white street tiles with blue lettering spelling St. Louisrivate St. Louis neighborhoods street tiles

private St. louis neighborhoods and their relation to Ferguson

Private St. Louis neighborhoods are legendary, like the one I live in. Despite living seven miles from Ferguson, I didn’t know where Ferguson was. I’ve driven down W. Florissant Rd. where the unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a police officer on August 9th, 2014. I’ve never thought about Ferguson as a suburb. Rather, it’s just “North St. Louis”, a disregarded place where you lock your doors when driving through. The part of town where you can drive down Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and lament his legacy and Barack Obama Elementary School is located. The school system is notoriously awful and resources are scarce. People hang out on their porches attached to dilapidated houses. Maybe their “lawn and gardening budgets” aren’t big enough. It’s a place my white, middle-class children are starting to notice “isn’t nearly as nice as where we live” surrounded by private St. Louis Neighborhoods.

Gates, dead-ends and one-way streets

private St. Louis neighborhoods gate

We live in a predominately white neighboring “suburb” of St. Louis. In other words, one of many private St. Louis neighborhoods. I am not originally from St. Louis. Rather, I grew up on army forts. Thus, when I say I have never lived in a place that felt so much like a series of fortresses as St. Louis, that’s coming from someone who literally lived within guarded fortresses. There are nearly five hundred gated private St. Louis neighborhoods. Gates, dead ends and one-way streets are ubiquitous to life here. The gates are frequently eloquent. Sometimes, they are as large as a small house. They serve to keep the riffraff at bay and make (mostly) rich people feel a sense of security. Certainly, they convey an “us” versus “them” mentality endemic to life here. The dead-ends deter roving traffic, “undesirables”. I’m convinced one-way streets are there just to mess with my terrible sense of direction and make me late for appointments.

What High School did you attend?

One thing that struck me about private St. Louis neighborhoods when I moved here in 2008 is the palpable class structure. The tired joke you hear within an hour of being here is that St. Louis natives are only interested in what high school you attended. This need to categorize people is unmistakable. Obsession with your high school is, at its worst, a status issue. At its best, you could blame it on needing a definition, a frame of reference. Regardless of the answer, it’s “clicky” as hell. It seems to feed from a darker place, a distrust of anyone St. Louis natives can’t immediately identify. As a St. Louis transplant, the prestige of certain high schools is lost on me. The people who ask you about your high school affiliation don’t always seem to be making polite conversation. Instead, they seem to need to categorize you. They want to put you in a box so you make sense to them. You don’t really have to get to know someone if you know what label to attach to them.

Parkview Neighborhood walled gate

private st. louis neighborhoods

I’ve been devouring the news of Michael Brown’s death trying to wrap my head around it. I keep waiting for the outrage to pour into private St. Louis neighborhoods. So far, it’s just an alarming increase of helicopter presence. I’d like to drive over there in support of the Ferguson community. Will I be adding to the chaos? Why here? Why now? Poor race and class relations in St. Louis have been omnipresent for forever. They have been on a low simmer for decades, if not centuries. The truth is, I don’t care why. As saddened as I am that yet another black teenager was killed by a police officer, it may as well be here in St. Louis that residents take a stand. The continual harassment of black people and minorities and the distrust of people that aren’t like you should be unacceptable in every community.

What is the answer to private St. Louis neighborhoods?

As disturbing as the rioting and looting has been, I fear it is not the death of an unarmed black teenager that may propel change so much as the community’s reaction. Of course no one condones looting and rioting. That’s like saying you are in favor of not bludgeoning puppies. Rightfully so, we all wonder why anyone would react by vandalizing innocent shopkeepers. Um, probably because they are disenfranchised? As it turns out, anger and violence are perfectly reasonable responses to violence, albeit not productive or preferable. Why should we expect a grieving community to act with grace in the face of overwhelming inequity in the midst of raw grief? Comparing them to animals and taunt them to “bring it”? Why do we say “them”? Mostly because we don’t understand each other. Why do the police keep treating the community like they would react to a terrorist threat? Sorry, I forgot. Because the residents of Ferguson are mostly black.

FerGuson: A Community in crisis

I don’t know whether the officer in question acted reasonably or not. We don’t have enough information yet. As a jurist, I firmly believe in innocent until proven guilty. Still, I don’t understand why some want to castigate a community in crisis for acting out. Isn’t asking questions what we do after a tragedy? If the parents of the slain children at Sandy Hook started a riot, would we question their motives or call them animals? Of course not. They were white. Where is the solidarity of parents of all ethnicities and economic status? Can we all not relate to being angry at the as yet unexplained death of a child? Regardless of whether it was justified, it is nevertheless tragic.

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  1. Tammy

    That was so well-written. Thank you for your perspective. I will never think about gated communities and one way streets the same way. I’m passing this on to my boys…

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