It hardly surprises me to see my hometown—erstwhile U.S. murder capital St. Louis, Missouri—make the top 50 of the world’s most violent cities, a list compiled by Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. We’re # 45! With 34.14 homicides per 100,000 residents, St. Louis ranks ahead, so to speak, of Tijuana, Mexico, #47; Durban, South Africa, #48; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, #49, putting us in some pretty select company. In the U.S.A. we were beat out only by Baltimore at #36, New Orleans at #26 and Detroit at #24. A total of 34 of the 50 most violent cities are in Latin America. (However, we seldom hear via American media of the complicity of U.S. recreational drug users in any of this violence—much of it drug-gang-related—north or south of the border, but that’s another topic.)
I’ve been keenly aware of St. Louis’s violent side for some time. Much of my evidence has been anecdotal but nonetheless, to me, impressive. Over the years I’ve had two friends shot by strangers, another bludgeoned with a sawed-off shotgun in front of her Central West End home, yet another woman raped and severely beaten, and a close friend raped, sodomized and fatally stabbed in her Lafayette Square townhouse where I used to visit. In addition I’ve had friends who have been victims of armed robberies, muggings, car thefts and more, including a neighbor who was stabbed in front of the high-rise on Forest Park where I lived. Just recently a friend, recovering from serious surgery, stepped out on the street for the first time since coming home from the hospital only to fall victim to the “knockout game” in front of his Lindell Boulevard apartment building. Further, I’ve had some close calls on the street myself but was alert enough and lucky enough not to have been hurt. And it’s not like I was ever in the gang life or ran with a rough crowd, unless you consider writers and bureaucrats rough trade.
My acquaintanceship with St. Louis crime led me in part to pen my newly released novel, Fail—that and the failure of its disaccredited public schools, from which half its students drop out to populate the streets with underprepared, discouraged, vulnerable and often angry youths. The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, a ten-minute drive from my teenage St. Louis home, have focused attention on urban ills located not just in St. Louis but in most cities. Nowadays 70 percent of state prison inmates across the U.S. are high school dropouts. As the epigraph of Fail, taken from Mark Twain, states: “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.”
The failing schools–coupled with failing families–are at the core of our urban violence and dysfunction, I believe. but others may have other opinions as to what’s so askew in our cities.