Viral video shows the worst of St. Louis, reopens old debate
ST. LOUIS -- You’re better than this, St. Louis.
A million people from towns and cities across the country will tell me you’re not. They watched the video from Monday night that went viral on Deadspin Tuesday morning. They heard the slurs and the cursing. They also watched the news in August. They learned about Michael Brown and police brutality, about looting and riots and a situation in a small suburb gone horribly wrong.
What happened this summer in Ferguson, Mo., is mostly out of the national news now – or it was, at least, until Monday night reminded everyone that this is still festering. A grand jury in St. Louis has until January to decide whether Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Mike Brown two months ago, will be charged, and the U.S. Department of Justice is in the midst of an investigation into the conduct of Ferguson’s police department. The national news cycle, the pundits and the Twitter personalities have moved on, but nothing has changed.
That’s how these things work, really. Our collective attention span is too short to see anything through. Once the tear gas clears, there are more sensational stories to cover, and though Brown’s family and his story remain on the periphery, they weeks ago faded from the national consciousness.
And then baseball happened. Baseball brought the spotlight back to St. Louis, which brought crowds. If you’ve seen the video, you know the rest. A group of peaceful protesters gathered Monday night outside of Busch Stadium, demanding justice for Brown and getting in absolutely no one’s way. Except, of course, that among the record-setting crowd of 47,574 people at the Cardinals-Dodgers game, there were a couple dozen individuals, who, instead of celebrating their team’s win, decided they needed to voice their deplorable opinions on race and Ferguson. I have no interest in lending any more space to the terrible things they said that were caught on video. They don’t deserve the platform.
I grew up in St. Louis, about 15 miles from Busch Stadium. Some of my first, happiest memories took place at the old stadium. Baseball was – and still is – magical to me. But I grew up in a bubble. I’m the first one to admit it. My parents worked hard to give my brother and me a wonderful home and great educations. We lived in the suburbs, but my father grew up in the city and my mother grew up in a very close-in suburb that is today listed as 45 percent African-American. They made sure that I knew from a young age, however peripherally, that the city I loved had issues. But still, my exposure was limited. I was privileged, but I wasn’t oblivious, especially as I got older.
But here’s the thing: In my 18 years of living in St. Louis before I went to college, I never once encountered a human being like the ones who starred in Monday night’s travesty of a video. Not once. They existed, I know, but I believe they were and are a minority. Racism is a problem in St. Louis, just as it is in dozens of other cities, but there are bigger, if related, issues at hand: unofficial segregation, the discrepancy in the quality of public education and the fact that the area is so subdivided into tiny municipalities that money stays in affluent areas, unable to flow to more disadvantaged ones.
The St. Louis metro area has been sliced and diced in such a way that white flight has left African-Americans marooned in areas with terrible schools, foundering economies and pervasive crime. If you want to be outraged at St. Louis, be outraged at that. It’s a reality that’s solidified over the years, and yet it doesn’t have to be that way. It can change, if St. Louisans and local governments can agree on solutions.
At one point during Monday’s horribly hijacked peaceful demonstration, the Cardinals fans tried to drown out the protesters, who were chanting for justice for Mike Brown. “Let’s go, Cardinals,” the fans shouted. And while the slurs and bigotry angers me, the chant just makes me sad. Sports are supposed to be a relief during times like these. They’re supposed to be a break, a chance for unity, no matter your skin color or political persuasion, no matter your profession or language. But not Monday. On Monday, it was Cardinals fans versus Ferguson, white versus black, and just typing that makes me want to vomit.
By Tuesday afternoon, the portion of Clark Street where the previous night’s clash occurred had been fenced off. A baseball ticket was required to enter, a development that will limit, if not eradicate, the chances of another outburst -- the protesters will find somewhere else to gather, as they should, and antagonists will voice their displeasure. But it will be away from the cameras, away from the glittering lights and the shadow of the Arch, and few will notice.
This October, the Cardinals can be a comfort to their city. Maybe they’ll unite it, and maybe they’ll win the World Series. But remember: sports don’t fix anything. They distract, and St. Louis needs more than a distraction.
Neither chant should drown out the other. Instead, St. Louis needs to sing them in unison, and that will be a start.
Let’s go, Cardinals.
Justice for Mike Brown.