informal essays

Hey Internet! Stop Spreading Lies About My City!

1/12/15 UPDATE: Looking back on this post three years later, I do regret that I was more concerned about my city having a false image about its crime problem than actually showing much interest in getting involved in doing anything to improve the true problems that are there.

12/8/11 UPDATE: At least one of the websites has now removed St. Louis from the list entirely and added Hons, Syria at #10 – a city I just happened to mention in this post. Thanks to everyone for displaying their St. Louis pride and helping to get this accomplished!

The Internet is full of crazy things. Sometimes it’s best to ignore them. But sometimes people don’t ignore them, and then I feel like I have to get involved and set things straight. It’s nothing new for my city of St. Louis to be in the running for “most dangerous city in the United States.” Oh, we ranked first again? In other news, the Rams are bad. Pass the toasted ravs… But when a new report comes out that says St. Louis is the third-most dangerous city in the entire world, and it gets floated around multiple websites, well, OK guys, you asked for it.

The pictures that accompany the articles should be enough to expose the complete and utter absurdity of St. Louis’s ranking. Most of the cities lower on the list – i.e. “less dangerous than St. Louis” – have pictures of soldiers and explosions, while all St. Louis has is a policeman standing around some yellow tape. Ooh, scary! But if that’s not convincing enough for you, let’s dive into the facts.

First, let’s look at the statement accompanying the photo:

According to a latest study analyzing cities based on their FBI statistics for murder, rape, robbery, and assault, St. Louis top the list of the most dangerous city in America, beating Camden, Detroit and New Orleans, last year’s most dangerous cities. After first being pronaunced ‘America’s Most Dangerous City’ in 2006 and coming in second place in 2009, St. Louis has once again reached the top. St. Louis had 2,070.1 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, compared with a national average of 429.4. Overall, east St. Louis city is the area of nearly 65% of the crime.

Ignore the misspellings and subject-verb disagreement earlier in the paragraph and re-read that last sentence. Now let me show you a little map:

St Louis Metro Area

East St. Louis is a separate city from St. Louis. It’s not in the same county. It’s not even in the same state! Sure, they’re part of a continuous urban area arbitrarily separated by a river, but if we’re going to consider the crime statistics for St. Clair County’s East St. Louis as part of the overall crime statistics for the St. Louis metropolitan area just because they’re part of the same urban area, then we should also consider the crime statistics for St. Charles County suburbs like O’Fallon and St. Peters, which were recently ranked the 26th and 60th best places to live in America, respectively. At least they’re in the same state.

Somebody must have alerted at least one of these websites to their absurdity because they actually changed every mention of “St. Louis” to “East St. Louis.” The grammar and spelling mistakes are still there, and now it makes even less sense:

According to a latest study analyzing cities based on their FBI statistics for murder, rape, robbery, and assault, East Saint. Louis top the list of the most dangerous city in America, beating Camden, Detroit and New Orleans, last year’s most dangerous cities. After first being pronaunced ‘America’s Most Dangerous City’ in 2006 and coming in second place in 2009, East Saint. Louis has once again reached the top.East Saint. Louis had 2,070.1 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, compared with a national average of 429.4. Overall, east St. Louis city is the area of nearly 65% of the crime.

Ugh. What does it even mean to pretend that all the crime statistics apply to East St. Louis and then say that East St. Louis accounts for 65% of it?

But I’m just getting started. There has to be some city in the United States that is the most dangerous city in the United States. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that it might possibly be St. Louis, or even some arbitrarily defined subsection of the St. Louis metropolitan area. It is still a complete and utter absurdity to claim that the most dangerous city in the United States is the third-most dangerous city in the entire world.

If you take the time to look through the awful list, you’ll notice that, to increase diversity, no country has more than one city on the list. This implies that besides the #2 city, Ciudad Juarez, every single other city in Mexico is less dangerous than St. Louis! This includes cities like Nuevo Laredo, where decapitated bodies are dumped in the central square. I don’t recall that ever happening in my city. No offense to mi hombres de méxico – we went there for our honeymoon – but the drug war has killed over 45,000 people in that country in the last five years (or almost twice the entire population of East St. Louis), and yet St. Louis is more dangerous than 99% of Mexico?

Furthermore, even a cursory look at the headlines reveals a number of countries suspiciously absent from the list. Afghanistan just had some terrorist attacks that killed 58 people in three cities, and while this kind of attack is “rare,” the country has been engulfed in war for a decade. So Mr. or Mrs. Non-Journalist, would you really rather be in Kabul than St. Louis tonight? Or how about Hons, Syria, where “a surge in violence… has killed up to 50 people in the past 24 hours, leaving dozens of bodies in the streets”? When you protest in St. Louis, the mayor squabbles with you about whether or not you can keep taking up space on some public property. When you protest in Syria, the government opens fire on you. So where would you rather be again? Would you really pick any city in Iraq right now over the scary little town of St. Louis?

Some crimes like robberies and rape are hard to compare across the world because they don’t get reported as well in some places as in others. So let’s just look at murders. Forgive my bluntness, but it’s pretty obvious when people die. St. Louis City had 142 reported murders in 2010. Now that’s horrible. East St. Louis recently had its 25th homicide this year. Also horrible. But twenty-five people get killed in a suburb of 27,000 and that makes St. Louis the “third-most dangerous city in the world”?

St. Louis has this giant steel structure called the Gateway Arch that four million people come to visit every year. We have venues like The Pageant, The Firebird, Off Broadway, FUBAR, and more, where touring bands from around the country play every weekend – and I’ve walked in the parking lots of most of them. After dark. Sometimes by myself! We have one of the country’s largest and highest-rated zoos, and it’s completely free. We have a baseball team that just won the World Series, and on the Sunday after their victory thousands of people went downtown for a parade. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a Thanksgiving Day parade in the city. Apparently nobody that came was scared of drug cartels, suicide bombers, or even a little carjacking. And every single thing I just mentioned is inside the regular ol’ lines of “St. Louis City.” (Don’t get me started on all that St. Charles County has to offer.)

So why am I so concerned about what people on the Internet have to say about my city when they can’t even spell or read statistics correctly? I care because my city has a reputation, and if that reputation is undeserved, that costs my city something. We’re right in the middle of the country, but whenever a band that I like goes on a nationwide tour and skirts around us, I wonder…. is it because we’re not a big enough market, or is it really because someone thinks it’s too dangerous here? Even within our own metro area, I know good-intentioned moms from the suburbs that are scared to let their kids drive down to the Delmar Loop, one of the “10 Great Streets of America,” just because it’s technically part of “St. Louis City” and “St. Louis City” is supposedly really dangerous.

St. Louis isn’t a perfect town (hey, I know several people who have had their apartments robbed). It probably has a crime problem and it may even have areas that are some of the most dangerous in the United States. I’m probably biased about my city and maybe even think it’s a little safer and a little more special than it really is. But to claim that it is one of the most dangerous cities in the entire world is just an act of willful ignorance. So please stop spreading lies about my city. I dare you to come and visit….

Advertisements