Lessons St. Louis needs to learn from losing the Rams

The City of St. Louis has been in decline and denial for quite some time. If we don't make some changes, we soon may no longer be considered a world class city.

Even if you don't consider St. Louis to be a world class city, with the exception of a subway, you must admit that St. Louis has many of the things that make cities world class.

  • Major league sports franchises
  • Tourism destination
  • World Class Zoo
  • Forest Park (75th on the list of City Parks)
  • World Class Museums and Libraries
  • Great Universities
  • Great architecture
  • World Class Hospitals
  • Symphony Orchestra
  • Nationally known monument (Arch)

World class cities are also known for their modern skylines, locations that cater to wealthy locals and affluent visitors and an absence of visible signs of poverty. St. Louis fails the visibility of poverty test.

City leaders pursue this “world-class” vision to attract investment, for integration into the global economy, and to improve the quality of living standards. Too often, however, those benefits accrue only to the wealthiest and most powerful residents.

St. Louis is a city that seems aggressive and inhospitable to some of it's minority and low income residents and many would flee if offered half a chance to relocate elsewhere. St. Louis is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country and even before the Ferguson Protest had a racist reputation.

Many people don't realize or have forgotten that Missouri typically is categorized as both a Midwestern and a southern state. The region was split on Union and Confederate issues during the Civil War. A small region of the state is called Little Dixie for the influx of southerners that settled there.

In 1847, a book titled, "The Narrative of William W. Brown, an American Slave", was published. Below is a quote from that book.

"Though slavery is thought, by some, to be mild in Missouri, when compared with the cotton, sugar and rice growing states, yet no part of our slave-holding country is more noted for the barbarity of its inhabitants than St. Louis."

During the decades after the Civil War, St. Louis grew to become the nation's fourth largest city, after New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. It also experienced rapid infrastructure and transportation development and the growth of heavy industry.

The period culminated with the 1904 World's Fair and Summer Olympics, which were held concurrently in St. Louis. As of 2014, St. Louis has dropped to 60 on the U.S. Census largest cities list. New York is still number one, Chicago is the still number three and Philadelphia dropped only slightly to number five.

The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members. This is not a new concept, it has existed at least since biblical times; "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me" – Matthew 25:40.

The Ram's departure leaves a huge pile of unpaid debt on the old dome stadium. According to the the St. Louis Post, the city said it expected to lose about $4.2 million a year, at least in the “short run,” as tax revenue falls because of the team’s departure. The Riverfront Stadium Task Force has spent $16 million so far on planning for a new stadium.

While the City was actively offering welfare to a billionaire and spending millions in taxpayer money putting together a stadium plan for Stan Kroenke, the Ram's owner, who neither asked for it nor wanted it; they were vigorously fighting to close down a homeless shelter that actually provides services and cares for "the least of these."

I'm only fifty years old, but while I was growing up, it was common knowledge that you didn't go into certain neighborhoods. I was in high school between 1979 and 1983. During that time, there were not a lot of places that welcomed black kids. On the weekends, many of us hung out in Forest Park, but then the rules were changed and we were forced out. Another popular hangout was the St. Louis Riverfront, which then had the nation's only floating McDonald's; but again the rules were changed and eventually the McDonald's Boat located to another city.

I see that same pattern repeated again, mall and other areas now have special curfews and other restrictions that often seem to be enforced more rigorously against black kids.

Surprisingly with institutions such as St. Louis University, Washington University, UMSL, Harris-Stowe University, St. Louis Community Colleges, Rankin Technical College, Webster University, Fontbonne University, Missouri Baptist University, St. Louis area is home to many poorly performing public schools.

How is it possible, with the number of institutions of higher learning in and around St. Louis, that our schools are not among the best in the country? In a word, exclusion.

Whether there was a concerted efforts such as those proposed by the Team Four Plan or unconscious bias, educational, economic and employment opportunities have routinely been suppressed and restricted in certain areas. Around the neighborhood where I live, street lights and traffic lights including the intersections of MLK at Sarah and MLK at Euclid have been non-functioning for years. It is now common knowledge that even our court system has been guilty of predatory practices targeting people of color.

Decreased educational, economic and other opportunities lead to oppression and exacerbate inequality. Oppression and inequality leads to crime, which eventually visits the oppressor. The communities of both the oppressed and oppressor are negatively affected. Outsiders see this, often more clearly than we do.

Our airport is no longer a hub for any major airline, companies have specifically told us they won't locate to St. Louis because our schools are below par, we don't stack up against other cities, decades ago we lost our basketball team (The Hawks) to Atlanta and we have now lost two football teams. To add insult to injury,  the Rams are returning to the city they previously left to come to St. Louis.

For decades, the St. Louis region neglected or excluded certain groups of people and for a while, other groups benefited. However, as was noted in an earlier post, what you quietly allow to happen to others, will eventually find its way back to you.

When you allow the oppression of a group of people, it opens the door for oppression of additional groups. The education of blacks was neglected, now the education of all Americans lag behind compared to the rest of the world. Drug users were vilified and criminalized when they were mostly black or brown, but whites are now the largest growing group of drug addicts.

The economy of blacks was artificially suppressed for decades, now manufacturing and other high paying mostly white jobs are being sent overseas. The Congress has already pass legislation that will reduce some union pension by more than half and the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to deal unions a major setback again effecting mostly white workers.

As mentioned in the post, first they came, if you want to improve your own conditions, don't let the rights and privileges of others get abused. Even President Obama mentioned this during his last State of the Union speech last night. Hopefully St. Louis will finally heed this message and begin to help those truly in need rather than those truly in greed.