Dear Saint Louis,
Our hearts are once again flooded with emotion as we deal with another school shooting, a trend that seems to have now touched everywhere. An hour or so after I learned about the shooting, after standing in line and stuttering through my sandwich order at one of the dining halls on campus, I tweeted,
Saint Louisans are not unaccustomed to lax gun laws, shootings, the loss of young children, or other countless tragedies that have plagued our City.
From second or third grade, I have my first memory of a shooting. I will never forget sitting on top of a toilet, locked in a stall sobbing, as my classmates and kids from other grades crowded into the faculty bathroom at the end of the first floor of my elementary school on Castleman Avenue. There had been a shooting across the street from school, and my aunt had been driving past the intersection, a fact I would learn later.
I will never forget the story my dad has now told me probably a dozen times, because I have asked to hear it again and again, of my mother getting on the PA system during her time as a principal in North Saint Louis County and asking the teachers to lower the blinds in each classroom because the police had notified her of another shooting in the area. She would then begin singing into the PA in an effort to keep students, teachers, and staff calm.
Or the countless times that children in Saint Louis have died after being hit by stray bullets.
The pain our City has felt over the last two decades of my life has been incalculable. Families and communities have been torn apart. Children’s lives have been lost or permanently changed. And it is hard to explain how frequently I have felt pain in my heart for the tragedies that Saint Louisans have been subjected to.
Every time that it seems like things cannot get more painful and things cannot get more dire, events like the shooting at CVPA send a shockwave through our collective psyche.
What pains me the most is the dysfunction in our City and State, and the lack of accountability and political isolation that those in our State and City’s governments face — despite their inhumane and indescribable negligence.
There are those who took today’s events as a ripe opportunity to decry calls from those they disagree with around policing in our City. There are those who were stupid, selfish, and egotistical enough to tweet about new endorsements that their campaign had just received. There are those who have said nothing. To me, they are all the same. Deeply flawed, immeasurably disgraceful, and equally disheartening.
Since I turned 18 four and a half years ago, I have spent 3 election cycles in the City of Saint Louis. I organized minutes away from CVPA as a recent high school graduate, and I worked on then-Treasurer Jones’ re-election campaign and then her mayoral campaign.
I truly believe that I’ve met my life’s most unexpected and meaningful influences knocking on doors or organizing in my community. Each cycle, I have been overwhelmed by the richness and brilliance of our community. There is something so deeply meaningful to me about the City of Saint Louis, and there is something so heartbreaking about our inability to make significant progress, despite the magnitude of the challenges that we face.
There are some who now say “Fuck your thoughts and prayers” after each school shooting. Or those who remind our elected leaders, after seeing tweets or statements that offer thoughts and prayers, that we need much more than that.
Of course, we need more than thoughts and prayers. But the moment that we stop offering them. The moment that we become so desensitized to shootings of any kind that we don’t even stop to think about or pray for those who have been lost or those who have been injured, we have lost. And I will be absolutely damned if those who fight every day for safer and healthier communities lose the empathy that make them so good at their work.
So, for now, our hearts are broken for Saint Louis and the children, teachers, and staff at CVPA. Our hearts are broken for the families who have been permanently scarred by this shooting and those in our past, and unfortunately those in our future, who have lost and will lose someone they love to gun violence.
There is so much work to be done. Frankly, I have no idea where we go or what to do. But so many others do, and we ought to be following their lead.
Saint Louis has struggled so, so much. And I’m heartbroken for the City and neighborhood I love so very much.