Not all children killed by guns were innocent victims, St. Louis public safety director asserts

ST. LOUIS — Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, under fire for comments on a local radio show about child shooting deaths in the city, reiterated his point at an aldermanic committee meeting Thursday.

Edwards said while those under 10 years old were innocent victims, some older children had been linked to illegal activity.

“The purpose here is not to demonize anyone; the facts are the facts,” Edwards told the Public Safety Committee.

Edwards said a 15-year-old was found dead one morning “with an automatic weapon on his person with an extended ammunition magazine, $5,000 in cash and a large quantity of drugs.”

He said another shooting victim, 16, was on “the police carjacking offender list” and had been allegedly shot in a crossfire “engaged in by two other 16-year-olds.”

“And finally,” Edwards said, “another 15-year-old was alleged to have been ravaging inside a vehicle” in the early morning when he was shot.

He also said two victims over age 10 are believed to have committed suicide.

Edwards’ comments Thursday elaborated on what he said in an interview Oct. 3 on “St. Louis on the Air,” a public affairs program aired on St. Louis Public Radio station KWMU (90.7 FM).

He said then that it’s important that children don’t engage in risky activity, adding that about eight of 13 killed in the city this year “were teenagers engaged in criminal behaviors themselves” and “very sophisticated.”

The radio comments spurred outrage from 13 organizations, which earlier this week issued a joint statement saying “this kind of demonization of our children is shocking and unacceptable.”

Among the organizations signing on were Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Metropolitan Congregations United, the Deaconess Foundation and the Organization for Black Struggle.

The groups also said Edwards’ comments built “on racist, dehumanizing tropes” about black children and distracted from public policies “that continue to deepen poverty and despair instead of investing resources to create safety and opportunity.”

Edwards, without referring directly to the groups’ statement, said Thursday that “I know and I agree there are many social and societal reasons that lead our children to unfortunate situations and we must do more than police on the back end.”

He said “our families need jobs, good housing, good education and hope that they can achieve equally and lawfully in our city.”

Edwards, who is black, also noted that as a circuit judge he had tried to lessen “the negative impact that the school-to-prison pipeline … had on black and brown children” by starting a school in 2009 to protect kids from criminal influences that continues to operate.

The 13 groups in their joint statement also called on Edwards’ boss, Mayor Lyda Krewson, to publicly condemn his comments and for the Board of Aldermen to censure Edwards.

Krewson’s chief of staff, Steve Conway, on Thursday strongly defended Edwards.

“Jimmie has an incredible reputation of working with juveniles within the justice system and within our community,” Conway said. “His track record of improving children’s lives in St. Louis is unmatched by anyone.”

Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, said Thursday that the group stands by the initial joint statement.

Edwards on Thursday said “we never want to blame the children” and that because of that, he had been reluctant to discuss specifics of some of their deaths.

“However, I think it is necessary to put the investigations in context and share a few facts in light of the conjecture we have recently heard,” he said. He also said it’s important that he and the police department do not appear to be callous or uncaring “but always empathetic to victims’ situations.”

After the committee meeting, Edwards in an interview declined to identify which gunfire victims he was referring to in his comments.