St. Louis streets torn by economic ruin and gun violence

Kendell McCline saw his dad murdered on the street in front his housing project.  McCline said he would see a lot of shootings and killings before he decided to put up his own gun.

By Glenn Fuselier

ST. LOUIS  Gun violence often takes a life. In this story, though, it gave a man his.

Kendell McCline said the first murder he witnessed was his father’s when he was 12.

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 9.26.36 PM
Kendell McCline inside recovery center meeting room

That was a percursor to a life filled with gun violence he said.  The last murder McCline saw made him decide to turn his life around.

Monday Night Football was on  inside McCline’s apartment Sept. 5, 1983 when his father was murdered in the street.  An acquaintance ice-picked 32-year-old Ephraim Todd to death in front of their housing project during a Labor day family barbecue.

McCline said he would go on to see several shootings throughout his life in what he called a war-torn neighborhood. It was just a couple years after his father’s murder when McCline started dealing drugs and running the streets.


Vacant houses are littered throughout North St. Louis

“When your neighborhood is flooded with poverty, liquor stores, vacant houses and buildings, prostitution, drive-by shootings and drugs, it is pretty gut-wrenching.” McCline said. “Us kids stood little chance for success. Many of the kids I knew, their parents were on drugs.”

McCline grew up in the Blumeyer Projects  that were a couple blocks north of the Fox Theatre. Blumeyer was a 14-story public housing high-rise built in 1967. They were tore down in 2014. McCline started to sell drugs at 14 and hang out with kids who were getting in trouble.

Dr. Richard Rosenfeld is a University of Missouri-St. Louis Criminologist professor whose area of expertise is crime trends. Rosenfeld said poverty and gun violence have the strongest connection.


There are aound 25 thousand vacant properities in St. Louis

“In cities with high rates of poverty you will find people do not have legitimate sources for income, so robbery and theft are often committed.” Dr. Rosenfeld said. “Those crimes are often violent and it’s a risky business.”

Ninety-six americans are killed daily in the United States according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown is a data-driven research company that works with agencies and organizations to combat our Nations gun violence.  They say Americans are 25 more  times likely to be shot than people living in other countries.

“Ain’t no more 38’s and 32’s, or 22’s. That game is over with. It’s automatic weapons like AR-15’s.  They got a gun out there now called the draco, it’s a small AK, that thing there is unbelievable” Kendell McCline

Jeff Sickles first bought a gun after his truck was broke into. He has since become a gun enthusiast and built a high-powered assault handgun. He was surprised that he would be burglarized in his rural outskirts.

McCline said he was interested in making money fast and having material things. He wasn’t interested in listening to what his mom was telling him about staying off the streets.

Dilapidated buildings in north St. Louis run the whole blocks

“My mom provided the necessary things but not all the worldly things you saw on the street.  My dad did work before he was murdered but not for a big corporation or anything.” McCline said.  “My mom received food stamps and went on to support us with his social security.”

The inner-city sections where people have moved out because of an economic downturn are where most of the violence occurs Dr. Rosenfeld said.

“Levels of economic deprivation, racial disadvantage and racial inequality are  important causes for higher violent crime rates.” Dr. Rosenfeld said. “Drugs and enormous racial segregation with very little economic growth are the reasons for gun violence in our city.”

There were 46 murders in St. Louis as of April 23.  Of those 46, 44 of them were by There were 205 murders in all of  last year, 188 in the two previous years. ony how many were closed. put link to april 30th. link to today

“Your outlook on life is making a dollar.  Drug dealing is a part of the neighborhood.” McCline said. “When you’re involved with drugs you have to have a gun, because you are going to get robbed.”

Police cameras on street poles keep a watch on St. Louis

Gun violence was part of growing up in the projects McCline said.  Drive-by shootings were big in the 1980’s.

Apparently, they are still happening today.  January 31 of 2018 four people were struck by an automatic rifle in a drive-by shooting at Martin Luther King Drive and Goodfellow. All victims survived. St. Louis city police report there have been no arrests in this case.

Gun homicide rates are 400 times greater in the poverish inner-cty communities than those surrounding higher income communities.  Just 1.5% of America’s population had 26% of it’s total gun homicides according to Everytown.

St. Louis city had 188 murders in 2016 and 2017 . There have been 46 murders as of April 23, 2018.  Dr. Rosenfeld said shrinking population of the inner-city is the main socio-economic reason for all the gun violence.

“St. Louis has not benefited from growth of high tech industries. St. Louis is still an older industrial city and has got older manufacturing based economy.” Dr. Rosenfeld said.  “Our city continues to decrease in population and it’s a catch twenty-two.”

“One good sign of city growth is construction cranes. You don’t see too many of them in our city. You see them all over in Kansas City.”

                                            — Richard Rosenfeld, UMSL Criminologist


Construction cranes on St. Louis University campus

“Until St. Louis grows like other cities, we are going to have a crime problem. That’s it in a nutshell.” Dr. Rosenfeld said.

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Vacant residences on Gravois Road in St. Louis



When violent crime goes up, people with economic means move out. Leaving behind more poverty situations and less resources. Dr. Rosenfeld said crime riddled cities need to attract migration into the city. The growth is not going to come from within.




“St. Louis city, over the last 15 years continues to shrink in population,” Rosenfeld said. “When population declines, demands for goods and services go down,  and tax revenues go down. The only way for the economy to grow is for the central city population to grow.”

Many homes are adjacent to vacant properities

McCline said he was in a vacant drug house on an empty street when an acquaintance got murdered right in front of him. This fatal shooting made him rethink his life.

McCline got off the streets and into a sober-living transitional house. He has 18 months sober and said the farthest he walks the street now is to Walgreens and back.

Lists of 12-step program on Treatment center meeting room

Dawn Smith has her Master’s in social work and is the manager over McClines sober-living residence. She said criminal rehabilitation is an ongoing process. Her clients have a good success rate provided they continually work a 12-step program.



“Less than five  percent leave the house over criminal behavior.” Smith said. “In the 5 years I have been here, we had zero clients catch a new case or violate probation and parole while living here.”

The recidivism rate for guys returning to the streets as it pertains to substance use is 30 to 40 percent. However, 10 to 15 percent of those who relapse do come back Smith said.

“Those that come back have a much higher success rate of staying sober,” Smith said. “Success is not determined by length of stay but accomplishments of individual treatment plans.”

Smith said 60 percent of clients accomplish what they go there for and progress through life.

“The main goal of our sober-living facility is for the men to get back on their feet and become productive members of society.” Smith said. “The average stay for most men is one to two years. During that time they sufficiently rebuild their lives and move on.”


McCline shows off one of his three children


McCline said he gave up a life of violence, guns and drugs.  Now he lives a life of peace and freedom.  He enjoys his family and just wants to live a simple life.


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Michael Brown painting in North St. Louis

McCline currently works at a treatment center helping young adults. He said giving back has helped him. He can relate with the troubled kids.

“Anything that you try to master, you become a slave to.” McCline said.



Photo credits:

Ryan Gines and Glenn Fuselier

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