The answer may be in the numbers. Or as a noted historian once said, "Demographics are destiny". I believe what that means is that you can predict with some certainty the future of a community by the demographics - those detailed numbers that tell you where you've been, where you are and where you are most likely headed. Sikeston is by no means an exception.
Be prepared to read time and time again in this column this year about the numbers that reflect the current status of our community. Hidden deep within these numbers are the reasons for our problems and the mirror for our future. They are not all bad nor are they universally optimistic. The numbers reflect quite simply what we are. It is up to us to determine where we will go.
But first let's look at St. Louis. And let's start with crime. The murder rate in St. Louis city is up this year with 43 murders for every 100,000 population. In real numbers that's 149 murders this past year. By contrast, the county murder rate was only 3 per 100,000 residents, among the lowest in the nation. With a population well over one million, only 36 murders were reported in the county.
What is the common factor in this murder rate explosion in St. Louis city? Drugs, poverty and a background of criminal history. Every criminal expert involved says that when the three prongs of demographics combine - drugs, poverty and criminal background - the community will experience similar criminal increases.
One criminologist studied the St. Louis murders and concluded what we all realize. The murder suspects and their victims had very similar backgrounds. Thus, most inner city murders are criminal against criminal. That is why the silent majority are not up in arms over this escalation of crime. It doesn't impact them directly.
I was shocked to read one expert when he said that "law-abiding citizens should not be concerned" over the murder rate increase because the murders are mostly bad guys shooting bad guys. Doesn't he realize that soon the murders will cross those boundaries and involve good guys too? How naive and how sad.
Let me say what others may fear to voice. White flight in St. Louis has left the city population largely minority, in poverty and with diminished hope for the future. Those safe white havens in the county are largely crime free as witnessed in the numbers. But the city remains crime-infested and largely abandoned. Drugs dominate the crime world with no prospects of changing in the near future. In a nutshell, demographics are destiny.
Can the same be said of Sikeston? Do we have an increase in those three key demographics of poverty, drugs and criminal background? And if so, what the hell are we going to do about it?
If we don't ask those questions this year, the time will surely come when we mirror other communities who have lost the fight. There is hope indeed. But it will take a resolve and a plan like none we've ever tried.
Talk is cheap. Actions are needed. The time is now.