Open Wounds: The Impact of Gun Violence in St. Louis - Conclusion

Megan Lynch
February 09, 2018 - 8:19 am
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - How does news of dozens of homicides a year and hundreds of shootings impact you?

"I think people are so afraid now, and that it's become normal for them to hear about someone being killed," says Erika Jones, who lost her daughter in a drive-by shooting two years ago in a part of St. louis city notorious for bloodshed.

This week on KMOX, you've heard about the devastating human cost: The grief of loss, the struggle for survivors, and the trauma for bystanders. Yet, a case can be made that anyone who lives in this region pays a deep price.

Neighborhoods in the urban core are increasingly isolated by violence.  

"A reputation of a certain block within a certain neighborhood can cast a really long shadow," says Dean Obermark, a research associate with the Urban Institute in Washington D.C.  He grew up in the St. Louis suburbs. "Are these fears about going to certain neighborhoods -- or even crossing the Delmar Divide -- unrealistic? I would definitely say so."

Before moving to D.C.,  Obermark was a researcher with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He points out that most of the day-to-day, high levels of violence are between a small number of parties, on a small number of blocks.  

Regardless, we hear the echoes of gunfire for miles.

"It can really sort of hang in the way as this spectre that confronts any possible progress or any planning."

The Urban Institute has measured the economic impact.  

"We know that gun violence in neighborhoods reduces business growth," Obermark says, "reduces home appreciation. We know that it can hurt credit scores."

Gun violence impacts the tax base.

"There's no question that high levels of violent crime -- gun violence, in particular -- mean that people move out of the city who otherwise might stay, people don't move into the city who otherwise might," says Richard Rosenfeld, founders professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri St. Louis. "As the central city suffers, the region can't grow.  People identify regions with their central cities."

One possible example of stifled growth is our light rail system.  

"It's very likely we would have more spurs, more lines on that system now, were it not for the fact of fears and perceptions of high levels of violence," Rosenfeld says.

There's a more immediate pricetag we all pay.  

"Typically people who are victims of gun violence in St. Louis are poor, and so the taxpayer ends up picking up the tab for hospitalization."

For victims with financial means there are lost wages, and in some cases, permanent disability.

We're also paying more to maintain some sense of safety.

"Are security costs higher than they would be if we had a lower crime rate? The answer is of course they're higher," Rosenfeld says.

"Where you have an uptick in violence, where you have homicide rates that go up, you have guns on the street, you have people like us who are installing metal detectors and devices to find those guns so that those guns can't get into events," says Michael Hackett, president and CEO of Hackett Security in St. Louis.

Devices only seen in courthouses and airports years ago are now in the lobbies of night clubs, movie theaters -- and more recently, in emergency rooms and schools.   

"Somewhere somebody is paying for that," he says. "Those burdens are coming out of the general funds that those schools are relying on." 

St. Louis is paying a steep financial price. Gun violence has cost so many their peace of mind.

At this point, can you afford to dismiss the fears?

"You do think about it but then you brush it aside ... that only happens to other people."

It happened to John Hessel. He escaped gunman Cookie Thornton in the Kirkwood City Council chambers a decade ago as his friends, neighbors and colleagues were slaughtered. 

"I keep asking myself, why? What is causing us in our society to have people decide that they just want to take other people's lives?"

CLICK HERE to read the whole "Open Wounds" series.