My latest for the Guardian is on the “Black Lives Matter” and “We Must Stop Killing Each Other” signs that are planted on lawns throughout the St. Louis metropolitan region. An excerpt:
St Louis has become a region awash in signs. In the impoverished, majority black north, block after block of houses post signs with a stark message: “We must stop killing each other”.
In the region’s racially mixed, wealthier center, houses post signs with another message: “Black Lives Matter”.
Together, the signs tell the story of a region struggling to deal with questions of race and violence in the aftermath of the Ferguson events and a spate of homicides.
On the blighted city’s Page Boulevard sits Better Family Life, a nonprofit organization whose vice-president of community outreach, James Clark, spearheaded the “We must stop killing each other” campaign.
“One day I walk into the gas station, and a young man says: ‘With all this crime and violence going on, man, we got to stop killing each other,’” Clark recalls. “Next day, walk into the office, a young man is standing at the front table: ‘Mr Clark, man, my cousin got killed last week. We got to stop killing each other.’ Walk into my office after about an hour, a grandmother calls: ‘Mr Clark, my son didn’t come home last night. We don’t know where he is. We got to stop all this killing.’ For about three days, that message came to me.”
After years of a steady drop in crime, homicides surged in St Louis in 2014, up more than 30% from the year before. The trend continues in 2015, with incidents including two rolling gun battles on the highway, a toddler shot in a park, and a homicide near the baseball stadium in broad daylight. Most of the victims were black.
The violence has prompted more than 2,000 homes in the St Louis region to place “We must stop killing each other” signs on their lawns since April.
According to Clark, “we”, in St Louis, is everyone.