You find out a lot of things about East St. Louis Chief of Detectives Lester Anderson very quickly. After he learned what this book was about and I convinced him to turn off the gospel program on his radio so I could record his remarks, he cleared the air.
"First of all you have to realize something. I am a born again Christian. I try to do my work as the Lord would have me do, even in this position. This position I did not want, I never wanted it, I've been offered it for years. I never wanted to deal with up here. I've always been a narc, I've been doing drugs for 20 years. I have 22 years next month (October), and I've never liked this up here.
"I didn't like the way the detectives acted. The detective bureau to me was always a secret society of big shots, you know. This job was offered, no, I was asked to take it. I turned them down four times. But I belong to a prayer group. They pressured me and pressured me, and I went on a 47-day -- I hadn't had a vacation in five years. When Jesus found me I stayed out 47 days. This was last year. During that time I really did some soul searching. You know, when God's got something for you to do he's got a way of getting your attention. He got my attention, and almost destroyed me.
"I finally came to the realization that I had to put Christ first in my life. In order to take this position I had my prayer group to pray, and they said, 'The Lord wants you to take this job. And since that time, there's like a full-time 90-degree turn up here in this detective bureau. We have harmony, we have camaraderie, you know. We are almost like a family and I like that. You can't come up here and see no playboy pictures all over the walls, there's no dirty talk.
"I've been here a year officially Sept. 1. I told the chief, I told the mayor, 'You didn't put me in this position, God did. And only God can remove me.
Has there been pressure to remove Anderson?
"State's Atty. John Baricevic tried to get me out of here. Look at the things he said about me in the press: I was a crooked cop, I couldn't be trusted, I was this, I was that, and never in my life has anybody accused me of taking anything. The politicians have tried to get me out."
Baricevic said he wouldn't prosecute a case where Anderson made the arrest.
"That's what he said, but he's done it. They've done it. They can't stop nothing. Too many prayers go up. You can't go against what God's will is, I don't care who he is. Not even the Devil can do it.
"But I am encouraged, and I never did get discouraged. Now it took a lot of prayer."
The Belleville News-Democrat Sept. 23 headlined page 1 "East St. Louis is deadliest city," and explained that was of cities with populations over 10,000 and was interpolated to deaths per hundred thousand. The figure used was 134 slayings, "nearly twice that of Washington, D.C.'s 72 per 100,000 ... While Washington D.C.'s killing toll rated No. 1 last year among major cities, it fell to fifth place when compared with all U.S. cities with populations of at least 10,000," Rob Donaldson wrote in a copyrighted story.
"Asinine," Anderson said when he was asked about the story.
"It was obvious to everyone what was going on. It was something to humiliate this city again, to make us look bad," Anderson said. A lay person picking up the newspaper will see right there a dangerous city," and will not realize these are extended figures.
On Thursday Sept. 27 the East St. Louis homicide toll for 1990 stood at 40. In the same period last year there were 45. The homicides are down by five, or 11.1 per cent. Last year there were a total of 63 homicides.
What is the nature of the homicides? "Six or seven of the 40 homicides are 'drop-offs' (bodies from killings elsewhere and dumped in the city limits), maybe 10 or 12 are family-friend type, the rest are drugs, no doubt about it.
"We solve the murders. The murders we have problems with are the drop-offs." Anderson said the detectives solve 85, maybe 87 per cent of major crimes. "Whether the state's attorney goes along is not up to us to decide."
"How often are white persons driving through East St. Louis not involved in anything illicit themselves molested in any way?" we asked.
Murder victims usually know their assailant, he said.
"Even the one yesterday. This joker sold a woman a piece of rock, I mean a real rock off the ground, a woman he's been knowing all his life, sold her a piece of rock for rock cocaine for $20, then took her $20 and went and bought himself a real (crack) rock. When she discovered this joker had sold her a piece of chat, she came back and cut his throat. And they've been knowing each other all their lives.
"It's unfortunate that Baricevic is not always in his office. Scott Mansfield, (chief assistant state's attorney), you know what his comment is every time we bring a case up there for murder? He says 'Who cares?' 'Who cares?' This is this man's comment; homicides, drug cases, they refuse to go (prosecute).
"We had a white boy robbed up on the Hill, First and St. Clair, by a fag, a homosexual. He -was up there trying to solicit himself some head, OK, then this homo beats him up, robs him and everything. He's all bloodied up, he cut his head. We got him (the perpetrator) in jail and everything. We put the case together, we got everything blah blah blah, take the case to state's attorney, last week. Know what the state's attorney said? 'Insufficient evidence.' Didn't even read it. The fact remains even though the man was doing what he was doing, it's still a crime. The next time this homo may kill somebody. Yet he's letting him go on the street.
"He (the victim) should have been charged too for patronizing a prostitute, male or female. But by the same token he was beat up, he was bloody, he got robbed, we got statements, we got witnesses. Who cares? Who cares? Who cares? That's the man's comment."
"What about the morale of the detectives?" I asked.
"I sit here and I thank God he gives me strength because I'm in constant prayer when this comes on me. I have to sit here when these guys come in, they've been busting their butts, they took all kinds of chances and they come here, grown men and women detectives, with tears in their eyes and say 'Can you believe what they did?' and I have to sit here and say 'Be encouraged, they're not gonna be like this all the time, just do your job.' I have to constantly tell them this, and then when they leave out of my office my inner man, my inner spirit grieves me. Sometimes I just shut my door and sit here in prayer. It hurts, man," and tears welled in his eyes as he grew silent.
How safe are the streets?
"It's just like years ago when they opened the Colony Theater (for pornographic movies). The white folks say 'I'm scared to go through East St. Louis, I can't go to East St. Louis, I'm scared.' What time is it? 12 o'clock? Look at the Colony
Theater during lunch hour, all those whites sneaking in the door, from all over, banks, stores, everywhere. Then watch them leave there and start patrolling Collinsville Avenue, Pennsylvania. You sit there and watch one truck or car run round the block four or five times lookin', lookin' lookin', y'know what they're lookin' for."
"I've seen them," I said, "some of them. God, they're ugly and dirty and they come out of hovels. I can't imagine..."
"Yeah, and half of them got AIDS," he said. "They don't care. The white boys pick them up in a minute. And when one gets robbed, he says he was just asking the time," Anderson said. "It's obvious what be was doing."
Anderson blames a downtown gay nightclub for a great deal of the police problems.
"It's just like when you turn on the lights and the roaches go scurrying. When St. Louis taverns close, they come over the bridge just like the roaches. Man, you can't even get down Collinsville Avenue after 10 o'clock on the weekend. It isn't our people, it's outsiders, and they wreak havoc. When the sun comes up they run back across the bridge, them that's able, then they talk about East St. Louis."
Have the state police helped? They have at least five cars in East St. Louis every night
"They're not assisting the detective bureau, they are assisting the patrol division. We don't use them to assist the detectives, because our job is primarily investigation. Although we lead our own drug raids and from time to time we do go out and stage raids on comers and locations."
What about the HUD unit?
"What HUD unit?" he asked.
"The nine undercover state troopers assigned to the housing projects and paid with HUD funds?" I elaborated
"No connection. They completely cut us out of it. I did not understand it. I think it's still another part of policy to discredit the city, trying to say that we cannot take care of our own business. I was dead against it. They have lied about it from the offset. You know, ironically they got all that money and all that equipment, all this war equipment, steel helmets. I saw them out there, steel helmets, trucks, when they could have used that same money to help us hire some more policemen. They didn't make any impact in the projects because we had already cleaned out Orr-Weathers, we'd already done that.
"All I hear about is the state stats, but I've not seen anything. I'm still getting reports of shootings in the projects, I get reports of killings. in the projects. What are they doing? I don't know what they've done, but they've got plenty of stats.
"It seems like everything is orientated towards a takeover. Everybody wants poor little East St. Louis. Everybody. I've said this, and I'll say it publicly, and I'll say it privately, you can oppress and depress a people for just so long. I'm telling you, and brother, I believe in the power of prayer, and a lot of prayers are going up for the city.
"I belong to a prayer group and Thursday nights we do intercessory prayers, and that's tonight. They're not going to be able to take this city. I don't care what they've got against Carl, I don't care what they've got against me, they're not going to do it"
Back to the troopers - they're harassing drug dealers and prostitutes, interfering with their business. How do you handle it? Do you harass?
"When the state police drive up to them, they laugh at them, they wave at them, and they stand there. Let me and my detectives go by there, and it's a different story. We're out of the car and got them up against that wall. And I leave word, 'I don't want you here.' They're gone!"
"That's harassing," I said.
"Yes it is."
"Does Baricevic object to that?"
" Yes sir.
"It's a constant struggle to see what is going on, to see that we are systematically being destroyed, y'know."
"Are you saying the whole city is being persecuted because it's black, by politicians, by the News-Democrat?"
"Absolutely ... no, let's don't say it like that.
"I'm saying that we're not so much being persecuted, they're trying to eliminate us. What's left of Southern Illinois right now, what is left beside the riverfront.?
'What they done, they gave us this city to play with for 20 years, and we didn't do nothin' with it, because it was drained when you was here. We didn't have anything to work with when we got it."
"Just like Baricevic pressing charges on the mayor for sewer lines being busted when he had nothing to do with putting them in. Its like 'We let them niggers have it this long, now we will take it back.'
"What's happening is things are moving too slow for them. You got the state legislature (involved) now, the riverfront gambling, things are moving too slow. They've got to do some drastic takeover. They've got to have this area. Taxes ... My father, 79 years old, mother 69, they went up the day before yesterday, because their taxes doubled. Doubled! The man is gonna try to tell them the taxes had to go up because they had to pay policemen's salaries, and I ain't had a raise in six years."
"Except for your promotion to inspector?"
"With the promotion, I make the same thing as a sergeant makes, and I've got five times more headaches. There was no raise..."
We were interrupted - a Little League coach wanted to talk with Anderson. He asked him to wait. The coach had taken over for Anderson who no longer could coach because of his job.
"I just like kids. My son," and he pointed proudly to a picture of a uniformed football player on the wall," is No. 1 high school quarterback in the area, leading passer in the state. He's Duby Anderson. He's not a junior, I'm Lester James, he's Lester Jay Anderson. That picture is his first sack."
"You have a brother who is a cop?"
"Vernon. I'm the controversial one. I'm the one been out here bustin' down doors for years."
I told him what Will McGaughy said about drugs and criminals and punks. Will said there are only 20 or 30 really bad guys in town, the rest are punks who could be straightened out if they had jobs. But State Police Capt. Bobby Henry said it is hard to get kids to switch when they can make so much more peddling drugs.
"I don't know about the figures, but when it comes to jobs, he's absolutely right. Jobs are the key.
"Our drug dealers range from the age of 13 to 24-25; guys over 25, if they don't have a big bag themselves, are not into drugs, they are just users. They'd rather draw GA (general assistance) stand on the comer and drink wine, or prey on the women with all these kids. We have these outside groups coming in hiring these young kids, we can't do too much about it because they are under age. Repeaters from two or three years ago now are age 17, 18, and can be prosecuted. But a lot of them wind up shot, beat up, killed and what have you. I take the stand that when we have juveniles in here, we put the mamas in jail. Yes sir. I believe in locking mamas up.
"You charge them with contributing to the delinquency of their children? Don't you have to prove they know the kids sell drugs?" I asked, incredulously.
"I leave that up to the juvenile officers. I put the charge on them and let them tell it to the judge. Here's a kid out here 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, isn't mother responsible?"
"Why don't you jail the fathers."
"Can't find them."