Tuesday, December 31, 2013

22nd Annual New Year's Eve Candlelight Service: My Remarks

In May of 1991, Jeanette Culpepper’s life changed forever. Her son Curtis was murdered, taken from her when he was just 22-years old.
That same year, Ms. Culpepper decided to do something with her grief. What she did was extraordinary. 

She founded "Families Advocating Safe Streets" and created a new tradition for St. Louis: a New Year' Eve candlelight vigil, held in memory of victims of homicide.

Ms. Culpepper and  "Families Advocating Safe Streets" never stop working and never stop fighting to raise awareness, to break the cycle of crime and to reduce violence in our community.

This year we remember 120 people, whose families and friends are now facing the same unthinkable tragedy as Ms. Culpepper – losing a loved one to senseless violence.

We remember Clara Jean Walker, 51-years old, her life taken by a stray bullet just this week. We remember 9-year old Tyrese Short, his life ended before it could really begin, also because of a stray bullet. We remember Khadra Muse, Saaed Abdulla and Bernice Soloman-Redd, all three murdered by gunfire in the workplace they shared on Cherokee Street. And we remember Mon Rai, the Bhutanese immigrant killed while working at a 7-Eleven.

This year in total, we remember 98 men and 22 women, all taken in acts of violence.

Although the City of St. Louis has experienced a dramatic decline in homicides over time, going from 267 in 1993 down to 120, we still must remember that one homicide victim is one too many. 

I promise you, everyone here today is committed to bringing that number down. I know I am. I know you are. And I know the best hope we have is the hope we see in this room today…the combined power of an engaged public working together with law enforcement, toward a goal that everyone can agree with.

I also know that our strategies are getting better, our methods more sophisticated. Hotspot policing is no longer a theory or an experimental technique. It's now the way we do business, all day, every day. When violence broke out in College Hill last winter, we put hotspot policing to the test, and the results proved its effectiveness.

We've got more changes coming for the future. Our district re-organization plan, scheduled to take effect in January, will streamline patrol operations in the city and put more cops in the places where they are most needed.  And even though we didn't get a "gun docket" this year, you better believe we're going to keep fighting until we get one. Why? Because armed offenders are a serious threat to public safety, and the public deserves a court system that takes armed offenders seriously!

At the same time, we're fully committed to prevention…to stopping violent crime before it starts.  We do this though youth outreach programs and community partnerships, and by supporting efforts to show young people the value of life and the path to a peaceful, productive future.

We do this through initiatives like the Police Athletic League, the Police Explorers, the "Do the Right Thing" program and the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program, to name a few. The common goal behind them all: to provide positive activities for our youth, teaching them structure, self-confidence, the value of hard work and the value of a human life.

I want to say "thank you" to the Police Commanders here this evening. I invited them to join us today, to send a message both to the many peaceful members of our community, and to the few who disturb our peace with violent crime. 

That message is clear: We are many, we are united and we are relentless.  If you're thinking about committing a crime in St. Louis, we're trying to stop you. If you've already committed a crime and victimized one of our citizens, we're coming to find you. If you're a peaceful, law-abiding person, we're here to protect you. If you're a victim, we're here to help you.

And most importantly - as anyone can see just by looking around this room - we are not alone.  More than ever, thanks to the courage of people like Jeanette Culpepper, the police and the people stand together.

I’d like to thank Ms. Culpepper and Families Advocating Safe Streets for sponsoring this candlelight vigil, and for everything they do. Thank you.

Delivering my remarks at the 22nd Annual New Year's Eve Candlelight Service

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Remembering Newtown: One Year Later

Every generation looks back on the mistakes of the past with a mixture of confusion, sorrow, anger and shame. Every generation sees things that its parents, grandparents and great-grandparents could not see, and sits in judgment of them.

Standing here in 2013, we have much to reflect on.

We look back to the days before the civil rights movement, and we ask ourselves, "Why did it take so long to fix something that was so obviously broken?"

We look back to the days before women won the right to vote, and we ask ourselves, "What was wrong with the world back then, and why did it take so long for things to change?"

In many different ways, across many different issues, we look back...and we find it hard to understand why people in the past so often failed to do the right thing. We wonder why they were so slow to correct their terrible mistakes.

In many different ways, across many different issues, we think we have the privilege of feeling superior. We get to stand here in the modern world, pretending like we've figured it all out, pretending like we don't have our own mistakes to be ashamed of.

But we haven't figured it all out, have we? Because if we had, if we didn't have our own mistakes to be ashamed of, we wouldn't be here today…marking this tragic anniversary, this day when, one year ago, 20 children and 7 adults were senselessly murdered by gunfire in the town of Newtown, Connecticut. 

No, in the face of such undeniable facts...we don't get to pretend, and we don't get to feel superior.  

True maturity is what happens when we remember that, in the eyes of the future, we will be the ones who failed. We will be the ones THEY look back on, wondering why we didn't get it right.

What will our great-grandchildren say to us then? They will ask what we did to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook from happening. They will ask why we failed. They will ask how any society could tolerate the kind of violence that takes children from their parents and threatens the innocence of childhood.

They will demand to know what lessons we learned, and what actions we took.

What will we say to them? How will we answer the children of the future, when it is their turn to sit in judgment of us?

And how will they ever forgive us, if we don't find a way to correct the mistakes that made this massacre possible, if we don't do everything in our power to prevent the next one from happening?  

For that alone can make us worthy of forgiveness.

27 empty chairs, representing each of the victims that lost their lives one year ago today in Newtown.