Depressingly consistent

The Tampa Times, April 4, 1980

In 2015, I wrote about a century-old insurance industry study that examined murder in selected U.S. cities, including St. Louis. The study linked high homicide rates, in large part, to the “unrestrained sale of firearms.” It also found rates tended to be higher in cities with “persons of color.”

That theme – guns as a cause, minority communities as victims – has remained depressingly consistent for more than a century, especially in St. Louis.

That was true in 1920, when St. Louis had a homicide rate of 12.6 per 100,000 people. And it was true in 1980, when the rate reached 50 per 100,000 and The Associated Press described St. Louis as the nation’s “murder capital.”

Forty years ago, then-state Rep. Fred Williams told the AP: “The law enforcement agencies take the attitude that, ‘Well, there’s another Black killed, that’s one less Black we have to deal with.’” And reflecting the indifference that seems to be part of the DNA of the city’s entrenched leadership, Police Chief Eugene Camp responded: “You can’t patrol against murder. If someone wants to kill somebody, how can we stop it?”

This year, the city’s homicide rate will exceed 87 per 100,000 – an all-time record.

As of Dec. 30, the number of murders stood at 262, just five shy of matching the record set in 1993. The number of deaths from complications of COVID-19 was 297.

If gun violence and racism are public health issues, then one would expect a public health response at least equivalent to the one mounted to fight the novel coronavirus. But that hasn’t happened.

It’s easier, it seems, to fight a deadly virus than the gun lobby.

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