Jimmie Edwards, public safety director, said some of the 13 young victims shot dead since April were linked to illegal activity
A top law enforcement official in St Louis, Missouri, has sparked outrage by remarking that not all of the children who have been killed by guns in the city this year were innocent victims.
Since April, 13 children aged 16 and under were killed by guns in St Louis city; six of the victims were aged 10 and under, with the youngest being just two years old.
A handful of these young victims were caught in seemingly random crossfire. Kennedi Powell, aged three, was outside eating pizza at a neighborhood block party when she was killed. Xavier Usanga, aged seven, was in an alley near his house playing with his older sister.
While the children who were under 10 were innocent victims, some of the older slain children had been linked to illegal activity, St Louiss public safety director, Jimmie Edwards, said on Thursday at an aldermanic committee meeting, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Edwards said a 15-year-old was found dead one morning with an automatic weapon on his person with an extended ammunition magazine, $5,000 in cash and a large quantity of drugs. He said a 16-year-old shooting victim was on the police departments carjacking offender list and was apparently shot in the crossfire of a gun battle between two other 16-year-olds.
He also said two victims over the age of 10 are believed to have killed themselves.
Edwards was expounding on what he said during a 3 October interview on St Louis public radio station KWMUs St Louis on the Air. On the radio show, Edwards was asked about how he keeps kids who want to make a difference in the city from despair after this summers violence.
It is important that our children do not engage in risky behaviors. Ive been very careful not to talk about the children this summer. Many of the kids unfortunately violently killed were teenagers engaging in criminal behaviors themselves, Edwards said.
He noted that when children are put in positive situations, we have positive results. When they engage in criminal behaviors, unfortunately we end up with 13 children dead.
Thirteen organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and ArchCity Defenders, issued a joint statement this week denouncing Edwards for criminalizing the victims of the murders.
This kind of demonization of our children is shocking and unacceptable, the statement read. It builds on racist, dehumanizing tropes about black children and distracts from the public policies that continue to deepen poverty and despair instead of investing resources to create safety and opportunity.
St Louis has been considered the murder capital of the US since 2014 as it has the highest murder rate of any major American city. Changes to Missouris gun laws, which allow anyone 19 or older to legally carry a concealed weapon without a permit, has coincided with a 16% increase in homicides in the city over a six-year period.
The city is also notorious for its deep history of racial segregation. Most of the murders in the city, including the ones of children this summer, occur in the poor black neighborhoods of St Louis where many houses lay abandoned and drug use and dealing is high. In these areas, children are taught to adapt to the potential of gun violence and live by strict rules about playing outside.
The inequality has led to a deep distrust between police in the city and people in the affected neighborhoods. Informal no snitch policies threaten people who report to the police with social isolation or violence.
Edwards, who is black, said on Thursday without referring directly to the groups statement: I know and I agree there are many social and societal reasons that lead our children to unfortunate situations and we must do more than police on the back end.
The purpose here is not to demonize anyone; the facts are the facts, Edwards told the public safety committee.
The joint statement also called on Edwards boss, St Louis mayor Lyda Krewson, to publicly condemn his comments and for the board of aldermen to censure Edwards. But Krewsons chief of staff, Steve Conway, on Thursday strongly defended Edwards.
Jimmie has an incredible reputation of working with juveniles within the justice system and within our community, Conway said. His track record of improving childrens lives in St Louis is unmatched by anyone.
In only one of the cases have suspects been charged with homicide. Two men have been charged for the murder of Sentonio Cox, 15. A man told police in August that he was responsible for Xaviers death but has yet to be charged. The citys circuit attorneys office told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that there remains a lot of police work before charges can be filed with sufficient evidence. The city has offered up a total of $100,000 for information about four of the childrens cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report