The Nation's Pulse

At Home in Murder City

It's no picnic being the most dangerous city in America.

By 12.3.10

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Once again, I must take exception to my hometown being named America's most violent city. And when I find out who's responsible I'm going to break their kneecaps.

Sure, St. Louis's crime rates look bad on paper, but these days who reads the paper? The fact is, you have to try really hard to get murdered in St. Louis. You can't just sit in your foxhole watching television and expect someone to go out of his way to kill you. St. Louisans are much too busy for that. At the very least you have to step outside to check the mail. My point is, it's no picnic being the most dangerous city. It takes the cooperation of a lot of thugs and naive innocent victims, not to mention decades of bad policy ideas, to get this messed up.

I could show you parts of St. Louis that are still relatively safe, and by relatively safe I mean your armored Humvee can still scale the piles of corpses in the streets without tipping over. I've lived in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods of the city off and on for a year now, and I haven't once been mugged, knifed, or shot at. True, my car has been broken into and my rear window shot out, but this was done matter-of-factly, not violently -- and we're talking violent crime here -- so that doesn't count.

People ask me, what's it like living in America's most dangerous city? Well, it's a lot like living in your hometown, only your neighbors, instead of inviting you over for barbecue and beer, are waiting in the bushes to cut your throat for you.

St. Louisans are rightly proud that tens of thousands of refugees from the Bosnian War and the conflict in Darfur immigrated here in recent years. And only a handful have been indiscriminately murdered since resettling in the city. Nothing like the thousands that were indiscriminately slaughtered back in Eastern Europe and Africa. And just because a few have fled back to their burned-out villages where it's safer doesn't mean that all the immigrants feel that way.

ACTUALLY, ST. LOUIS has been designated America's most dangerous city so many times it hardly registers a yawn. The city is even thinking of adopting a new slogan: "Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity." Gunshots outside your living room windows? Just turn up the volume on the TV. Car windows smashed on a regular basis? Invest in an auto glass repair shop. You'll make millions. Then you can afford to move to the suburbs.

Not surprisingly, our elected officials are becoming expert at downplaying this dubious distinction. The criteria are all wrong, they say. Lists are bad and irresponsible ways to think about urban living, they say. Unless the lists are good news. Then we'll feature them on our tourist brochures. Besides, we have the awesome Gateway Arch you can gaze upon while you're waiting for the paramedics to arrive.

The good news for us St. Louisans is that crime has gone down in the city each year since 2007. Today there are only 2,000 crimes per 100,000 residents. This is also good news for last year's most dangerous city, Camden, New Jersey. Unlike St. Louisans, Camdenites actually want the title. "Hell ya, we're dangerous and violent, and don't you forget it!" One can imagine the news wasn't being taken well down at The Bada Bing:

Hey Boss, you see dis? Camden ain't da most dangerous city no mores.

Who sez? You tellin' me a bunch of mopes from Missouri tink dey're better than us? Tell Johnny Pork Chops to gas up the Caddy, we're going for a little ride.

Frankly, Camden can have the title. It's a lot of effort being Murder City, USA. Can't we just be America's fattest city instead? Why should Corpus Christi have all the food and the fun? I'd even settle for the title of dumbest city, which is now proudly held by Las Vegas. Being the dumbest city wouldn't take any effort at all. In fact, it takes the opposite of effort. I'm forgetting drunkest city, an honor now held by Fresno. Heck, let's shoot for the trifecta: drunkest, fattest and most stupid…

Why not? I think I speak for most St. Louisans when I say we'd rather be drunk, fat and stupid than dead.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.