A year ago today, a young St. Louis police officer, Norvelle Brown, was shot and killed while attempting to make an arrest. According to his colleagues, Officer Brown was a dedicated officer who volunteered his time as a police athletic league coach. He was only 22 years old.
In the year since Officer Brown’s murder, the police department has waged a relentless war against violence in some of the same neighborhoods he had patrolled. Police commanders have sent the department’s front-line units into dangerous blocks and streets to identify and arrest the worst offenders.
St. Louis has a large, well-organized, and well-trained police department. Dedicated operations like this one usually succeed. I have no doubt that the department’s efforts are keeping down violent crimes in these neighborhoods and the number of arrests made bears this out.
The person arrested and charged with Officer Brown’s murder was 15 years old. An accomplice who was charged with supplying the weapons was 18 years old. Both young men had ignored or been overlooked by the sorts of family, church, school, and social bonds that might make 18-year-olds into college-bound chess players and 15-year-olds into junior varsity soccer players instead of thugs and cowards.
In a perfect world, Officer Brown would have been the 15-year-old’s mentor; in a merely adequate world, there wouldn’t have been unsupervised teenagers on Semple Avenue on a school night.
A year ago, I wondered on this blog what decisions put all these young men into the same alley — with guns — that night, instead of into a gym or a library? Whatever they were, I wrote that we all needed to do some things very differently in the future. I urged St. Louisans to use every opportunity to get guns off our streets; to spare no effort to improve schools for our kids or to involve more parents in their children’s lives; to work with me to identify more and better economic opportunities for City residents; and to nurture the strong, swift community resolve against criminal behavior that Officer Brown’s death engendered.
Each of us should use the anniversary of Norvelle Brown’s murder to ask if we have made enough progress in those resolutions to honor his sacrifice.