Close to Home

This week there was another shooting in St. Louis.  Another young African-American man gunned down by a police officer working an off-duty security job.  Another opportunity for tempers to flare amidst conflicting accounts of what happened.  Another opportunity for journalists to scramble into the fray, shooting off words and allegations (in the words of their interviewees, and perhaps in some of their own), safe in the notion that there will be no return fire in lead.

But this time it happened in my neighborhood.  On the street where I lived.

Or at least what used to be my neighborhood.  And not in that general sort of we’re-all-part-of-a-community neighborhood talk.  It happened on the street where my family and three other families over the course of three years lived.  It happened on our block.  Perhaps right in front of our house.  Here’s the house – just to the left of center in this picture.  The security footage in the article above from the mini-mart a few minutes before the shooting?  I would go there from time to time.  I could see it from our house.  It was (and probably still is) a source of consternation to those who, like us in some respects, could be termed gentrifiers.  People with resources moving in and attempting to transform the neighborhood in ways large and small, ambitious and modest.

I hate to think of it that way, but that’s what we were.  I chose that house in that neighborhood to buy and move into when we sold our home in Arizona and moved to St. Louis for seminary because it was in our price range and offered the things we needed.  It is a long way culturally, if not geographically, from the far more stately houses that surrounded the Seminary campus.  The Shaw neighborhood itself is very diverse – overall the poorest (or at least it used to be the poorest) neighborhood in all of the City of St. Louis.  Bisected by freeway expansion 50 years ago.  Divided between those with money to buy properties and spruce them up and those who clung to the houses they had lived in for generations.  We could walk a few blocks down from our street to a gorgeous street called Flora where the houses were amazing.  Meticulously landscaped and lovingly restored.

But our street, Shaw Street, was still pretty much poorer folks.  We were definitely the minority ethnically.  Our hopes were not to gentrify the neighborhood but rather spiritual development through community living.  We were eyed suspiciously by most of our neighbors, who undoubtedly wondered what these young white people were doing.  Not that they weren’t used to seeing white people buy properties in the neighborhood, but they might not have been used to watching those white people playing with the local kids.  Singing songs with them.  Wrestling and laughing with them.  Introducing them to strange things and foods.  Allowing them into our home to hang out with our own young children.

I wonder if it was one of those kids who is now dead from the police shooting.  They could just as easily be dead at the hands of someone else.  I still think of those kids and pray that they have the strength to break the cycles that governed their lives.  The odds are against them, both internally and externally.  I can’t fault the suspicion that governs interactions in that city, whether the interactions end in someone’s death and national media coverage or not.  There are deep, deep divisions that go back generations there.  Three short years and the good intentions of half a dozen or more good people were a mere blip on the radar.  A reminder of the importance of putting ourselves to good use in loving our neighbor, and a good reminder of just how limited we often are in what comes from those efforts.

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