Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Circle game

I just read, in thinking about gun control and mass shootings and mayhem in general, that my hometown of St. Louis is the murder capital of the U.S. with about 64 murders per 100,000 people (2017). I don’t like to think of the place where I was born as a hellscape, and in fact, when you travel there you don’t get the feeling that you might get showered with bullets as you step out of the airport terminal. Even in the inner city, many parts of which, I admit, have deteriorated substantially since I lived there, you can walk, dine, shop, and hang without fear of imminent death.

So why is the murder rate so high? “White flight.”

Like a number of American cities, the legal entity “St. Louis” is a fairly small place – the black circle on the map above. Its population is about 317,000. On the other hand, the metropolitan area that most St. Louisans think of as “St. Louis” is represented by the red circle and has a population of about 1 million. In the ’40s and ’50s, many if not most of the whites who once lived in the black circle moved out to the red circle. The vast majority of St. Louis murders occur in the black circle, and mostly in a small portion of it toward the north.

This is because St. Louis is deeply segregated. The north side is almost completely black, but since white flight has actually continued for many decades, a lot of city neighborhoods that used to be white or mixed are now largely black too.

You know the litany. Gangs. Drugs. Lousy schools. Poverty. It goes with the territory. Same with cities like Baltimore (No. 2 on the list), Detroit, Chicago. In fact, Baltimore is very much like St. Louis, an independent city (administratively) within a larger metropolitan area. The cities are their own counties, in other words, meaning that when white flight occurred and occurs, the tax base tanks. Though the Orioles and the Cardinals play within the cities, most of the economy is out there in the red circle. Jobs, good schools, higher property values, a suburban quality of life.

It’s heartbreaking to drive around parts of St. Louis and see the old brick houses and apartment buildings boarded up and falling apart. Or to see blocks with only a handful of houses on them amid a veldt of vacant lots where the buildings have been demolished, erased. There are few businesses. No sense of hope. Unemployment is high. I mean, Christ.

If the St. Louis metropolitan area were actually the city of St. Louis, the murder rate per 100,000 wouldn’t even make the top 50, I bet. If the economy were one big pot instead of two segregated pots, the schools in north St. Louis would be doing a lot better and there might even be some investment, new businesses, a future for the children who grow up there.

Instead, white flight turned St. Louis into a town where your prospects are determined by where you’re born, where you go to school, and how you learn to handle yourself in the face of block-by-block conditions.

Violence, we shouldn’t be too surprised, comes of that dreadful truth.

4 comments on “Circle game

  1. Sha'Tara
    February 19, 2018

    Several responses come to mind here.

    There’s the socialist bleeding heart response: it’s terrible what’s happening in those cities; the government should do something! But “government” if it ever was, is not responsive to need. It is responsive to greed. The government will take an interest to the degree that change happens through gentrification, pushing the poorest into joblessness, dispossession and homelessness.

    Based on my experiences of a self-empowered life, bootstrapping myself from endemic poverty into a kinda-sorta almost debt-less middle class situation, I think rather in terms of taking personal responsibility for one’s situation and regardless, and I mean, regardless of circumstances, self-sacrificially doing something real, something positive to change one’s unacceptable circumstances.

    Without will there is no way.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 20, 2018

      Government has had plenty of time to take a crack at this problem, for sure, and seemingly has failed.

      As for personal responsibility, no doubt that’s how the people who do survive and thrive manage it, but given the problem of substandard schools, it’s hard to give young people the tools they need. That’s where I’d really like to see progress — in the inner city schools.

      • Sha'Tara
        February 20, 2018

        Where government fails, the people must take over. When our government failed to fund our local school (political/ideological war between church and state) the people took over the school. The women became the teachers and private collections of books were loaned to the school. We kids peeled wrappers from cans to use as writing paper. We made ink and used chicken or turkey quills if nothing else was available. Much though was done through memorization and repetition, singing while walking or dancing between desk rows. Newspapers were read in school and you could be in grade four and be reading books that belonged on university bookshelves. Unlike my later discoveries in schools that had “everything” we were infected with a passion for learning, or at least most of us. Those who did not just didn’t show up, staying home to work. Oh yes, everybody worked and there was no money. Parents traded kids’ work! With imagination it’s not hard to find something good to do; something to help each other.
        The tools needed to be a proper human being don’t come from schools, they come from within; from desire and passion coupled with imagination. Where these are lacking no amount of schooling is going to make a bit of difference. Personal choice and self empowerment. Do I want to be “successful” or do I want to remain a slave to mediocrity or worse? The operative word is always “I” and not “we” or “they”.

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 20, 2018


        I think you should write an op-ed!

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2018 by in Et alia and tagged .
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