St. Louis representative urges people to learn the context of stories before making quick judgments
ST. LOUIS – After a week of so-called “cheap shots,” Rep. Bruce Franks spoke out against his treatment on an Overtime episode of This Week in Missouri Politics. Last Thursday, the Daily Caller, a conservative online news outlet founded by Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, ran an article criticizing Franks.
The article slammed the St. Louis representative for his lyrics in rap songs he made, his involvement in the protests in St. Louis, where he and other protestors were arrested as a part of a political protest that blocked traffic, and his criticism of the police on social media. The morning after Franks was arrested along with 142 other people, Rep. Nick Schroer announced plans to increase penalties for impeding traffic without a permit.
Franks has been one of the leading Missouri legislators in support of the protests against the decision that found former police officer Jason Stockley to be not guilty in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith. On the Overtime segment, host Scott Faughn revealed that Franks has a particular insight which has changed him personally. Faughn asked him to explain to the viewers some of the issues he is facing, including the cultural differences between black and white Americans.
“Some of it is culture and how folks grow up,” Franks said. “I see things differently than somebody who would come from Odessa or Pemiscot county, or some other county where everybody around them looks like them [as white] and would deal with things the same way. Some of it is systemic racism, some of it is blatant racism, it’s a melting pot of a lot of things.”
For him, even two people living in St. Louis may not have the same cultural experience. St. Louis has historically been racially segregated along Delmar Boulevard, in what is called the Delmar Divide. Above Delmar Boulevard, the average house value is $78,000, the average income is $22,000 a year, and 5 percent have a college degree. 99 percent of residents in this area are also African American. Conversely, below Delmar Boulevard, where the area is 70 percent white, the average home value is $310,000, the average income is $47,000 a year, and 67 percent of residents have a college degree.
“At the end of the day, even if you live in St. Louis, if you don’t come out of your box, if you don’t come out of your central west-end area, and go over there to the west side where people are starving, where folks need jobs, and people are disproportionally affected by [police violence,] then you living in the city of St. Louis means nothing.”
He points to these cultural differences and encourages people to first empathize with protestors and not disregard their message on face value. He’s seen people dismiss the protests in St. Louis because it does not agree with their perspective rather than coming to understand why protestors could be upset. For him, people too easily dismiss the protesters or their tactics because they refuse to learn why protestors could act a certain way.
“When folks hit the street, whether [outside] people believe in it, agree with it, or not, they have to have to look at the anger, pain, and everything going on and say, ‘Well, what’s wrong?’” Franks said. “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”
In particular, Franks feels that the St. Louis black community is not being heard because he sees a lack of accountability within America’s police departments and from the government to hold the police department accountable. He believes that the state is acting like it is more willing to protect nearby property than black people from police violence.
“When you have a Governor who sends the National Guard and they station themselves in economically distressed communities,” he said. “You station the National Guard to protect what? You’re not there to protect the neighborhood, you’re not there to protect people in the neighborhood, you’re there to protect the highways and property. [You’re there to protect] downtown, affluent neighborhoods. You’re not there to protect people in the 3rd ward.”
So when the Daily Caller story ran, which highlighted his political arrest, his activism, and his music, he feels that the writer refused to understand his perspective and the cultural implications that these experiences would have on him. For Franks, writing a story about specific instances in his past without the proper context is misrepresenting what they are and who he is.
“Folks will bring up the past all they want to, but at the end of the day, bring up the past when my brother was killed in 1991. Bring up the past of the 158 funerals I’ve been to in an economically distressed neighborhood. What’s also in the past is when I got beat up by the cops on December 24, 2014 in Berkley,” Franks says.
“It’s absolutely a cheap shot. As Malcolm X said, ‘Don’t be so quick to judge someone who doesn’t do as you do or say as you say because there was one point where you don’t think as you think now.’”
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer