‘Who’s next?’ A St. Louis officer reflects on ubiquitous violence after Tower Grove Park shooting

Retired Sergeant Ralph E. Harper

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Funeral services were held today for retired St. Louis Police Sergeant Ralph Harper. The 67-year-old retired sergeant tragically lost his life Monday, October 29 during an attempted robbery near Tower Grove Park. Two teens, ages 15 and 16, are charged with second-degree murder in the shooting.

St. Louis Police Officer Don Re has penned a lengthy commentary about this tragic crime to his blog. He has posted several others that have gone viral. Read his entire thoughts on the fatal shooting. It is called, “Ubiquitous violence… who’s next?

“A man was shot and killed on a recent Tuesday morning in the City of St. Louis, well before eight o’clock had rolled around. The sun was out and it was a pretty nice day, especially for the end of October in St. Louis, Missouri. The man was minding his own business, doing whatever it is that retirees do when it’s that early in the morning, probably knocking out some errands early so that he could get to the more enjoyable activities in his life later on in the day.

Three boys were involved in the incident that led to this man being shot and killed on that recent Tuesday morning. The boys were not minding their own business though, or doing whatever it is that young boys should be doing that early on a Tuesday morning in late October. They were busy doing what they wanted to be doing instead.

The man was sixty-seven years old. The boys were fifteen, sixteen and seventeen years old.

The boys should have either been in school, or on their way to school or at least at home getting ready for school. Instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing, they were driving around in a stolen car, apparently looking to rob somebody.

Why were they out looking to rob somebody on that nice Tuesday morning? That’s a million dollar question, since armed robberies happen so often in so many urban areas these days. It’s something that I hope the boys will be asked, for sure. Maybe it was just for kicks that they had a handgun and went out to rob somebody, or for the rush that must come with confronting a stranger on a public sidewalk with a gun, or maybe they needed milk money or cash for a school field trip that their parents couldn’t afford. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. There is no reasonable excuse for why they were doing what they were doing.

They were armed bullies. The man was white and the boys were black. Does that matter to this story at all? Without knowing more, I would suggest that it doesn’t really matter.
Not this time.

I read dozens of police reports every month, and it would seem as though robbers aren’t very discriminating when it comes to who they’ll victimize. White men? Sure. Black men? Very often, maybe daily city-wide. Black women? Every week on the South Side alone. White women? Get in line, ladies. You’ll get a turn.

There used to be some dignity or honor among thieves, but that is no longer the case from my perspective. It is completely normal for a victim to describe his or her robber as being young or young looking, sometimes as young as ten or twelve years old. Ruminate on that for a minute.

Twelve-year-old boys are out on the streets with handguns committing robberies, and it isn’t surprising to any of us. It should shock us to our very core, but it doesn’t.

It’s hard for me to fathom that while boys this age are out committing very serious and dangerous crimes, my own fifteen year old is worried about how to make her Eggo box fit into her backpack so she can go trick or treating as Eleven from Stranger Things for Halloween.That’s what these kids should be doing, not robbing and killing.

It’s like Americans are living in alternate realities, right before our very eyes. Is it any wonder that as the criminals have gotten younger that the victims have become more random?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in this age where so few people respect anybody different than themselves, that women and men alike, young and old as well, are free game on the streets. There was a time when it was almost unheard of for a woman to be the victim of a homicide, but nowadays, it’s just another number on the annual tally sheet.

Other than their ages, I don’t know anything about these boys.

Were they abused?

Were they poor?

Were they fatherless?

Did some oppressive system of government fail them?

It doesn’t seem as though they came from bad homes, and it doesn’t matter to me. I’m so tired of people saying that it does.

Stop making excuses for the criminals! The local paper has covered the murder of this particular man in some detail, because he was a retired St. Louis City Police Officer. A popular one at that. He was a good man; a fun man, and he has other family members who have and still serve this city. The same city where he lost his life.

The dead man spent thirty-three years working as a police officer and sergeant in the City of St. Louis. Those thirty-three years total nearly half of his entire lifespan. He was killed on a street that he probably drove upon as a uniformed police officer hundreds of times.

I wonder if he took the job all those years ago wanting to help people, with personal ideals that he’ll leave the city in a better place than it was when he started his job as a police officer. Through no fault of his own, however, it is not a better place than when he started.

It is not a better place than when I started. It will not be a better place than when the next class of recruit graduates start either, if things don’t change.

There is much animosity in this country, and it is most glaring along any line that divides us by race or wealth, two things that aren’t nearly as mutually exclusive as they should be in 2018, and that are most obvious in urban areas where blacks and whites and the rich and poor live in close proximity.

It should come as no surprise that people who can’t agree on whether or not abortion should be lawful or gay people should be able to buy cakes hinting at their lifestyle at any damn bakery they please or everyone who works any job should be making at least $15 an hour also can’t agree on what to do about crime.

Crime doesn’t affect the people in charge of making political or judicial decisions as much as it does the rest of us.

Most of them live in safer communities and are offered special government protections with a simple phone call.

Everyday violent crime has basically become second page news in most large cities. People get shot and killed every single day, and we’re all immune and way too accepting of it.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife wanted to go to one of our favorite restaurants in the city, and one of the reasons I didn’t want to go is because, “we’re more likely to get robbed in the city.”

I was only half-kidding, and we did end up going, and we did’t get robbed, of course. Most people live in and visit major cities and are never victims of anything more than a property crime like theft or vandalism.

Still, sometimes, when you’re out doing even mundane things on nice Tuesday mornings before it’s even 8 am, you do get robbed, and when you’re a retired police officer, you fight back because that’s what’s in your blood.

The man who died that day, our friend Ralph, shot at one of the robbers and hit him, which is what led to his arrest. Even in death, a real first responder responds.

In that way, I guess, he did make the city a little bit better on his last day on earth than it was the day he began his career as a police officer.”