The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the month “July, 2020”

We Can Humanely Stop Crime

Last night I sat in on a zoom call organized by Cara Spencer, alderman and mayoral candidate in St. Louis. A panel of experts discussed law enforcement that was both efficient and humane. The panelists were:

1. Rick Rosenfeld, Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL(

2. Dan Isom, former Chief of Police in St Louis and Professor at UMSL and Washington University.

3.Thomas Apt-Author of Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets.

4.Mike McLively-Director of Community Violence Initiative at Giffords Law Center in Oakland CA.

What was advocated by all members of the panel was a public health approach to violence prevention. They called for a combination of intense social interventions with actors who are known criminals, and intensive police effort if that doesn’t work. Emphasis was on a partnership between police and community organizations. The program needs to be focused, balanced, and fair. Politics and race are seen as barriers. It was emphasized that neither a total disregard for police, nor a kick butt, law and order approach alone will work. The city of Oakland has reduced violent crime 50% using this approach.

Paul Dribbin

Masks and Freedom

This is a letter to the editor I hope will be appearing in the St Louis Post Dispatch

I am saddened to hear my fellow citizens again resisting wearing coronavirus masks because it restricts their individual freedom.  This attitude represents an ignorance of science and our governing principles.

The scientific argument for wearing masks is irrefutable.  They keep the disease from spreading to others and new studies show it also helps prevent the individual from receiving the disease.

The political and philosophical issue is more nuanced.  Freedom is not an absolute right and one person’s freedom may cause harm to another.  Society needs to operate on a set of rules for overall safety and well being.  Wearing masks and social distancing are two easy measures that not only help the individual but society.  We can’t go through red lights, dump garbage in streams, or bring guns on planes,  even if your notion of freedom is compromised.  Furthermore, freedom is not the only governing value of our society.  The constitution mentions providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare.

It is sad that our country has become so individualistic that we won’t adopt simple measures for our common safety. Many lives have been lost as a result.

Statue of St. Louis

There have been significant and powerful demonstrations across the country following the death of Mr. George Floyd. These demonstrations represent a powerful statement by many Americans that racism and police brutality are not acceptable.

St. Louis chose to act by attempting to remove the statue of King Louis, the figure for whom St. Louis is named. He was a French king who live in the 1200s and accomplished many positive things in addition to participating in the crusades, which were anti Muslim and Jewish. These crusades resulted in the vicious death of many Jews and Muslims.

The demonstrations at times were violent and resulted in further vandalism in the neighborhood of St. Louis Mayor, Lyda Krewson. With all the terrible problems facing our city and world, this seems live a very trivial and silly action by some irresponsible people. As a Jew I should be offended by King Louis, but he lived a long time ago and his statue is of no interest to me.

Black Lives Matter

I am all in on this subject. I view it rather expansively, that in addition to police brutality and criminal justice reform, we need to confront all aspects of organized racism in our society. I have direct experience on the housing side, watching the resistance of suburban communities to affordable housing. Zoning laws, land use, building codes all make it overly difficult for people of color to be housed in the suburbs.

In my mind the violence plaguing some of the black community needs to be confronted. In St. Louis a black person is much more likely to be murdered in a street crime than by the police. I wish we had memorials to the innocent victims of these crimes. Black Lives Matter in the broadest sense of the term.

Property tax relief

An excellent article by Peter Hoffman. Property tax assistance is affordable and would do a lot of good

Criminal Justice Reform

With the police violence and murder of Mr. Floyd, criminal justice reform seems to be an important topic of conversation. I have had some recent experience with the subject matter, so I will share my thoughts.

I volunteered as a court watcher for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU). The purpose of this court watching is to observe bail setting in an attempt to see that people of color were treated fairly and in a manner consistent with white people. Once I week I spent about three hours in a courtroom observing the activity. From this experience I have some important thoughts. Here they are:

1. The process is difficult to follow for an outsider. There is a hubbub of activity, and it it usually difficult to hear what is being said from the bench. The judges were the only party miked and they often did not speak into the microphone. You could not readily follow the case if you did not previously research the case on a computer system that supports the court. Often cases different than was on the docket would appear. The judges usually did not discuss the case history or read out the charges.

2. Some of the defendants were being held in prison, usually for repeatedly not showing up for trial or responding to warrants. These folks were almost always non violent offenders but they came to the courtroom shackled. It is a mystery to me why that is necessary because they are non violent and there are plenty of armed sheriff personnel in the courtroom. I found the shackling to be shocking and humiliating to the defendants.

3. I found the judges to be kind, thoughtful, and patient. They went out of their way to help the defendants. Many times the defendants did not have a clue as to what was happening.

4. The great majority of the defendants were black and poor. Many had a long experience with the criminal justice system.

5. Defendants represented by an attorney clearly fared better in court. Some defendants who were eligible for court appointed attorneys had failed to apply for them. In many cases the judges and court personnel helped the defendant complete the application.

6.Most of the crimes were nonviolent and were the type of charges that would be pled down in cases with defendants who were affluent and represented by counsel. Typical charges were speeding, possession of drugs, non payment of child support etc. Many were stopped for speeding and found to have drugs in the vehicles. Occasionally we would see gun violations and minor robbery.

7. The bail set seemed to be reasonable for the crime and for the degree of cooperation with the defendant. Many people were released with electronic surveillance. Reminders of court appearance dates would be sent to cell phones with weekly reminders. The court appeared to be doing everything possible to make the system more user friendly.

8. The problem is not the behavior of the court personnel but the system. Poor people get caught up in a system in which they commit minor crimes, cant pay fines, end up in prison cant work etc. We need to seriously look at decriminalizing the use of illegal drugs and treating the behavior as a mental health issue. Everyone needs to have access to an attorney. At the same time the defendants need to demonstrate more responsible behavior by showing up for trial, attempting to get attorneys, and communicating difficulties with the courts. The system is broken and needs to be changed.

I’m Back

I have re-emerged from the wilderness. I am writing this blog again because there is so much going on and I have so much new material to convey. I hope people enjoy what I have to say and that I get a decent following. Please enjoy. Paul

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