EAST ST. LOUIS, IL (KTVI) – Friday marked the first weekend night of a new crackdown on violent crime in East St. Louis, Illinois. After a run of gunplay that included a triple murder last Sunday, officials say they are focusing in on teenagers, strictly enforcing a 10:00pm curfew and attacking loitering on problem street corners throughout the city.
Residents say they want it to work, but they also say they’ve heard this tough talk before.
“If they really push the issue and enforce it, maybe they’ll stop some of the crime,” resident Reva White said, “but the thing about it is, the curfew is good, but we’ve got murders happening in broad daylight. What about that?”
White knows something about coping with violence. Her son was murdered back in 2009 and no one has ever been convicted in the killing, “A lot of moms have been through what I’m going through right now. It’s happening right now.”
Mayor Alvin Parks says the current run of violence is the result of a turf war underway near the East St. Louis-Washington Park line over the last eight months or so.
“It is basically a neighborhood beef kind of a situation where one neighborhood is coming after another or a family is coming after another and perpetrating crimes that is simply unacceptable,” Parks said Friday night.
He says teenagers are literally being used as soldiers in this battle, “We realize that some of the adults of the community have been using children to be the perpetrators of the crime when they are actually behind the act.”
Extra resources are being provided by state and federal agencies, and Parks says some private businesses are even offering to chip in and pay for extra officers.
But in neighborhoods around the city there is skepticism. They say gunfire is a running soundtrack more than an unusual occurrence, and many people, particularly young men, say every day is an exercise in fearing for their lives.
“Kids, no matter, everyone gotta look over their shoulder,” Melvin Smith, 21, said near his home on 43rd. “No matter where they walking to, a playground, a basketball court, a store, they gotta be looking over their shoulder, around a building because there’s so much going on like that.”
An initial declaration that city would crack down on teens wearing red and blue, colors believed to be associated with gangs, has been dropped. City officials say you can wear what you like, but if it appears tied to a gang, police will be watching and asking questions.