Messenger: A new economic development plan — turn St. Louis into a reality show

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch

Read the full story here

A year ago, the New York Times put St. Louis on its top 52 places to travel.

The Gateway City came in at No. 46, right in between Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Thessalonika, Greece.

Sure, there’s some racial tension, the nation’s newspaper of record said. But the new National Blues Museum and remodeled Arch grounds make the trip worth it.

This year’s travel recommendation will come from comedian Tom Segura.

The Cincinnati native does a routine in which he complains about random people in airports asking him travel advice. Strangers shouldn’t ask other strangers for travel tips, he suggests.

“I can’t tell you where to go,” Segura says, in his one-hour comedy special called “Completely Normal.” “I can tell you where not to go. Wherever they film ‘The First 48.’”

Welcome to St. Louis: Home of 186 homicides in 2016 (as of Friday), and now, thanks to Police Chief Sam Dotson, the new home of the A&E Network’s “The First 48.

The reality television show follows detectives as they investigate murder cases. As the title indicates, it focuses on the crucial first 48 hours of an investigation. By its very nature, the show is based in violent cities: New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Detroit.

There was a time not long ago when Dotson took a different tack toward the city’s crime problem. Three years ago, as the city was rising in national statistics to the top spot in some “most dangerous city” rankings, the chief and his counterpart in the county, Tim Fitch, suggested turning the city and county into what some were calling a “statistical city.”

The idea was to combine the city’s crime stats with the county, as though the region were one city (which it should be anyway). The result would be a significant fall in the national crime rankings.

Perception would change. Businesses and parents looking for a safe place to send their children to college would see St. Louis differently, Dotson said.

Now, apparently, he wants them to see the violence for what it is in all its raw humanity.

Dotson says the show will humanize the city’s detectives.

Mayor Francis Slay, who consistently says crime fighting is his top priority, isn’t talking.

But mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones is. The city’s treasurer went to Facebook to criticize the decision to bring television cameras to the city to highlight its homicide rate and put the city’s residents on TV during their most “vulnerable” moments. Jones compared the show to pornography, and that got me thinking.

Perhaps Dotson is on to something.

Forever, the city of St. Louis has pursued a “silver bullet” philosophy of economic development. If we just give away enough tax dollars to the next big development, surely the city will find economic success, city leaders have always thought. One more stadium, one more aquarium, one more entertainment and retail complex. There have been some individual successes, but none of it has truly worked to raise the economic fortunes of a city still closing schools and struggling with crime.

So why not this:

Let’s turn St. Louis into a reality show.

Think of the potential episodes (use dramatic television introduction voice):

“Just days after the former Navy SEAL is elected governor, he finds that fighting crime on the mean streets of St. Louis is no laughing matter. Masked marauders hold up his wife at gunpoint outside a midtown coffee shop. In a city armed to the teeth, not even the First Lady is safe.”

“He wears a Superman cape. He carries a gun and a laptop. But this state representative finds the power he wields in the state Capitol can’t stand up to a roving gang of armed thieves targeting downtown businesses.”

“Getting to work in St. Louis is a daily challenge. Dodging bullets, avoiding the gantlet of K2-infused homeless people camping out on sidewalks. It’s a daily episode of ‘Survivor.’ Brave souls from West County enter every morning, but not everybody makes it out alive.”

Forget the soccer stadium. What St. Louis needs to reach for, if Dotson’s vision is going to truly come to reality, is more of a Thunderdome.

Everybody gets a camera. Everybody gets a gun. Somebody ends up dead. In a year in which the nation elected a reality television star as president, why not embrace the madness and put it all on TV for the nation’s enjoyment.

Pornography? You bet.

But it’s easier than actually trying to do something about the city’s crime problem.

Start typing and press Enter to search