The real Loop problem

Bram Sable-Smith | op-ed Submission

While reading Matthew Curtis’s column in Monday’s paper, “The need for self-defense on [sic] the Loop,” I was stirred with quite a bit of emotion. I was happy that the column was published because it caused me to reflect on why I felt so strongly about what it was saying. What I concluded was that this column typified the furtive racism that persists on our campus, in our city and in our society.

Let me be absolutely clear before I continue that I am not accusing Curtis of being a racist or of any overt racism. I have read a number of his columns in the past, and I believe that he is making a well-reasoned response to a situation in which he finds himself. Rather, what I would like to do is to take a step back from the specific situation of crime in the Loop and examine the racially charged components of our daily conversations that we may not always consider.

What does it mean when we say that the area north of the Loop is “undeniably dangerous,” so much so that “all students who live north of the Loop should [equip themselves with a stun gun]”? Curtis would argue that an examination of crime statistics for the neighborhoods north of the Loop would reveal elevated documentations of crime. This, as Curtis claims, is undeniably true. There is more at play in these statements, however, than crime statistics.

When we discuss the “area north of the Loop” we are talking about North St. Louis, an informal neologism that refers to an area of the city that is 98 percent black, that makes up the bottom half of the city’s $33,652 median household income (compared to $83,000 in Clayton), and where unemployment is between 15 and 20 percent, more than double the city’s average of 8.6 percent. We probably are not thinking about these statistics when we talk about North St. Louis. In all likelihood, we are also excluding from our image of the area places that are rich in history, culture and architecture such as Crown Square, O’Fallon and Penrose Parks, the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing development, and The Ville Neighborhood, to name a few.

What is it, then, about this area north of the Loop that is so terrifying to us? Perhaps a better question in the context of Curtis’s column is: what makes us—the affluent college students—the innocent victims of crime in this context? What gives us the right to claim ground as ours on which to stand and protect?

The responses that any of us are able to give to these questions would include a series of complex racial, cultural and economic undertones and considerations. The problem is that as a collective we fail to acknowledge those thoughts and experiences that inform our perspective and our situation.

Which brings us back to the main question that Curtis is asking: how can we feel safer in St. Louis? One response is for all of us to buy stun guns. Another would be to work with Wash. U. to reconcile the loss of the property taxes used to fund local public school districts that occur when the University buys real estate in the area. Or preemptively engaging, as students, with block units and neighborhood organizations, not just when they complain about our parties, but when they host events aimed to strengthen the bonds of the neighborhood. Or perhaps even taking an active role in the local politics that function to address the very problems in our surroundings that we see as a student body. Rather than focusing on protecting ourselves from individual and sporadic acts of violence, we should be working toward addressing the structural inequalities that create the situations and the places in which we live.

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  • Lulu

    If WashU gave out free birth control to those women in St. Louis who can’t afford birth control (and end up having kids they can’t afford, who grow up to be criminals and harm WashU students), then we would be solving the root of the issue rather than just treating the symptoms. This would not be hard to do. Set up a WashU sponsored women’s clinic that has nurses n staff to implant free IUDs to whomever wants them. They are the most effective form of birth control, and can last a decade.

    • letsgetreal

      If these women didn’t have unprotected sex with complete randos, then we wouldn’t have this problem.

      Stop making excuses for people and start holding them accountable.

  • JS

    I think it is very noble and generous for Bram to want to devote your time to helping structural issues and become closer to communities in St. Louis. However, we are here primarily as students at a university. I take major issue with the statement, “what makes us—the affluent college students—the innocent victims of crime in this context? What gives us the right to claim ground as ours on which to stand and protect?” Anyone who says we should not protect our streets from crime is not a friend of the city. We have every right to keep our streets safe, and if people don’t take pride and responsibility in their areas, who will? I think Bram’s statements are very idealistic, and I think his heart is in the right place, but don’t ever tell me that I shouldn’t care about crime or my own safety. You are talking about large, structural issues, but everyone has to watch out for his/her own good each day. I very much agree that there is a major fear at WashU of certain areas, and I think you are right that we should do something about it, but I won’t accept blaming victims of crime.

  • Anon

    There is the underlying insinuation present in this discussion that students are contributing to their own violent assaults merely by paying tuition to go here. This bears resemblance to other habits of “blaming the victim”. I do not think many in this discussion wish to resort to that tactic which has long been used to shift blame in other types of criminally heinous behavior.

    And if anyone is to make the claim that we contribute to so called structural “violence” indirectly through property tax manipulation, I would expect to see some sources given. Even so, when it comes down to it, WashU students are not responsible for the laws regarding property taxes.

    The desire to help out our community, lift people out of poverty, improve public education, etc. is noble and great. However, there’s nothing racist about leaving that discussion out when simply advocating for every individuals’ natural right to their own physical protection.

    Let’s not get carried away.

  • ssacks

    I think the use of “or” in the final paragraph of the article may be misleading. In response to comments that both suggest and claim that the author is ignoring our right to protect our individual safety, I would like to point out that the author seems to be emphasizing that if one responds to the issue of violence in St. Louis (in general) and around campus (in particular) by ONLY carrying a weapon to use as self-defense, one is completely ignoring the problem as a social issue; as an educated and privileged University City citizen– a student of the local university– one is being a bystander to the structural violence that is occurring. If the university we are attending (and, thus, funding) is contributing to the structural violence by decreasing tax revenues for education, then we have an even greater moral obligation to respond not just by learning how to protect ourselves as individuals, but also by demonstrating awareness and responsibility for the issues that affect the community that we call ours for a minimum of four years. Although most of us may be transient St. Louisans, we do not have to be apathetic about nor complicit in exacerbating the environmental causes that lead to violence. Especially if we do not want to be students who have never truly “been outside of our gated community.”

    For a nuanced examination of crime in St. Louis, see the film “96 Minutes,” written and directed by WashU alumna Aimee Lagos; Lagos was affected by crime, violence, and race relations in St. Louis when Melissa Gail Aptman, a WashU student, was murdered in 1995 two weeks before she was to graduate. The film will be screened for free on Monday at 7:00 pm, in College Hall on the South 40 Campus.

    For more information on the event and the film:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/134952219969625/
    http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/23735.aspx

  • big picture

    I think the point the author is trying to make is that merely relying on self-protection does nothing to actually solve the problems other than momentarily act as a band-aid. The cycles of WashU students (and other St. Louis residents, which is rarely reported) getting jumped north of the loop will never end if our solution is stun-guns. There are reasons why people feel the need to steal from others, and we should be trying to address those. Robbery is often a symptom of poverty rather than a hateful person acting out of contempt for others. Trying to help people out of poverty and balancing extreme differences in society helps mitigate these social ills, while stun-guns, typically, do not.

    No one deserves to get bad things done to them. This includes the WashU student walking to class that gets jumped, and the bar-goers that are held up at gun point. But this also includes the child born into poverty, who attends an underserved school and can barely afford food on a daily basis. Solving problems means acknowledging the complexity of systems they exist within, not just treating one effect.

    • letsgetreal

      When you control for socioeconomic status, why do people from African American community commit more crimes?

      There are white people who are really poor here in St. Louis but we never hear about them attacking students.

      At some point, it’s time to stop playing the race card and get real.

      • big picture

        First off, I would like to see your statistics on these “controls” for socioeconomic status, not that I inherently disagree with you, but I don’t entirely understand how that can be done. Controlling for “socioeconomic status” means so much more than controlling for income, but neighborhood conditions, parental conditions, school system rates, etc. I am not saying it is impossible to do, but certainly more difficult than just claiming its possible and moving on.

        But secondly, let’s say this is true – “when you control for socioeconomic status, why do people from [the] African American community commit more crimes?” While there is no one correct answer to this question, I think it is often understated how much historical context influences trends of today. To simply “be” in St. Louis for four years of undergraduate education and complain about the state of the city as one sees it does nothing to consider why these things have been happening, and for years before any of us got here.

        I don’t want to argue about the racism or lack thereof of people today, because its a difficult topic where everyone gets defensive. But no one can argue that the city was not founded on explicitly racist policies in the past. There were laws about where black people (not PC’ed in legislature to “people of a certain socioeconomic status” as it often is today) could and could not live, get jobs, and how much they could get paid. The society supported racism, and black people here suffered. There was a system developed to keep black people in the city, away from white children in the suburbs, away from job opportunities, away from bank loans and economic gain. It didn’t work for all white people – I am in no way trying to say that there aren’t anomalies on both sides of this – but that was the overall trend.

        I am not trying to play the “race card” for anyone (which to me just seems like an excuse to call anything related to race as taboo and irrelevant), but to not acknowledge the influence of decades past is naive and offensive. Of course I have worked hard to get to where I am today, but I have lived my life in a system that was constructed for my success. Having parents and grandparents with a financial safety net, a history of academia, an example of “success” as seen by our culture, all helps with my own success. Not everyone at WashU has been as lucky as me, but a lot of us have been, or at least in a luckier situation than many kids of downtown St. Louis. I can also imagine that a system where I felt no hope of success, no path in my future, would make me angry and want to lash out at others – not because its fair or right, but because many people surrounding the limitless opportunities of WashU live very contrasting lives. If you cannot see the path you are on – a way out to a better life – it doesn’t exist. And if I grew up in a school system that was failing me, in a part of town where I had no source of affordable nutrition, with a family that hadn’t been able to pursue higher education, I doubt I would see a way out.

        This has gone on for a while, and my goal isn’t to start a fight, but to open more discourse about these issues in St. Louis and at WashU. The fact is if any of us want anything in St. Louis to change – maybe not while we are undergrads, but for future generations, for a better life for many more – we cannot rely on building more walls and further segregation. Walls just build fear on one side and danger on the other. As generally privileged young people (due to our access to a wonderful college education) we should be involved in giving back and trying to help others. The future looks very dismal for everyone if we don’t deal with these problems at a more fundamental level.

        • letsgetreal

          Stop making excuses for people and start holding them accountable for their actions.

  • Anony Mouse 1

    “While the idea of dealing with a problem at its root and not at the symptoms is in fact a good idea… this is simply a terrible attempt at a response to the previous article.
    There are a few sentences that everyone can agree with, but otherwise, it’s pretty unimaginative, lacks detail in its problem solving, and somehow tries to claim that we not try to “claim grounds as ours on which to stand and protect” when we are out in public…”

    Pretty much. There’s nothing new in this article compared to the last – only that this author feels ashamed that someone is publicly advocating self-defense. Nonsense. I used to live just north of the loop – the area the student is talking about it not the typical ‘north st. louis’ you read about. Technically it’s university city – and there are PLENTY of wash-u student housing units in the neighborhoods just north of delmar. To question these students ability, or even intention to ‘stand their ground’ in this sense is absurd. I used to live there as well – on kingsland at clemens – until I was almost jumped walking through the neighborhood one evening by 15 black teenagers on bicycles. I have sense moved to a safer area, and now keep a loaded baretta next to my bed. Does that make me any more silly than someone walking through the neighborhood with a stun gun?

    I can’t really even tell what point the author is trying to make… sure, if it was safer people wouldn’t need to protect themselves…. but it isn’t. Therefore, it’s a moot argument. Good on that first student for protecting themselves and encouraging others to do so – especially in a non-lethal way.

    Seems like this author – with all their talk of the ‘affluent’ wash-u community – hasn’t really spent a day outside of their gated neighborhood.

  • poker

    How long will you play the race card?

  • your mom

    ugh terrible editorial. 0/10

  • Anony Mouse

    While the idea of dealing with a problem at its root and not at the symptoms is in fact a good idea… this is simply a terrible attempt at a response to the previous article.
    There are a few sentences that everyone can agree with, but otherwise, it’s pretty unimaginative, lacks detail in its problem solving, and somehow tries to claim that we not try to “claim grounds as ours on which to stand and protect” when we are out in public…