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‘It starts at home’: Plagued with crime, poverty and unemployment, North City residents weigh in on neighborhood demise

In 2021, 90 percent of city homicide victims were Black, despite only making up only 50 percent of the city’s population.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 6:36 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A drive through the city’s northside can often appear like that of a third-world country, as vacant buildings, trash and people in despair can be found on nearly every corner.

“I feel like we’ve been left behind,” said Quantela Jackson, a lifelong resident of north St. Louis.

Historians point to the 1950s and 1960s, when middle-class families moved out to suburbs in droves, leaving poor families within the city. Crime, unemployment and poverty became the cornerstones of many neighborhoods, leaving many residents feeling hopeless and desperate.

“The way our communities and things look, that’s because a lot of people feel that way on the inside,” said Jackson. “Whether they know it or not.”

According to homicide data collected by St. Louis Metropolitan Police, the city experienced 195 homicides in 2021. More than half occurred on the city’s northside and 90 percent of the victims were Black, despite the Black community making up just 50 percent of the city’s overall population.

“That bothers me tremendously,” said Jackson. “Nowadays, (kids) don’t care. A lot of children are growing up with this, ‘I don’t care’ attitude’ and it’s sad. Cause if you don’t have anything to care about yourself, what can you really expect for them to put out here in the community?”

News 4 sat down with a group of North City residents, looking to have a discussion about some of the most pressing issues in their neighborhoods, including quality of life, public safety and the economy.

“The home is the fundamental place where everything begins at,” said Steve Jones, a resident of North City. “Respect for the authority begins at home. If you can’t respect your mother and father, who are the police to you?”

The residents agree the generational breakdown of the family unit has led to a lot of the struggles many families now face.

“When kids go unsupervised, they just going to get in trouble,” said Jackson. “It’s going to happen which is going to bring a lot of young parents that aren’t ready to be parents and don’t even have the true maturity to understand what even being a parent is. So now there’s a younger generation coming in that’s going to be neglected.”

Young parents, Jackson said, rarely understand the emotional support their children are in need of, leading young people to find love and acceptance in other places.

“A lot of kids are lacking these things emotionally and just because you can’t see it like scars don’t mean it’s not there and parents are kind of oblivious to it,” she said. “In their mind, they have a roof over your head, they feed you, they buy you clothes. The parents need help emotionally because just because you’re there, don’t mean you’re there.”

In 2021, the St. Louis Public School District voted to close seven schools district-wide, with five of them located in North City.

“I think the further the schools are that the kids have to go to, it kind of gives them a chance to not go where they’re supposed to go,” she said.

“It doesn’t seem like they had a plan for after they closed these schools down, what to do with the buildings,” said Jones. “They’re now shells of a building and most of them are being burnt up or vandalized and just contributing to the downfall of the neighborhood.”

A district spokesperson said each of the schools had fewer than 200 students enrolled and the city’s population of children declined 20 percent according to the 2020 census, further reinforcing the need for consolidation.

Without school to fall back on, options for the future can become bleak, Jackson said. However, all of the residents News 4 spoke to said they would like to see more opportunities for students to learn about different trades.

“You’d be surprised, people out there selling drugs are one of the best business people you can know,” said Zachary Woods, who grew up in North City. “Or people out there forming gangs...they can organize people and become builders, but we’re using them for the wrong tools because we make them feel like they don’t have a future.”

“We have a way to convince them that there’s a future ahead of them that’s brighter than what they’re doing right now,” Jones added.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police will transition to 12-hour shifts in June to accommodate its staffing shortage. All six of the residents News 4 spoke to said they would like to see more police in their neighborhoods, not less.

“I don’t like living next door to something dangerous because you could be walking out of your house and somebody starts to shoot or whatever and I don’t want to live in an environment like that,” said Betty Hudson, who lives in Midtown.

Jackson said she adores her neighbors and everyone looks out for each other. Still, she makes sure she’s in the house by nightfall.

“In my little box where I’m at, from that stop sign to that stop sign, I’m okay,” she said. “It’s when you cross them stop signs, there may be a problem.”

Each said the “defund the police” movement did more harm than good for residents of the city’s northside. However, some mistrust of police remains, Jackson said.

“The truth is, sometimes they have bad days too,” she said. “They’re human, so just as well others walking around may have an attitude, they may have an attitude. You’re always going to get somebody in the bunch that wants to prove their authority. But the bad comes with the good.”

What she doesn’t approve of, she said, is when a problematic officer is fired from one department, only to be hired at a neighboring one.

“It’s really disheartening to know you can just move on a couple of blocks over and go work for them,” she said.

Often, the group said, police step in where parenting has failed.

“To take an attitude to defund the police is not the right attitude at all,” Jones said. “We don’t need to defund them, we need to support the authority. To me, it’s an insult to God if we don’t respect the authority that’s meant to be in place.”

News 4 will air part two of its series focusing on North City’s economy on Wednesday night at 6 p.m.