Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cool Idea or Exploitation of a Serious Inner City Problem?

I was listening to the radio the other day and came across a report about a St. Louis resident who has decided to highlight the City's recent crime rating- as the most Dangerous city in America. How is she highlighting this dubious rating? By making t-Shirts and selling them on e-bay. Listen to brief report from KMOX radio in St. Louis.

Front of T-Shirt

Normally this may not be a big deal. But in this case, it just doesn't seem right. Here you have a well-to-do middle class white woman, Joan Metzler, making money off of the suffering, poverty, and other social/economic conditions of folks who live in St. Louis' dreaded rundown ghetto areas (mostly in North St. Louis) where most of the violent crime is taking place. That entire area (of which I used to live and where my family still lives) is severely blighted. Click Here to see photos of North St. Louis. Click on the various neighborhoods from the map, and click the "tour" button at the bottom of the page to begin. There is an extensive photo tour for each area. There is no investment, few jobs (other than run of the mill fast food), almost nothing positive for Black youth to get themselves involved in, few programs, etc. But there are plenty of liquor stores. In fact, some of the hottest businesses in North St. Louis are liquor establishments (on every other block), fast food restaurants (on every other block), black radio (to maintain ignorance in the community), and plenty of thriving funeral homes. In other words, you have a "full circle" type of deal going on. The full cycle of poor Black life.... Plenty of drugs and liquor (to kill Black folks or lead to quicker death), plenty of bad food (again, contributing to poor health conditions & killing black folks faster), Black radio (which is 100% anti-intellectual and helps perpetuate bad lifestyles, and maintains a culture of ignorance in the "community", working together with the previous two factors), and to complete the cycle, you have plenty of funeral homes which all thrive in North St. Louis (there to make big bucks from the social, economic, political, and health conditions that exist in North St. Louis). It's like the mopping up operation of the whole cycle. And somewhere in there we could also throw in a Public School system that is an absolute disaster. The clowns are not just in the classroom in this school district. In this district, the clowns run the school board. Lord Have Mercy!!! My blood pressure rises just thinking about it, even though I no longer live in the city and I have no children....still the shenanigans are pretty outrageous (you have to be from this area and aware of the news reports to understand). Things are so bad that the State of Missouri is considering an extraordinary move to take over the St. Louis School system, and firing the thugs who are currently running it. I hope there is a State takeover (and the mayor also supports a State takeover).

Back of T-Shirt

Then comes this white woman, who just light-heartedly decides (from her white world) that she will also make money off of the same conditions that I just described. It all seems too weird to me. Why? Because this woman has no idea what it is like to live in the conditions where most of the violence is taking place. Believe me, North St. Louis is another world apart from the rest of the St. Louis area; a place where most Whites in the City do not venture (under any circumstances). This woman lives in a part of St. Louis called Wydown (in West St. Louis).... part of a larger area referred to as the "Central West End". Yes, racially mixed in some areas, but it is probably the most affluent part of the City. The area is dotted with homes that go for half a million to a million dollars or more, with a few gated communities. It is where Washington University is located (one of the top Universities in the World). It is where Barnes Hospital & Wash. U Medical Center are both located... (one of the top Hospitals in the U.S. and top research Med Centers in the U.S. respectively). This is where Forest Park is located....the St. Louis Zoo, our major nationally recognized Museums, the St. Louis Science Center, and it is where many other St. Louis institutions are located. What I am getting at is that this part of West St. Louis is more like the suburbs. Crime happens in these areas as well, but it is limited in these places because they get plenty of Police attention (and money for investment and up-keep). So she doesn't live in the high crime areas, and therefore really cannot claim the "brave" label. It's misleading to say the least. How is she being "brave" by going home everyday to her generally upscale neighborhood?

She stated in the Post Dispatch article below that she thinks that it's Cool to live in the most dangerous city. But I doubt that the law abiding people who live in the communities that are most impacted by the crime & violence (like North St. Louis) think that the devastation of their neighborhoods is "Cool". I don't think they enjoy the suffering brought on by blight, poverty, drug infestation and the gangs in their midst.

Does she feel that it is o.k. middle class whites in general feel that it is o.k. to make money from the poverty and suffering of others? Are they that blind or insensitive to the situation in Americas inner cities? It seems to me that they just don't get it. This woman may be a few miles away from where most of the violence is occurring, but theoretically she is thousands of miles away from it. Is she exploiting this situation- a complex social & economic situation that she does not understand? Or is she right for doing this? Some may say it's her right... sure I agree that it's her "right".....but is she right? That's the question here. Just because she has "the right" doesn't make it right. Wouldn't it be better if her efforts were aimed at dealing with some of the socio-economic and political issues that have helped to create the "Most Dangerous City" label? Wouldn't it be better is she worked to put together some programs to help? I'm not attacking Metzler.... I am just raising some pertinent questions. The story shows the economic and cultural divide between the different classes of people who live in St. Louis (the city also ranks as one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in America.... go figure).

Below is a more detailed report from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The Joan Metzler story is near the bottom.


Trio of cities is out to shake image problem
By Jake Wagman

When St. Louis begrudgingly assumed the title of "Most Dangerous City" last month, officials in New Jersey were cheering.

It's not that the people of Camden, N.J., have anything against St. Louis: They were just happy to pass the torch.

Camden is a depressed urban enclave across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. About the only thing it has in common with St. Louis is that both are part of a fraternity of cities that have had the notoriety of being named the most crime-ridden in the United States by Morgan Quitno Press, a Lawrence, Kan., publishing outfit with a knack for publicity.

The dubious distinction — which has gone to either St. Louis, Camden or Detroit every year since 1999 — has left the cities scrambling to protect their public images, striving to prove they are in fact better places than their crime figures would indicate. Advertisement

In St. Louis, the president of the Convention and Visitors Commission has described the most-dangerous title as "the story that won't die." The mayor has called it a "good gimmick" backed by "some questionable methodology."

After Camden was named most dangerous in 2005 — the second straight year it earned the title — city leaders urged people to say "No to Quitno" and organized a trolley ride to show off the city's development progress.

This year, when Camden dropped off the top spot, city officials called a news conference in front of police headquarters to celebrate.

"Was I happy? Absolutely," Camden Mayor Gwendolyn A. Faison recalled last week.

The most-dangerous title was not all bad, Faison said. It helped the city confront its crime problem and get funding to hire more police officers, she said.

Faison has a message for St. Louis: "Tell them to be encouraged. If Camden can overcome that stigma, so can they."

But acting Camden County Prosecutor James P. Lynch, who believes the ranking system is deeply flawed, has another message: "I feel sorry for St. Louis now."

Lynch says the ranking invites national scorn and undermines the genuine efforts of struggling cities such as Camden to shed crime and spark rebirth.

"It's embarrassing and humiliating and does nothing to restore pride in the community," Lynch said.

Those thoughts are echoed in Detroit, which had the most-dangerous title three years in a row, from 1999 to 2001, and was second to St. Louis this year.

"We don't like it either," said James Canning, a spokesman for Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick. "For too many years, people have beat up on the city of Detroit."

Every major city has crime, Canning says. For Morgan Quitno to label one the most dangerous is unfair, he said.

Scott Morgan, president of Morgan Quitno, disagrees. The firm calculates the most dangerous city by examining 2005 FBI crime statistics in six categories — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft — for each major city and comparing them with the national average.

The chief criticism of the methodology is that it compares a city such as St. Louis, with fixed borders close to the urban core, to places such as Houston, where the city limits sprawl far beyond downtown.

A better way, some say, to determine crime in a particular area is to look at crime statistics for the entire region. By that measure, according to a separate Morgan Quitno list, the St. Louis area ranks closer to the middle of the pack among 344 metropolitan areas.

Even with its flaws, Morgan says, the most dangerous city list reveals troubling figures in St. Louis, such as 131 murders last year.

"It isn't like we make this up — point us out as frauds in our pajamas, or whatever it is," Morgan said. "The murder rate is still seven times the national average."

A guy "who's working in his pajamas and his bare feet in his mother's basement" is actually how the mayor's outspoken chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, described Morgan, though not everyone would agree.

"I have to say they are pretty accurate," said Joseph C. Scarpelli, mayor of Brick Township, N.J.

Brick was on the same list as St. Louis — just on the opposite end. The city earned the title of "Safest City" in the United States for 2006.

The ranking has brought some prestige to the beachfront Jersey town, Scarpelli said, as well as helped property values.

"Let me just say this," Scarpelli said. "The real estate people are very happy."

Garden State real estate agents aren't the only ones hoping to profit from the city rankings.

Joan Metzler, who lives in the Wydown/Skinker neighborhood of St. Louis, is selling shirts that boast "Brave Enough to Live in America's Most Dangerous City." On the back, the shirt also brags that St. Louis has bested Detroit in both "baseball & crime."

Metzler has sold more than 300 shirts, most of them at area bars. She says those who live in the city already know it has a crime problem; why not embrace the title?

"It's kind of cool to be living in the most dangerous city in America," she said. "You've got to be made of a little sterner stuff." 314-622-3580


Here is a Featured Article from the Riverfront Times Newspaper from a few months ago, entitled Battle Lines. It focuses on the senseless violence in St. Louis and the gang problem in particular. The author also describes a young man who was a victim of the North St. Louis streets.... He was gunned down (ambushed) while exiting a Metro Bus earlier this year. Article is long but worth the read (click the "next" tab at bottom of each page).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess you have to make light of a situation in which people steal, rob, and commit crimes against anyone who lives in the city. I really have no pity or forgiveness for those who have stolen from me, or make life hell for those who work hard for their money. You have chosen to bring race into this topic, which is the source of the city's problems. As public transporation spans, so does the crime. It's sad that people in North St. Louis can not do anything but make the top of the crime list.

I'll order two shirts.