When I turned 18, I couldn’t wait to leave St. Louis. The word people often used to describe the city was “provincial.” It was a euphemism for segregated. Backwards. Old-fashioned. Way behind the times. Many people my age who grew up in West County can relate. We had never driven south of Highway 55 or north of Highway 70. You just didn’t.
When I left St. Louis, I left in a big way. I joined a musical singing and dancing group and traveled the world. I became a TV investigative reporter and after working 6 years including 2 in Miami, I did what many people are compelled to do: return to their hometown. I’ve read that research shows we often are subconsciously compelled to return to our childhood haunts as a result of early smells, aromas and odors that imprint in our olfactory memories. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A good place to raise a family. Which I did. I would eventually leave again for personal reasons.
But when I returned to St. Louis as a reporter, after having worked in Miami which operated under 1 municipal government, coming back to St. Louis was a major culture shock.
There were 99 municipalities when I lived there, and according to multiple sources, it has gained one more since I lived there. The list is below. When I grew up there, my brother-in-law was the Lt. Governor. My sister ran for the US Senate twice. I hung out with the youngest elected state representative. He was from Ferguson, a predominately white, but changing neighborhood. That’s another story.
Then, as now, I began to wonder, how does anything ever get done? With so many fiefdoms and political struggles, it made for great stories that reporters like me loved. And yet, as a hometowner with a vested interest in the future, it seemed so nuts. There were, and are, way too many duplicate services and tremendous squanderings of money as a result. How many police and fire departments and mayors were necessary? No wonder Ferguson had 50 white police officers and was challenged to hire any officers of color…only 3 or 4, according to conflicting reports. Who would want to work there? Who would want to go to work in these politically charged and unbalanced minefields? Logic would dictate that the best, brightest and most talented would look to cities that were better organized, funded and enlightened.
As the media coverage of the questionable shooting of Mike Brown drones on, it does not speed up the slowly grinding wheels of justice. It does not change the fact that all the facts in this case are not known. And until all the facts come out, we won’t know where the truth lies. The bigger question for St. Louis is what will change? The intense media and world scrutiny surely must put it under the microscope of what needs to be changed. I’ve done media consulting for law enforcement and government agencies over the decades since I left television. Having the head of the Missouri Highway Patrol, Ron Johnson, take over media relations from Ferguson was a good PR move. But it is just one more example of how consolidating on a larger scale can help deal with the many overwhelming problems all cities have. The little “munis” as we called them, don’t have a fighting chance. As Ferguson has shown, problems that spiral out of control can gobble up a muni alive, especially when resources, employees and expertise just aren’t there.
Watching CNN as I write this, I’m now watching a story about a police officer from St. Ann (yet another muni) who was caught on video pointing his gun indiscriminately at the crowd, and cursing at them. Further indication that a larger, consolidated, better trained police force most likely would not do this. No guarantees of course, but these little munis just can’t recruit and train the way better funded, larger cities can’t.
My children grew up in St. Louis. Their schools were so much more desegregated than mine ever was. But apparently it wasn’t and isn’t enough. The fiefdoms must melt. The politics as usual can’t continue if race relations in Ferguson and the entire city are to improve. It’s time for my hometown to grow up and catch up with best practices. It is a great place to raise a family. Or it was.
Finally, I did my weekly local radio show this morning, and my co-host, who is not vegan, popped out with this random thought, “Ya know…if more folks in Ferguson ate a vegan diet, there would be less violence.” He’s right. Research shows vegans have less depression and often have more positive energy. They have healthier body weights and are healthier in general compared to the general population, all making for better dispositions and moods. We are just beginning to learn about how eating animals that are stressed out and producing abnormal hormones right before they were killed, may not be good for human consumption. We are so much more than what we eat.
Does a vegan lifestyle cure racism and violent behavior? It would be simplistic to even suggest it is a cure all. But many ideas floating out there can sure be a start.
St. Louis Municipalities
Country Club Hills*
Country Life Acres*
Crystal Lake Park*
Glen Echo Park*
Town and Country*
Velda Village Hills*