For years the Peace Economy Project has worried about how to achieve peace at the national and international level. Over the last few years we have become increasingly shocked at the absence of peace in our home town. We realized that the typical St. Louis resident learns about juvenile homicide from a 15 or 20 second clip on the local evening news, or a paragraph in the newspaper, and then forgets about it until the next incident. We decided to interview the families of victims in order to learn more about their loved ones and to better appreciate the suffering that lasts with the mother, grandmother and other family members for a long, long time.
Our intent will be to summarize our discussion with survivors in periodic PEP e-zines, all the time keeping the individual names anonymous.
Interview – February 2015
She worked at the Edward Jones Dome that Friday evening in September 2013. Her son was going to spend the night with his grandmother. He said he wanted to go to a party at the house of a girl; reluctantly she agreed. The next morning she was getting text messages asking where her son was; then, she saw on his Facebook page: Rest in Peace. There were calls from friends who were crying.
Her 16-year-old son was popular; he dressed well and had many friends. There were occasional fights, one in the Loop, and then a later one at high school where he was a sophomore. That resulted in a 10 day suspension. She had taught him that he had to take care of himself, and he was a large kid.
He had some good opportunities growing up; summer camp and other activities provided by Kingdom House in the LaSalle Park neighborhood. He was in magnet schools where he was especially good at math. Then there was a marijuana incident and all of a sudden he was at a regular high school. Ms. X was trying to get him to Carnahan High School where the chances for getting into college were much better. There was also talk of going overseas as part of a student exchange program called People to People.
Ms. X remembers high school from the old days, and she knows some members on its Hall of Fame wall. She knows that the schools have a hard time, but worries that so many of the extra-curricular offerings are no longer available – things like the debate team, chess team, and more. She also wonders if school administrators are trying to be too nice to the kids, and too soft on parents. When her son was placed on suspension, school officials said they would try to resolve the incident using mediation. However, neither the other child nor his Mom would participate, and the school gave up.
She also believes there ought to be a program whereby kids with long-terms suspensions are required to spend the time at a place like Better Family Life, where they would receive a mix of life skills and counseling help. Instead kids that are sent home on suspension typically sleep or watch movies.
Ms. X appreciates the responsiveness of the police who quickly apprehended the suspect, a young man who had been in and out of juvenile court, but now was back in school. Apparently he and some acquaintances had borrowed a car, in which there was a loaded gun. They waited for her son and his friends to come out of a club and they started shooting. Her son died in an alley; the body was not discovered until the next day.
One of her good friends handled many of the immediate challenges – arranging a funeral, the burial, and various associated tasks. The school sent flowers, the Faces Project painted a handsome portrait of her son, and Support for Victims of Crime recommended a program for grieving parents. The latter didn’t work out well; participants were there for various reasons, and they didn’t immediately bond.
Several years later, Ms. X still suffers. She strives to “retrieve her happiness” but it is not easy. She doesn’t dwell on things she could have done, because she knows that young teenagers want to get out and party, and she knows that there are an awful lot of “crack babies” growing up without enough guidance and discipline. She has a small shrine in her apartment devoted to her son, and strong memories of his smile and enthusiasm for life. But every day she hurts.