ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A coalition of 12 community groups put out a joint statement highly critical of comments recently made by St. Louis Public Safety Director, Jimmie Edwards. The statement accused Edwards of blaming the children for their own deaths.

5 slain children mention in SLMPD reward

(From L to R): 10-year-old Eddie Hall, 3-year-old Kennedi Powell, 8 year-old Jurnee Thompson, 2 year-old Kayden Johnson and 7-year-old Xavier Usanga were the 5 children mentioned during a press conference held by Mayor Lyda Krewson,  Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Police Chief John Hayden.

"We were horrified when we read those comments," said Inez Bordeaux, of ArchCity Defenders.

Last week, Edwards was a guest on the KWMU program St. Louis On The Air. While speaking about restarting the police department’s cadet program and the need for more officers, Edwards talked about the 14 children killed by gun violence this summer in St. Louis.

"I think it is important that our children do not engage in risky behaviors. I've been very careful not to talk a lot about the children this summer. Many of the kids that unfortunately were violently killed were teenagers engaging in criminal behaviors themselves. And so out of the 13, about eight were engaged in criminal behaviors that resulted in their deaths. Our youngsters, our children that were killed this summer were placed in situations by adults that they should not have been placed in.

"And so when children are put in positive situations, we have positive results. When they engage in criminal behaviors, unfortunately we end up with 13 children dead. And so I don't want to be callous, I do want to make it very, very clear that many of the kids that died this summer were very sophisticated. And our officers are doing their best to make sure we address those, and we're still very empathetic with respect to their deaths," Public safety director Jimmie Edwards on the program.

"As a mother, I can only imagine the pain and heartbreak these families must feel hearing someone who works in our city administration say those words," said Bordeaux.

Speaking in front of an Aldermanic committee, Edwards said his goal was not to demonize anyone but simply lay out the facts.

None of the aldermen on the committee were critical of Edwards. Several expressed support and sadness about what he disclosed.

"Some of these babies are involved in some serious activity and I really hate that you had to explain that," said Ward 5 Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard.

Edwards was not available for comment but Mayor Lyda Krewson defended Edwards.

"He cares deeply about these kids,” said Krewson.

The mayor went on to say the facts surrounding some of the deaths should come out.

"It's hard to talk about that. It's heartbreaking to talk about that. But we do owe the public some comments about that," said Krewson.

Bordeaux disagreed.

"These children did not deserve to lose their lives, period, full-stop."

The organizations that took part in the statement are: Action St. Louis, ACLU of Missouri, ArchCity Defenders, The Bail Project, Close the Workhouse Campaign, CAPCR, Deaconess Foundation, Forward Through Ferguson, Jobs with Justice, Metropolitan Congregations United, Organization for Black Struggle, SEIU Healthcare and WePower.

Here's the entire statement:

In recent months, St. Louis has experienced a series of tragedies stemming from fatal gun violence in our communities. Most heartbreaking of all, many of the lives lost have been those of children. In St. Louis City alone, fourteen children age 17 and younger have been shot and killed since April. Seven of those children have been age 11 and younger. This painful reality has been a call to action for so many in St. Louis, including those who came together just over a month ago for a rally that centered the voices of young people growing up in this city and demanding a change.

And yet, when asked just days ago about this tragic pattern of children shot and killed this year, St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards chose to blame the children themselves:

“It is important that our children do not engage in risky behaviors. I have been very careful not to talk a lot about the children this summer. Many of the kids that unfortunately were violently killed were teenagers engaging in criminal behaviors themselves… When they engage in criminal behaviors, unfortunately we end up with 13 children dead. And so, while I don't want to be callous, I do want to make it very, very clear that many of the kids that died this summer were very sophisticated."

This kind of demonization of our children is shocking and unacceptable. It builds on racist, dehumanizing tropes about Black children and distracts from the public policies that continue to deepen poverty and despair instead of investing resources to create safety and opportunity. Public Safety Director Edwards is the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the City of St. Louis. If this is what he thinks of children dying in the streets, it is no wonder that the response from public safety officials continues to focus on police, surveillance, and incarceration.

These people whom we have lost to gun violence were, first and foremost, children. We strongly reject and condemn this effort by Director Edwards to blame these children for our collective failure to protect them and create the conditions necessary to keep them safe. Further, we are calling on Mayor Lyda Krewson to publicly condemn Director Edwards’s harmful and offensive statements, and commit to a major investment of non-police resources in the communities most impacted by violence. Mayor Krewson, the question is simple: do you agree with Director Edwards’s view of our children as “sophisticated” criminals? If not, you must speak now and take action to ensure that we save lives, not place blame on the victims we have already lost.

And while Director Edwards is most directly accountable to the Mayor who appointed him, we also call on the Board of Aldermen to make clear where they stand by censuring director Edwards and affirming the value of life for our community’s children. Director Edwards’s words are as painful as they are dangerous. In moments such as this, silence is complicity.

There are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings and grandparents still mourning the sudden loss of their beloved children. They do not deserve to have their memories so disrespected by a public official whose job is to serve all of us.

In memory of the children we have lost,

Nyla Banks, 10

Myiesha Cannon, 16

Sentonio Cox, 15

Kristina Curry, 16

Jason Eberhart, Jr., 16

Eddie Hill IV, 10

Jashon Johnson, 16

Kayden Johnson, 2

Charnija Keys, 11

Kennedi Powell, 3

Jurnee Thompson, 8

Xavier Usanga, 7

Derrel Williams, 15

Devaun Winters, 17

 

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