News 4 Investigates: Murder Hits Home -

News 4 Investigates: Murder Hits Home

Keith Williams was playing cards with friends in an East St. Louis store when a gunman repeatedly fired bullets through the outside wall killing Williams and wounding two of his friends.

"There was a pain so deep that it's beyond describing," his sister Denice told me.

The shooting reflects an epidemic of violent crime in urban America.

"I don't think there's a measure that could say just how bad this problem is in America," said Denice Williams. "It's overwhelming."

A few hours after our interview, East St. Louis police responded to the first of seven overnight shootings, including a murder.

Even though East St. Louis has seen a reduction in murders this year, it still has one of the highest murder rates in the country.

East St. Louis' population is 98-percent African-American, which means violent crime in the city almost always is committed by blacks against blacks. The same scenario plays out in many neighborhoods in St. Louis and other major urban areas in the country.

The city of St. Louis has excellent data on it's website that reveals the number of reported crimes against persons and property.

News 4 Investigates learned that the six neighborhoods with the most murders in 2005-2007 had populations that were at least 97-percent African-American. Of course, the big question is why?

Reasons for Violent Crime

According to various studies, areas with the highest concentration of single parents living below poverty, gang activity, high unemployment, few services or activities for youth, widespread drug abuse and the look and feel of abandoned surroundings all play a role in creating the values and environment that fuels violent crime.

Typically, there is more violence closer to the urban core of big cities and less in the suburbs. The suburbs also have less poverty, lower unemployment, better schools and many other factors that have a positive impact on any community.

Big Problems in Mostly White Neighborhoods

While murder is still far more likely to occur in a St. Louis neighborhood that is mostly African-American, there are also mostly white city neighborhoods that have serious problems with violent crime.

In 2005-2007, the Central West End had the highest overall crime index in the city, according to the St. Louis police department. The Central West End has a population that is 2/3 white and is arguably the most affluent neighborhood in the city.

Last year, police investigated 77 armed robberies in the Central West End, the second highest number of armed robberies for any city neighborhood, even more than Wells-Goodfellow, Hamilton Heights and Walnut Park East and West, neighborhoods with far higher murder rates.

The number of property crimes in the Central West End far exceeded any other neighborhood. In 2007, the neighborhood had 295 auto thefts, the most in the city.

Based on the number of crimes against people, the most violent neighborhood in the city
is Dutchtown in South St. Louis, which also has a population that is 2/3 white.

Last year, police investigated 364 crimes against people in Dutchtown. The crimes include murder, rape, robbery, armed robbery, aggravated assault and aggravated assault with a gun. Dutchtown had more crimes against people than Wells-Goodfellow, which is the focus of a massive local and federal task force of cops, agents and prosecutors targeting criminal activity in the most murderous neighborhood in the city.

So, clearly violent crime, and high levels of all crime also happen in mostly white neighborhoods in the city.

The Least Crime in St. Louis

In most cases, the neighborhoods with the least amount of violent crime in St. Louis have very high percentages of whites living there, including St. Louis Hills. But there are also neighborhoods with very high African-American populations that are among the safest in the city.

The Tiffany neighborhood, one of the city's smallest with just 1,340 residents, has a population that is 83-percent African-American. It's an interesting case study with two Aldermen, one black and the other white. The neighborhood website boasts that "multi-cultural homeowners and a strong Tiffany Community Association constitute a vibrant and active force for revitalization."

Lasalle Park, which is a similar size neighborhood, has a 71-percent African-American population. The community is part of the "Old Frenchtown" area that includes three neighborhoods; LaSalle Park, Lafayette Square and Soulard.

Both neighborhoods have little violent crime, according to St. Louis police crime reports.

A Shared St. Louis

There are few issues more difficult to talk about with someone of a different race than race. It can be a polarizing discussion, even among friends.

As a journalist, people like Denice Williams trust me to tell their stories fairly and sensitively. We must earn that trust by the way we present their stories on the air.

I hope you'll allow us to earn your trust, not by a single story or two, but through our determined effort and commitment to understand a Shared St. Louis.

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