There is a one-way street in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis called Klemm. It runs between DeTonty and Tower Grove Park, just south of I-44. At the intersection of Klemm and Shaw Boulevard (about two blocks from the Missouri Botanical Gardens) sits a little grocery store.
On the morning of Oct. 9 (a Thursday), NPR’s Morning Edition headlines reported that a young man named VonDerrit Myers Jr., 18, had been shot by an off-duty police officer in “South St. Louis” the previous night. The report itself mentioned “the Shaw neighborhood.” That’s when I started looking up St. Louis reporters I follow on Twitter. A web story I found cited the “4200 block of Shaw Boulevard” as the location of the shooting. Then, finally, I read “corner of Klemm and Shaw.”
My heart moved into my mouth. I live in Cincinnati, while my parents and brother (and his family) live in St. Louis. In fact, I have walked and driven around the very corner at issue more times than I can count. It lies at the midway point in the five-minute stroll from brother’s to my parents’ house. In fact, I had made the walk just a few days before the shooting, after saying goodbye to my sister-in-law, my niece and my two nephews. We had spent a very pleasant late morning at an arts and crafts fair on Flora Avenue (which I think of as the Park Place of Shaw), four blocks away.
Talking to my mother by phone the next morning, I learned that she had not known about the shooting at 7:30 p.m.–no sounds of gunfire had reached her, no sirens either–until protestors started streaming along Shaw Boulevard in front of the house. I learned my brother considered going over to her house, but then thought better of trying to walk or drive through the throngs of angry, dismayed people who were filling the streets. My mother wasn’t particularly worried about her safety, but she consented to stay on the phone with my sister-in-law until late that night. (My father watched it all on television in his room at an assisted living facility in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis that is actually light years away in many respects. But that’s another blog).
Meanwhile, my nephews (ages 11 and six) and niece (age 10) slept. In the car a few weeks later, I asked if they knew about the shooting. They did. The consensus among the two older children was that the young man was probably up to no good, but he didn’t deserve to die. The subject quickly changed when the six-year-old asked how far away we were from Sonic, our destination.
Since that night, protestors have continued to materialize in the neighborhood. There is a memorial on the corner of Klemm and Shaw: A giant mound of stuffed animals, signs and other tokens has formed around a tree. On recent visits to St. Louis, I’ve seen small groups of people gathered there, some bringing items to add to the memorial. Normally, I would take a photo and post it on Facebook, but I can’t quite bring myself to do so.
On the night the Darren Wilson grand jury decision was announced, my mother was at my brother’s house for several hours. I was here in Cincinnati, glued to my Twitter feed. My overriding emotion was–and remains–a kind of queasy and icky sensation that reminds of the days and weeks after the O.J. Simpson verdict. I am reminded that all is not right in the United States of America, especially when it comes to race and class–especially in St. Louis.
I am still worried about throngs of people showing up near my mother’s house. I jokingly tell her not to answer the door on those occasions, because the person on the other side might be a… journalist.