Before Ferguson exploded in reaction to the August shooting of black teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, the St. Louis police chief raised eyebrows when he called for the use of drones to monitor high-crime areas.
St. Louis also is home of the notorious “Knockout Game,” a random but racially motivated assault that has claimed at least six lives.
St. Louis is 44 percent white and 49 percent black, but statistics shows a racial imbalance in crime. Based on the city’s official crime data for 2012 — the most recent year which data are available — 97.6 percent of those arrested for murder were black and 2.4 percent were white. More than 82 percent of those arrested for serious crimes like murder, aggravated assault and larceny were black, while just 17.5 percent arrested were white.
Black males in St. Louis were responsible for the vast majority (63.5 percent) of crimes committed. Other groups contribute significantly less to the serious crimes in St. Louis. White males made up 17 percent of arrests, black females were 14 percent of arrests and white females only 5.3 percent of arrests.
There are other strange imbalances in arrests: Black females were arrested for 14 murders compared with three white males arrested for murder. Black females were arrested for more robberies, aggravated assaults and larcenies than white males.
These are just a few of the lowlights in a city on the verge of becoming, as U.S. News said, the most dangerous city in America.
Consider one violent night in St. Louis last June when 18 people were shot in seven different shootings.
However, some of the shooting victims were not outraged enough to cooperate with law enforcement. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay described the “no snitchin’” mentality of many crime victims:
“These are disputes, and there are victims who won’t talk to the police,” the mayor said. “Trying to make an arrest isn’t that simple. In one case, they’ve got (multiple) people shot and not one of them would identify the shooter.”
Slay remarked, “In the vast majority of these cases, people are using their guns to settle their own petty feuds, and that’s really what’s very unfortunate and outrageous about this.”
Local news reported on a shooting in a housing complex involving an AK-47 in which “a black male armed with the AK-47 came around the corner [and] started shooting” at an 18-year-old woman and four of her friends.
Colin Gordon, author of “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City,” calls St. Louis “the poster child of white flight.” However, middle- and upper-middle class blacks are also leaving the city in significant numbers.
Aside from the endemic looting in Ferguson, perhaps the most notorious crime to emerge from St. Louis is the “Knockout Game.” According to retired St. Louis Police Sgt. Don Pizzo, the game is simple and brutal: “Normally it was a group of black males, one of which would strike [the victim] as hard as he could in the face, attempting to knock him out with one punch.”
As reported by the local CBS affiliate: “The attacks fit a pattern, Pizzo recalls, black attackers on a white victim – and the victim was often an older person walking alone.”
The Knockout Game has claimed at least three lives so far. In 2011, 72-year old Hoang Nguyen was walking with his wife, Yen, when four “young people” attacked them. Yen described how one attacker pushed Hoang’s face to the side to make a “clear target for his fist.” Hoang was punched with such force that he fell and struck his head on the ground.
Then the attacker turned on Yen, 59, hitting her so hard that the punch broke her eye socket. Yen then watched helplessly as her husband was kicked repeatedly. Hoang died later that day. A young black male,18-year-old Elex Murphy, was charged with first-degree murder.
In St. Louis, a special police squad and separate prosecutor were assigned to investigate the Knockout Game and handle the related criminal cases. St. Louis police Maj. Jerry Leyshock called the game “subhuman, antisocial, urban terrorist” behavior.
Author Colin Flaherty has profiled the problem in his book, “‘White Girl Bleed a Lot,’” which documents racial violence, including assaulting, intimidating, stalking, threatening, vandalizing, shooting, stabbing, raping and killing, in dozens of cities across America.
Police targeted for ambush
It is not only civilians who are caught up in the St. Louis area violence. Ferguson protesters have adopted a new unifying chant for social justice.
“What do we want?”
“How do we want him?”
In June of 2013, a planned ambush of a St. Louis police officer was the highlight of an astonishing news report about a night of violence and unusual criminal escapades.
Police Maj. Joseph Spiess was in uniform on patrol in an unmarked vehicle. He turned on his lights and siren to follow a suspicious vehicle. The driver refused to stop, and because of rules limiting police pursuits, Spiess stopped following. A short while later, a man approached his car.
“He looks me dead in the eye, lifts his pistol and starts shooting at me,” Spiess recalled.
“He looked at me square in the face, I’m in an Impala, wearing a police shirt, and he was looking me right in the eye. He knew who he was shooting at. He absolutely knew I was a policeman.”
Spiess said his attackers set up positions for an ambush.
That week, a St. Louis business owner Ahmed Dirir, 59, killed several coworkers and his business partner before killing himself. Witnesses say all involved were from Somalia and that they were family members.
The behavior of St. Louis’ political leadership also has drawn national attention.
City Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. found himself under scrutiny after he used his position to solicit donations to pay his daughter’s college tuition. His letters requesting donations began, “This is Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., requesting your support once more.”
In his defense, Bosley said that “most” of those he contacted “don’t have anything to do with city business.”
Bosley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Since you made such a stink out of it, I’ll return any money.”
Bosley’s son, Freeman Bosley Jr., is a former mayor who engaged in a dubious land deal.