What St. Louis Means for People Who Have Suddenly Decided to Care

I’m still struggling to get used to my new schedule. While I don’t have trouble actually waking up, it is difficult to get home from work and feel like doing anything other than sleeping, which could explain why I’ve cooked all of two meals this week and have a fridge full of wasted green stuff.

I’ve also lost a fair bit of sleep over the Ferguson situation, which is of course far more complicated and nuanced and terrifying for those involved than the media could possibly convey, both the conservative slanderous media portraying a) Michael Brown as an strong arm robber (hey, remember when we were young and they called it shoplifting and didn’t try to assassinate our character) despite the Ferguson PD’s statement that he was stopped – and shot eight times – for jaywalking with no officer knowledge of this “robbery” whatsoever and b) everyone protesting the vicious police response as a rioter and looter, despite livestream and photographic evidence to the contrary.

I’m also dismayed at the far-liberal media, who seem all too happy to portray white St. Louis as elitist snobs who’ve erected walls topped with barb wire to protect them from black neighborhoods, as if any of the people writing these articles could easily point out St. Louis or its suburbs on a map, let alone comprehend the layers of segregation and the history that inform them. Stephanie recently posted “Brace yourselves – the New Yorker think pieces on St. Louis are coming.” I liked the post, but it also made me cringe because it’s true.

It’s also why I’ve abandoned traditional news sources (KSDK, the Post-Dispatch, and especially faraway correspondent papers like the New York Times and the Guardian) and Facebook (where the rumor mill is just as bad as those comfortably cosseted in far-flung suburbs who aren’t as careful about disguising their racism as they think they are) and turned exclusively to Twitter. At least there, I can get real time updates from people who are actually there, without any flowery suppositions about what St. Louis means because a 140-character limit simply does not allow that.

In a weird way, I feel protective of St. Louis. While I want people to care and get angry and protest across the country because a young, unarmed man was murdered by a police officer who I sincerely doubt would have done the same thing to an 18-year-old white jaywalker, I also have a hard time trusting that anger sometimes. I can’t even look at Tumblr these days, what with the lustful ALL CAPS shouting and misattributed photos making the rounds seeming less like justified outrage and more like carrion birds standing over a meal.

It’s not my place to police people’s anger, but in my own impotent way, I want them to have a full understanding of what St. Louis is like, and maybe, I don’t know, care about it and its problems outside of this media circus. I want them to stop writing “one of the most segregated cities in America” as if they’ve ever been there, or know anything at all about the complex economic issues and neighborhood culture affecting this. I want them to give a shit about what they consider to be flyover country, this vast swath of the nation that they conveniently forget or deride when it’s not as sensational as it is now.

I want them to understand that there are still people involved there. There is a community involved. That it is reprehensible for a police force to use full-scale military tactics against citizenry and journalists, and how insane it is for St. Louis County to be able to issue officers assault weapons, armored vehicles, and MARPAT pants when they claim not to be able to afford dashboard cameras. I want them to understand that while this is still a racial issue at heart and we absolutely cannot forget that (to do so is forgetting our privilege as white people who aren’t open season targets), it is easier for the media to frame the story as one about a mob of looters, or a mob of protestors, or a mob of cops, and that when we buy into this, we forget that the institutions of each do not represent the individuals involved.

I am protective of St. Louis because my heart is still there, and I because I am asked to explain it every day (to Seattleites, no less, who don’t have the most sterling police department or reputation for integrated neighborhoods). It’s because it’s hard to convey what it’s like to grow up in a broken, impoverished, extremely diverse city, and to prove the media wrong when it attempts to smear the entire place as an ignorant, unstable problem. Because, unfortunately, it is easier for non-St. Louisans to dismiss the city as exactly this when it’s not grabbing the spotlight. They’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been alive, and this is why I feel like I need to be sure that they care before I give anything away. Which is pretty silly of me, I get that, but St. Lousians are a tough and (sometimes) defensive people. We’ve had to be.

The thing is, I left St. Louis because of its problems. I left because of the crime, because I’d witnessed decades of decline without any authoritarian or (organized, widespread, effective) citizen-based efforts to improve it, and because, no matter how much it remains an irrefutable part of my character, I could not stand and watch this happen to my city from the remove of the suburbs. I left despite the good people I know there, the amazing arts scene, the beautiful parks and architecture and food and no-nonsense, plainspoken attitude that I, as a current West Coaster, sorely miss.

St. Louis and its neighborhoods are incredibly complex, as are the people who live there and the issues that (sometimes, when it drives clicks and coverage) get attention. It hurts my heart to see anyone there buying into what the media is feeding them, and to see anyone who isn’t from there forming opinions based on misinformation and ignorance.

I am dismayed at this, I am saddened by the reasons behind the shooting and the attempted character assassination of Brown and the misplaced blame and confusion of protestors vs. looters. I’m scared of what will happen if (although unfortunately, probably when) the shooting officer is pardoned for his actions, and I remain tough and defensive to anyone who asks me to explain it.

About erineph

I'm Erin. I have tattoos and more than one cat. I am an office drone, a music writer, and an erstwhile bartender. I am a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen. Things I enjoy include but are not limited to zombies, burritos, Cthulhu, Kurt Vonnegut, Keith Richards, accordions, perfumery, and wearing fat pants in the privacy of my own home.
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2 Responses to What St. Louis Means for People Who Have Suddenly Decided to Care

  1. Tim says:

    Hey, I follow you on tumblr and twitter because I like your sense of humor, but I didn’t realize you were a St. Louis ex-pat like myself until now when I saw it posted on your tumblr. I appreciate your sentiments here and I’d have to say it lines up with mine pretty closely. Anyways, thanks for writing it and I hope you’re cool with me sharing it on the facebooks.

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