The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gunfire sounded as the St. Louis mayor spoke about gun violence. She kept talking.

Gunfire was heard as St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones was speaking during news conference Oct. 29 at an event focused on reducing violent crime. (Video: Reuters)

As St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones took reporters’ questions Friday, the sound of four gunshots rang out. But Jones was unfazed.

It was yet another barrage of bullets in her city that’s facing an epidemic of shootings, the very topic she had called a news conference to discuss. The Democratic mayor told the reporters at an anti-gun-violence initiative in Dutchtown, a neighborhood with more than two dozen gun violence incidents this year, that shootings had become pervasive — outside her home in northern St. Louis, and then at her news conference with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (D).

“I hear gunshots in my neighborhood every night,” said Jones (D). “My son and I fall asleep to the lullaby of gunshots in the distance every night.”

“I didn’t flinch because I guess that’s a part of my life,” she added, “and that shouldn’t be.”

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The video of Jones’s calm reaction has gained national attention, casting a spotlight on the region’s gun violence. Jones told The Washington Post that she hopes the scrutiny sends a message to leaders of Missouri, a state with among the least restrictive gun laws and the third-highest per capita rate of gun deaths in the United States as of 2020.

“We were there to have a community conversation about gun violence and the proliferation of guns in our community and what we can do differently to get guns off our street and help families who are traumatized by this,” she said in an interview Saturday. “And it just so happens that someone decided to shoot in the distance.”

St. Louis police officers responded to the scene of the gunfire but found no victims or witnesses, spokeswoman Evita Caldwell told The Post.

Last year, 262 people died in shootings in the city, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Nationwide, 2020 was the deadliest gun-violence year in decades.

But Jones said Missouri’s legislature has limited local officials’ efforts to curb violence by preempting their enforcement of gun laws. In June, Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which prohibits law enforcement from following federal gun laws in the state. The city and county of St. Louis have challenged the new law in court.

Jones said the city has implemented programs, such as deploying mental health professionals with police officers, that reduced gun violence. Homicide rates, which reached a 50-year record in 2020, declined by 30 percent this year, according to the Post-Dispatch.

“But we need more tools and more help in the form of right policy in order to get a handle on it,” she said.

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Jones’s news conference with her Kansas City counterpart was part of a two-day tour to discuss ways to work together, including on the topic of public safety. Jones and Lucas participated in a ride-along with those in the program to send mental health professionals on 911 calls and attended meetings on economic development and early-childhood care.

On Friday, the mayors, along with representatives of the Department of Justice and community groups, met in Dutchtown, which has programs to interrupt community violence. Standing outside the headquarters of one of those initiatives, the mayors called for lawmakers to take a page from their collaboration.

“Collaboration isn’t passing a bunch of laws without talking to the people of St. Louis or Kansas City while you claim they’re trying to protect us,” Lucas said. “Collaboration is going to our neighborhoods and making a real difference.”

When the gunshots sounded, Jones briefly paused.

“Well, isn’t that wonderful?” she retorted sarcastically.

She continued her answer before a reporter asked whether she felt safe.

Jones said that as the first mayor in over two decades “to be born, raised and still live in north St. Louis,” she knows the unrelenting terror of gun violence that plagues her predominantly Black neighborhood.

“We should be angry,” she said. “We are angry, but it’s an unfortunate daily occurrence in our community.”

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Kids were fighting in school. Dads began patrolling campus, and the violence stopped.