Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why are there so many murders this year?

If I had a nickel for every time I have been asked that question over the last few months, I could afford to treat myself and maybe a coworker or two to lunch off a fast food’s restaurant’s dollar menu. I have heard this from clients, coworkers, reporters, classmates, family, and friends. I usually say that I don’t know, but I guess that’s not entirely true. The true answer is that the explanation behind the high homicide rate, at least in my opinion, is so complicated that it defies easy explanation and also easy solution. I could give an answer to every person who asks me, but they would probably regret asking after the first 15 minutes of my answer. Even such a long-winded answer from someone who has worked with the families of homicide victims for more than 10 years would certainly still underestimate the circumstances  and causes that have led us to this point in 2015.

Homicide rates are affects by nearly every aspect of society. Economy, education, family structure, legal and illegal drug use, weapons policy, gangs, community reactions to law enforcement, climate, geography and many more feed into the homicide rate. Neither a single one of these nor the sum total of these is an excuse for violence. They are just an illustration of the complexity of the problem that has vexed St. Louis for years and this year in particular. That is why there are so many murders in St. Louis, although the exact mechanism by which these interacted in 2015 is unknown at this time. We are a city with a lot of problems and most of those problems contribute to our violence rate. We are also a city with a lot of potential and human capital to put toward fixing those problems.

If the causes of murder are complex, the solutions are necessarily so. Many solutions to the high homicide rate only take into account one or two of these issues. We often find a solution to a problem within our purview or skill set because of how we define the problem. The solution presupposes the problem. If you are in control of the police department, this looks like a problem that can be solved with more officers. If you are a politician, it looks like a problem that requires a law change whether that is reevaluating drug policy, gun policy, or others. If you are a prosecutor, this is a problem that requires better cooperation with prosecution to reduce the number of murderers who get away with their crimes. If you are an educator, we need to increase student retention and quality of education. If you work with families, you may see the need for fatherhood initiatives to encourage men to be more involved in their children’s lives of programs to divert kids from joining gangs. The fact is, most of these solutions will probably affect the murder rate to different degrees and all are based in the logic of how and why crimes happen. A single leader or small number of them, however, cannot affect all of the causes of victimization.

Ultimately, we are holding leaders responsible for solving a problem that is so much bigger than their sphere of influence. That does not excuse them from their obligations; it just means they need to think bigger and more strategically to have a true influence on the violence that has plagued our city. 

Comments by: Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy Services & Special Victims Advocate

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