Antonio French wrote a very good post on crime statistics, and what it's like to read the machine's spin on our Most Dangerous City title, while one is living in what continues to be a rough neighborhood with insufficient police coverage: Even More "Dangerous" This Year
I have to say, all this crime ranking talk has me feeling conflicted. On one hand, I feel pretty safe where I live, I generally feel okay walking down the street, and I understand that both murder and rape are usually committed by someone the victim knows (i.e., not usually against a random person walking down the street). I also understand that this whole sour discussion has lead to a lot of City-bashing and shallow finger-pointing, to the point that I have actually lost count of how many people have recently told me to my face that it's "just because of the North Side" in a tone that suggested that it was somehow the fault of all of us who live in North City. Um, no. My street ain't perfect but I still love it, and I am still amazed at how great a lot of my CITY neighbors up here on the NORTH SIDE are. In fact, tomorrow morning, me and one of my NORTH SIDE neighbors from the CITY are going out to breakfast at a diner on the NORTH SIDE and I am going to eat a huge waffle--sounds like we're all doing crime 24/7 up here, don't it?
On the other hand, though, there are certain levels on which I don't feel safe. I still think a lot about things that I saw, heard about, and experienced when I lived in Adams Grove, and how disempowering and frustrating it was to try to, you know, actually get something to happen to change it. I remember a lot of different things, but for some reason the thing that's coming back to me as I write this entry is the time that I called the cops because there was a man holding a gun to the head of a woman whom he was dragging down the street directly in front of our apartment building. I said please hurry, he's got a gun to her head. Ten whole minutes later, a police van rolled by the area and didn't even stop to look around. It just kept driving.
To be fair, that was last year. But earlier this year, a similar incident happened. I was out with a group of neighbors one evening, and we heard nine shots. We called the police. A car came by a few minutes later, hastily shined its spotlight down the block where we'd said it happened without even driving down that block, and then drove away. There was a large group of us concerned citizen types assembled under a streetlight in plain view nearby, but the police in that car didn't even come over to ask us if we'd seen anything. It just drove off. I've spent time in a lot of different places in my life and heard gunshots in several of those places, but somehow seeing that police car not even drive down the block that we told them the shots came from was much scarier than almost any shots I've ever heard before.
Also, this year, a woman I know was attacked and nearly raped in her apartment, and as was reported in the Arch City Chronicle, she had a horrendously difficult time getting the officer who responded to her call to take the crime seriously. This came after the Post-Dispatch report about how the SLPD had fudged its rape statistics by using memos instead of real reports, and after Slay blogged his defense of and support for (and spin on) Mokwa's performance in that area. Honestly, I try not to think about this whole thing too much, because it makes me very, very upset. Despite my friend's outstanding survivorship and resilience, part of me is still very sad that this could possibly happen to her, and is very sad for all the people in my city who've gone through the same but who didn't have the strength that she did to get through it. And as a person who wants firmly to live the rest of my life in St. Louis City, and as a person who has survived rape before, I can't help but wonder--if, god forbid, it ever happens again, will the City police take it seriously? I don't know, but this morning that was on my mind when I read Mokwa's comments on the P-D site that he thinks the rape number went up this year because more rapes are being reported now. I can't even begin to tackle that one without using the words "what the hell" and a lot of words much more acidic than that, so I'm not going to even try it. Suffice it to say, reading that made me feel no better about something that's made me feel unsafe. Mind you, I don't think I'm going to have to survive rape again, but it saddens and sickens me to think that the justice system of the City to which I give so much might not give a shit about me if I did.
I don't submit this as a great essay or as thoroughly thought out, scientific truth, but these are just a few things that have been on my mind about crime in this City lately, and Antonio's blog entry got me thinking about them again. While this blog entry is neither rocket science nor brain surgery, the general gut feeling that residents get about the safety of the place where they live is often a big determining factor about whether or not they decide to keep living there, and that's something worth thinking about. One of the things that is most absurd to me about the oft-repeated We Must Build 8,000 Hideous Particleboard And Vinyl Homes Today Or No One From The County Will Move Here argument is that, um, safety and schools make a much bigger difference in quality of life and in where-to-live decisions than the quantity of hideous vinyl homes built in an area.
The aforementioned P-D article that I read this morning bore one particularly interesting quote about the Morgan Quitno crime rating: "Indeed, to avoid a poor finish in the Quitno report, St. Louis would either need to add thousands of residents or dramatically cut crime." My prediction for 2007 is that Mokwa, Slay, and the other powers that be in StL City will juggle the statistics on both of those topics, but make no significant real change in either area.