Latest Excuse For Black Gun Violence In St. Louis: Food Insecurity That Black Urban Farmers Must Solve
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Earlier by Paul Kersey: In 2020 St. Louis (49% Black) 92% Of Known Homicide Suspects Were Black

When pointing out black people are behind virtually all the gun violence in St. Louis, the only solution is to blame… food insecurity (despite seven percent of whites living below the poverty line in the city and committing virtually none of the violent crime).

Food insecurity linked to gun violence. In St. Louis, Black farmers work on a solution, Kansas City Star, June 27, 2020

Straw hat in hand, Tyrean “Heru” Lewis jumps out of his pickup truck along busy Shackelford Road in North St. Louis County and walks into the treeline, where he has something special to show.

On the other side, uniform rows of vegetables — lettuce, radishes and bok choy — sprout on half an acre. The land is not on a remote country farm, but just 17 miles from the Delmar Loop in the heart of the city. As Lewis, founder of Heru Urban Farming, checks the crop he gets excited about its progress, raising his voice over the sound of traffic.

As he talks, he describes the need he has seen in St. Louis, his hometown, the neighborhoods where many children don’t have enough healthy food to eat, and where the nearest fresh vegetable can be miles away.

He has also seen how gun violence has become a fact of everyday life in these same neighborhoods. As a health teacher, he saw one of his students go to prison for a shooting. As a resident, he hears gunshots daily around his home, and three or four people get killed in his neighborhood every year.

“I mean, that’s normal to some people and unfortunately to me,” he said.

Researchers say a host of factors contribute to a city’s gun violence problem — what they define as deficits in social determinants of health such as income, housing, healthy living environments and quality education. And food insecurity.

Lacking a complex nutritional diet can harm brain development in childhood, according to public health experts. That can cause later problems dealing with peers, handling authority and responding to situations of extreme stress.

The problems facing areas that experience gun violence are many, Lewis acknowledges, but he has also seen the impact that food can have.

“I’ve seen the difference in kids when they get a meal and when they don’t get a meal, how they behave and how they focus in school,” he said. “So I truly believe that’s all connected.”

Nearly 70% of the city’s 271 homicides last year occurred in low income census tracts without access to a grocery store or supermarket for at least half a mile, according to a Kansas City Star analysis of federal data and police reports.

Fifty-two of the killings occurred in just eight census tracts on the north side of the city with no grocery store for a mile.

St. Louis leads the state in gun violence and for most of the past decade ranked No. 1 for food insecurity — the lack of reliable access to healthy food.

But it’s not just an urban problem. Southeastern counties in or near Missouri’s Bootheel region currently lead the state in food insecurity, federal data show. And four of the 10 counties with the highest rates of gun deaths sit in the far southeastern corner of the state: Wayne, Reynolds, Pemiscot and Carter.

Food insecurity across an entire community can lead to higher rates of health problems, including mental health, according to researchers. That long-term stress can increase suicides and confrontations that lead to gun violence.

Scarcity of fresh and healthy food in communities is a critical public health issue, said Dr. Fredrick Echols, director of the St. Louis City Department of Health.

“It’s not just about interrupting acts of violence or preventing acts of violence, but it’s really about creating change in the trajectory of the lives of the individuals that are considered high-risk in those communities,” he said. “Essential wraparound services — such as mental and behavioral health, utility assistance, mortgage and rental assistance and food — those are some of the things that a lot of people oftentimes take for granted and are really the key things that are necessary to change the environment for individuals.”

A few years ago, Lewis decided he could be part of the solution.

“A lightbulb went off in my head,” he said. “There’s a need here, a demand here, so why can’t I be the one that supplies it?”

Other urban farmers had the same idea.

A grassroots ecosystem of Black urban growers, farmers markets, entrepreneurs and community leaders has sprung up in St. Louis to increase production and access to affordable fresh produce in their communities. Their mission: to create a self-sustaining and economically beneficial food infrastructure for residents.

They’re tilling and planting vacant lots, backyards and school gardens. Their fresh produce is going to community-owned businesses and families in need. And they’re finding ways to fund and train the next generation of farmers and entrepreneurs from within their neighborhoods.

Freshman state Rep. Kimberly Ann Collins, a Democrat whose district makes up the middle of north St. Louis City, introduced a bill to directly aid the efforts of the urban farmers in her district.

The bill created a tax incentive and financial support for growers converting vacant lots into gardens. Recent St. Louis Land Redevelopment Authority data shows that about 96% of vacant lots for rent or sale are found in eight wards spanning the northern half of the city.

For Collins, a resident of the Ville neighborhood, this issue hits close to home.

“I have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, right here in the city of St. Louis, just because of where we live, because we don’t have access to fresh food,” Collins said.

“The convenience stores that are in our neighborhoods don’t have the apples and bananas; the convenience stores in our neighborhoods have all of the processed foods that you can get.”

Yes, having no access to fresh food means you have an excuse to commit gun violence.

Question, dear reader: how far do you live from a grocery store or from fresh produce? How many gunshots do you have in your neighborhood per night?

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