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After my first meeting with Charmaine Savage, founder of I Am EStL, The Magazine, in 2016, I left with two possible article assignments: the importance of voting and the problem of ranking cities based on crime statistics.
I wrote the article on voting, but we got too busy reporting positive stories out of East St. Louis to ever go back to writing about crime statistics. Besides, we knew someone would get around to doing that anyway.
Last week, the Belleville News-Democrat took up the mantle with its article, “You’re 19 times more likely to be murdered in East St. Louis than in the average U.S. city.”
The article did make some good distinctions about the changing nature of violent crime, but those distinctions can be made about violent crime everywhere. When random shootings — of total strangers, by total strangers — are an almost daily occurrence across the country, why is East St. Louis singled out?
After that meeting with Savage, I interviewed Jack Kirkland, associate professor of social work at Washington University’s Brown School. He explained that the biggest factor that determines whether you will be a crime victim is where you live within a city, not the city itself.
East St. Louis is a small city with a “constricted residential population,” which inflates the crime rate. But the real danger is the perception. “People never make a judgment based on diabetes rankings, but they will for crime,” Kirkland said.
Changing perceptions was Savage’s goal for the magazine, and it’s my goal as editor. Of course, the city needs more resources to investigate crime and fight it, but it needs resources for crime victims and everyone else in the community, too. Those resources will never come if people are afraid to go to East St. Louis.