding using trauma first aid techniques.
Stop the Bleed STL has conducted over 60 seminars and has trained 1,600 people since March 2018. Most recently, Punch brought her seminar to north city to train the students in the after-school program at the Meghan A. Flannery Learning Center operated by The North Campus Partnership.
During Monday night’s class, North Campus students like Vernell Jones, 14, received hands-on training in properly applying pressure to wounds, packing wounds, and using tourniquets.
“I loved it, because I learned things I never learned before, and now I know how to use the emergency tools, like a tourniquet, gauze, wraps, and scissors in case there was ever an emergency,” said Jones.
According to Erin Andrade, a general surgery resident and instructor for Stop the Bleed STL, traumatic and violent injuries represent the number one health risk to youth and young adults, with gun violence being the leading cause of death in black males age 15 to 34.
“When a traumatic injury occurs, bleeding from an arm or a leg is the most preventable cause of death,” Andrade says. “However, an ambulance takes 7 to 15 minutes on average to arrive, which is longer than the time that it takes to bleed to death. Having someone next to you who can stop bleeding is life-saving.”
As North Campus students listened to the presentation, they also practiced their newfound first aid techniques. Jones and Jariah Mosley practiced applying tourniquets on each other, as other students simulated packing wounds with gauze on foam rollers. Punch and Andrade talked individually to each student, giving them feedback and advice on their first aid techniques.
After the training seminar, North Campus students assembled their own trauma first aid kit to take home with them, which included a tourniquet, three types of gauze, scissors, gloves, and instructions. One of Stop the Bleed’s objectives is to ensure students not only learn the skills and techniques to save a life but have the tools to do so.
Stop the Bleed STL currently teaches classes like the one it brought to North Campus at area high schools, college campuses, churches, and juvenile detention centers. They are working to concentrate their classes within the Promise Zone, and plan to train more people and students in north St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis aldermanic committee has approved a resolution in support of a soccer stadium aimed at attracting a Major League Soccer franchise.
The city’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee voted 8-0 Wednesday for a plan that would develop an area of downtown near Union Station. The vote came a day after a financial impact report lauded the value of the stadium to the city.
The full aldermanic board must still approve the plan. A vote is likely Friday.
The proposal, from World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family requires no general tax increase. It creates a 3 percent sales tax on items sold at the stadium.
The MLS plans to award two additional franchises but hasn’t said when a decision will be made.
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri legislator has released a video that he says supports his lawsuit claiming police officers used excessive force while arresting him during a protest of a fatal police shooting.
The edited video released Sunday on state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.’s Facebook page was shot during protests after a white police officer shot 18-year-old Antonio Martin, who was black, in 2014 in Berkeley, Missouri.
Franks, a black activist who was part of a group trying to keep peace between protesters and police, said the video shows him being kicked, beaten and sprayed with tear gas.
The two-minute video appears to be mostly from police body cameras but also contains apparent TV footage.
It shows Franks on the ground, saying “I’m not fighting” while officers yell at him to get on his stomach and stay on the ground. The apparent TV footage appears to show officers kicking and hitting Franks.
The release of the 2014 Antonio Martin protest footage, is not to fuel tensions but to bridge gaps. This happened to me, but I’m not an anomaly. It took them a while to get us the body cam footage. It’s about transparency and accountability. pic.twitter.com/WM2OjlhuUy
— Bruce Franks Jr (@brucefranksjr) November 26, 2018
Another segment of the video shows officers discussing spraying protesters with Mace and one saying a person was down and “I (expletive) kicked him like there was no (expletive) tomorrow.” It’s not clear if the officer was referring to Franks.
Franks, a Democrat from St. Louis, filed a federal lawsuit in 2016 alleging officers used excessive force while arresting him for charges that were later dropped. He also alleges officers lied to shift the blame to Franks and to cover up the arrest.
He told The Associated Press Tuesday that he and his legal team recently received the body cam footage after waiting for two years. He said he didn’t release the video to fuel tension but to increase transparency.
“I wanted to show that this is really happening,” Franks said. “Everyone feels that these things they hear about on the news maybe aren’t really happening. It happens more often than we like to believe.”
He said the social media release provides “a platform to have a real conversation about the truth of the incident.”
Sgt. Shawn McGuire of the St. Louis County Police Department said in a statement that his office could confirm its police officers were involved in the protest.
“The protest turned violent, and subjects were taken into custody,” McGuire said. “Any use of force that occurred was documented and internal investigations were conducted as part of that review. We cannot further comment on the actions taken by officers that night due to pending litigation.”
It’s not clear how many cameras were used in the video, or which department or departments released the video. St. Louis County and Berkeley police have not responded to the Post-Dispatch’s request for unedited video.
Arch City Defenders, which is representing Franks, said in a statement Tuesday it would not release the full video. The organization, a nonprofit civil rights law firm, has filed more than a dozen lawsuits challenging state violence, with most of those cases stemming from “a militarized police response to people engaging in their First Amendment right to protest,” spokeswoman Rebecca Gorley said in the statement.
“In the case of Mr. Franks, we’ve been fighting for justice for two and a half years and we will continue to work for justice not only for him, but for countless others in the region who have been seriously harmed and traumatized,” she said.
Franks claimed in his lawsuit that he was seriously injured by two St. Louis County police officers and one Bel-Ridge officer. The protest near a gas station in Berkeley turned violent as small explosive devices and rocks were thrown at officers.
Attorneys for the officers have said Franks was not beaten and he was “actively wrestling” with police during the arrest.
Charges against Franks of assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting or interfering with an arrest were later dropped.
The collapse of the economy in 2007 was the biggest financial crisis the nation faced since the Great Depression. For almost two years this financial earthquake shook our economy causing devastation in the housing market and on Wall Street. However, one good thing to come out of that period was a new era of financial literacy.
Darlene Martin, owner and founder of the non-profit organization Money Smarts School of Finance for Children (MSSFC) noticed many of the wealth management programs focused on teaching adults. Martin strongly felt if the economy was to recover it was up to her to unteach those economic mistakes that contributed to the crisis and focus on teaching the next generation.
For 10 years, MSSFC has served close to 300 children in the St. Louis area. The organization teaches grades 6-12 financial tips using real life demonstrations, small group activities and field trips.
For 10 Saturdays during the spring and fall, kids and parents can learn together about the stock market, balancing expenses and building substantial wealth.
According to the MSSFC, teaching good financial habits will help push the economy one step closer to improving our financial status and address the number of unbanked and underbanked adults. Helping create thrifty routines that will carry on into adulthood is one of Martin’s top priorities for her students.
Martin believes most of the programs out today don’t expand on the foundation of financial stability. Important factors like earning money and saving money aren’t discussed in depth. According to Martin kids who are a part of her organization have the opportunity to learn how to build wealth, maintain it and successfully pass it on.
“Our hope is that over time, financially savvy kids grow into financially savvy adults who pass what they have learned about money management on to their children, thereby establishing financially stable families, marriages, local communities, and regional markets. Not only this, but the spending and saving habits of an informed consumer can potentially influence the type of products and services available in the marketplace,” said Martin.
In the beginning, MSSFC held classes at the William J Harrison Education Center in the Jeffvanderlou community. During that time the organization had the opportunity to serve children in underdeveloped communities. Many of the students learned valuable lessons in investing, stock market tips and the importance of maintaining a good credit score. She feels because some families reside in those areas the knowledge of financial literacy isn’t talked about.
The organization’s classes have since relocated to the Microsoft Store in the St. Louis Galleria, and Martin says even though they are further from where they began it didn’t stop families from traveling to attend the classes, which she feels speaks to the testament of how the parents believe in the work she does.
Martin’s unique curriculum places students in realistic situations through fun games called Stock Market Savvy Kids and Financial Facts of Life. She brings in experts to help further push the lessons that are being taught. Wealth managers, estate attorneys, bankers and insurance agents have all been a part of Martin’s vision in breaking generational curses of bad spending habits all taught using games and other classroom activities. The Financial Facts of Life game highlights common economic hiccups such as layoffs. Each student will decide the best solution for their financial problem, and based on those decisions it will reflect their social and economic status. She even goes as far as including parents by making them bill collectors and utility companies. If the students are late in paying their bills she will have a mock ‘service interruption’.
“This will allow each student to comprehend, recall and utilize the personal financial principles obtained as a student at the Money Smarts School,” said Martin.
Martin is very passionate about money management and personal finances. After witnessing fragile portfolios from her clients as a wealth manager she knew that teaching kids these critical lessons at an early age would help reverse some of the economic riffs that so many families face daily.
To register, visit their website at www.moneysmartschoolforchildren.org .
HAMILTON HEIGHTS–Local financial institutions and development organizations set the tone for redefining equitable community development at Tuesday’s community meeting at the Friendly Temple Baptist Church campus.
The community development meeting focused on the distressed neighborhoods of north city and north St. Louis County. According to developers, theses areas are plagued with high crime and dilapidated housing.
Cordaryl Patrick, Economic Recovery Coordinator with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, spoke on the Promise Zone and how it affects the St. Louis region—specifically how it affects the people living in the zone. The Promise Zone was designed to focus on areas that suffer due to lack of economic development and to break down silos that inhibit work that can be done there. Promise Zones are intended to act as a catalyst by bringing organizations together to align their efforts in north city and north St. Louis County.
According to Patrick, the Promise Zone includes 11 city wards, 28 municipalities and 20 zip codes.
“As a region, we have real challenges,” said Patrick. He adds the biggest challenge our city faces is not aligning resources systematically.
The Promise Zone hopes to help reduce crime, create a mixed-income community, and increase economic development in areas north of Delmar. Patrick believes the Promise Zone is about investing in people and, by doing that, changing the lack of equitable development in these neighborhoods.
Veta Jeffery, Senior Vice President of Midwest Centre Bank, described an equitable community as a business that should function like a healthy body. There are certain necessities needed to ensure everything is working properly and working together as a team to get the job done, he said. Just as having an accountant, an attorney, and a financial advisor are necessary to build a successful business, that is how we should look at our communities, Jeffery said, like something to invest in.
Ron Roberts of Garden Capital warned north city and north St. Louis County residents that they live in the “opportunity zone”, a space that could attract outside speculators looking to make large profit from cheap land. Robert urged residents to stay connected to the communities they live in and reminded them of the assets that the houses, buildings and land in these communities represent. He urged them to start investing in their communities now.
But discussions about community development can be a scary thought for many St. Louisans. Many people fear they will be displaced due to gentrification. Audience members expressed their concerns about being pushed out and left out of the American dream.
Patrick believes the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) decided to build in St. Louis because that area is in the Promise Zone. He said the NGA is a $1.75 billion project that Patrick believes will propel other economic ventures in the area. Even though eminent domain was used to clear the land for the project and many homeowners and businesses were displaced, Patrick believes that the effect will be positive on the surrounding community. He says the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership is not in the business of displacing St. Louisans. Their goal, according to Patrick, is to empower people where there are. He believes equitable community development is an attainable goal for the St. Louis region, when all of St. Louis is a part of the discussion and plans.
The 27th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) celebrated diversity in media with local filmmakers who help push social change and justice.
The 10-day festival had screenings throughout the St. Louis region, including the Missouri History Museum. Sunday night, SLIFF featured eight mini documentaries, each telling the complex stories of the black experience in America.
Renee Fussell of Caseyville, IL, attended last year’s festival said it was awesome, and this year she was really inspired by the film directors’ hard work, dedication and all they are doing to make a difference.
“I’m going to go home and talk to people and tell them what I learned and hopefully that will inspire them too,” said Fussell.
“A Debtor’s Prison”, one of the mini documentaries featured at the museum, tells the story of Meredith Walker and Samantha Jenkins. Filmmakers Brett Story and Todd Chandler give a closer look at the judicial system of the 88 municipalities in St. Louis County, and how their practices affect the community at large.
Both Walker and Jenkins are victims and survived their experiences in these municipal court systems. Both women have been harassed, racially profiled and victimized by the cash bail system. Both Walker and Jenkins have been represented by Arch City Defenders, a local non-profit civil rights law firm that offers an integrated approach to fighting systemic injustice.
For 10 years, Walker experienced the strain and stress many St. Louisans feel today from some St. Louis County police officers. As a result of being pulled over and ticketed for minor offenses such as a tail light out or driving uninsured, back-to-back court dates caused Walker to miss work and miss out on time spent with her two children. Walker is a single parent who has been jailed close to 15 times and has had fines adding up to $15,000 dollars.
Walker believes these things are done in predominantly black communities to intimidate and collect revenue. She added they are squeezing the residents of St. Louis until they are drained dry.
Walker urges the community to remind law enforcement they are civil servants, and not to over-police.
“In the past, we didn’t have organizations to help us. Organizations like Action St. Louis and Arch City Defenders helps empower us without breaking the bank,” said Walker.
She explained that the legal team represented her for free, and did a better job in defending her case than the lawyers in the past whom she paid.
With a smile on her face, Walker said the Arch City Defenders represented her with as much compassion and care as if she gave them a million dollars.
Before the non-profit legal team, Walker was overwhelmed with fines and fees, and it impacted her ability to find employment. Walker wanted to work with children, specifically for the Division of Family Services and the Division of Youth Services. In the line of work she wanted to do, she would need a valid driver’s license. For five years she was unable to do the work she is most passionate about.
For many years, Walker felt embarrassed about the things she was going through with St. Louis County police. She vividly remembers taking a variety of routes when driving just to avoid law enforcement.
However, going from shame to wearing her experience as a badge of honor, Walker feels it is necessary to share her story.
Now, Walker has her license back, has her own car, and can proudly say she drives freely through the city and county without fear or anxiety.