East St. Louis is of the few cities city in the US that can make Detroit look decent by comparison. On a scale from 1-100, East Illinois scores a 3 on crime. Detroit is a 4 and Memphis is 2, though violent crime in East St. Louis surpasses that in Memphis and every other city I can find with over 17 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. I read not long ago the town is cutting its police force by one third:

“I want our citizens to know we have some of the bravest police officers and firefighters in the country,” Parks said. “But we don’t have the money to pay them. We have to have fiscal responsibility.”

City officials wanted police and fire unions to accept a furlough program that would have required employees to take two unpaid days in each twice monthly pay period. If accepted, emergency responders would have seen a pay cut of about 20 percent for the rest of the year.

Parks said the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement. On Friday, he stared at a standing-room only crowd and told his emergency response chiefs words they didn’t want to hear: “Tell your workers to start packing their things.”

The sheriff’s department does not appear willing to step in. It’s likely that Illinois has budget problems of its own.

My introduction to East St. Louis was when I discovered that it was the inspiration behind Hub City, home of DC’s The Question for a time. The picture it painted was quite bleak. At the end of the series, there’s nothing really left for the mayor to govern as The Question and a few remaining citizens fly out by helicopter, defeated. There is a point earlier in the series where the Governor’s office refuses to render aid to the city as it can’t save a city from itself. The scene was supposed to make them heartless and evil (and they were crass about it, if I recall), but it was hard to argue with.

It brings to mind the much bigger question of what, if anything, we can do about places like Detroit or East St. Louis. Places that exist, have buildings already built, but are for various reasons beyond dysfunction. Of course, at the rate we’re going, we may soon be asking ourselves that question about entire states. It would be nice if places came with a Start Over button.

Category: Courthouse, Newsroom

About the Author

11 Responses to Helltown

  1. web says:

    It’s interesting that you mention Memphis. I came across this article a couple years ago and was trying to figure out a way to mention it without anyone bringing up race.

    Dealing with crime is always unfortunate, and the underlying premise of “if only X” often seems not to be the case.

  2. ? says:

    what, if anything, we can do about places like Detroit or East St. Louis

    I would recommend something like this. It probably won’t work, which makes it a better idea than the ones that definitely won’t work.

    Of course, it will never be tried, for much the same reason that it wasn’t tried in Madagascar: no politician can survive ceding sovereignty over territory, no matter how tenuous his actual grip on it.

    Parenthetically, my introduction to East St. Louis was the movie Trespass.

  3. Kirk says:

    I’m surprised that no one has suggested legalizing drugs as a way to save money. Pot would probably be the politically-easiest to achieve.

    People often focus on how much our two present wars cost, forgetting that the war on drugs constitutes a third. As for the impact on crime, 60% of the income going to Mexican drug cartels comes from pot. (Yes, pot.) I don’t see any reason for our money to keep flowing south to those dirtbags.

  4. trumwill says:

    Web, you’re right that dealing with crime is always unfortunate. In the case of Memphis, you spread the poor folks out and crime ends up going everywhere. On the other hand, if you keep them concentrated, you end up with places like East St. Louis where the decent people that live there are stuck in a cesspool of crime.

    And it’s really hard to separate those that want to be out versus those that don’t. Even if you offered assistance to move but only if the recipient works and stays out of trouble, they might be good but those that come with them – family members, teenage children, etc. – won’t be.

    About the only thing I can think of is setting up complexes away from the trouble areas but with strict rules that would be really unattractive for troublemakers. Back when I was living in Deseret, I was looking at two apartment complexes. The first, Colton Place, had ridiculous rules about having guests and with curfews and the second, Belle Rieve, didn’t. I suspect that Colton Place did not have the crime problem that BR did. Nobody that say had a girlfriend that they wanted to be able to come over would have picked Colton Place… but then again, the rules at Colton Place made it safer and could have been better than Belle Rieve insofar as the girlfriend would be more inclined to visit before 10pm whereas with a BR she may never want to come over at all. Point being, sometimes the restriction of freedom can actually result in more freedom if it keeps freedom-inhibiting independent actors at bay.

    On a sidenote, I said in the post that I couldn’t find any city with a worse violent crime rate than East St. Louis. Now I have. St. Louis, Missouri (rated a “1”, violent crime of 20 and non-violent of 113, both the highest I’ve seen). So there goes the point I was going to make about St. Louis benefiting from the criminals hanging around in ESL.

  5. trumwill says:

    Funny you should mention the Charter City idea. That was one of the things that I was thinking when I wrote it. I agree, though, that it probably won’t fly politically. And it probably wouldn’t work, if only because the civic leadership is a real problem in these areas. If they had it all to do over again, they would probably enact the same laws that and elect the same figures that created these problems in the first place. It’s a fascinating idea, though.

  6. ? says:

    Actually, I think the whole point of charter cities is to displace the civic leadership under the charter’s jurisdiction and substitute it with an enlightened despotism.

    But that’s not even what I meant. To put it decorously, I believe that the success of Hong Kong had as much to with its location next to China as it did with its British overlords. I would not predict similar success with “foreign” outposts in the environs of Detroit.

  7. ? says:

    The first, Colton Place, had ridiculous rules about having guests and with curfews and the second, Belle Rieve, didn’t. I suspect that Colton Place did not have the crime problem that BR did.

    I’m intrigued. Colton Place sounds like a college dormitory. (I mean, like college dormitories 25 years ago.) I would have thought that apartment complexes for grownups could barely rouse themselves to enforce their “no pets” policies. I’d like to know how it worked out it practice, especially whether enforcement required residents to expose themselves to retaliation by “ratting out” malefactors.

    I suspect that there are few residential arrangements which specifically and effectively screen for behavior. Presently, most discrimination is on the basis of money: people who have it buy into neighborhoods with other people who have it and thereby avoid the negative externalities generated by the kind of people who don’t. I would like to see opportunities for the poor to have incentives for good behavior, to say to them, “Would you like to live in this neighborhood? It won’t cost much, but it will require you to keep your grass mowed, your dog quiet, and your offspring under control. In return, you get to enjoy the peace and safety of a well-ordered community.”

  8. Peter says:

    Cities such as East St. Louis get trapped in a downward spiral that’s nearly impossible to break. The loss of business and industry erodes the tax base to a point where it’s necessary to raise rates to extremely high levels just to maintain minimal service levels, but these high rates deter businesses from locating in the cities and therefore prevent the cities from rebuilding their tax bases … and from lowering their rates.

  9. trumwill says:

    Phi, I’ll do a write-up on Colton Place either late this week or early next one.

  10. Mike Hunt says:

    Sadly there is no Reset button for cities.

    If there was, as John Lennon sang: It’ll be just like starting over, starting over.

  11. Mike Hunt says:

    Peter, I answered your question here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.