Two of the recent high-profile shootings in the city of St. Louis shared a common, tragic thread: immigrant who came here for a better life becoming victims of senseless, random violence.
Haris Gogic, a nineteen-year-old Bosnian immigrant was shot and killed inside his convenience store on May 31 right in front of his older brother. That robber was later arrested and charged in the tragic shooting that killed Gogic, injured his brother and earned the suspect about $30 in cash. Just a week later, Mon Rai, a 29-year-old Bhutanese refugee, was killed working the night shift in a St. Louis 7-Eleven. That suspect remains unknown and on the loose, and Rai's widow just gave birth this week to their baby daughter who will grow up in St. Louis without a father.
Members of the local Bosnian community in St. Louis are speaking out against the violence that some worry will encourage immigrants to leave the city -- or discourage them from moving here in the first place.
See also: - Joseph Fox Charged In Robbery, Murder of Haris Gogic, 19, Store Owner - Slain Refugee's Heartbreaking Essay About St. Louis: "My Heart Was Full Of Hopes" - Mon Rai: Police Release Images Of Suspect, Witness In 7-Eleven Shooting (PHOTOS)
"It is important because there are people like me who want to stay in the city and who want to raise their children in the city," Sadik Kukic, president of the Bosnian Chamber of Commerce, tells Daily RFT. "The neighborhood gets scared. People get scared in the American community and in the Bosnian community.... They are both scared for their properties and their houses and their families."
On Wednesday night, the organization held a meeting with several city law enforcement officials including Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson, who has lead the department through a particularly violent few weeks.
Police officials told residents that they are increasing patrols and will remain in regular contact with businesses and others concerned about the crime. In the wake of the latest violence, Dotson has called for harsher sentencing for offenses involving firearms. On Wednesday, he also encouraged residents to show up to court for sentencing hearings related to crimes that affected them or their neighborhoods.
Here are two tweets from Dotson about the meeting:
Important dialogue @ the Bosnian Chamber of Commerce tonight. Thanks to @slmpd Major Leyshock, Captain Howard and PO Cox for their efforts.— Chief Sam Dotson (@ChiefSLMPD) June 20, 2013
Kukic says it was a productive meeting, and that he wants to ensure that immigrant families and other St. Louis city residents don't flee for the county and elsewhere in response to the tragedies.
"I think the police are going to pay more attention to what is going on," says Kukic, a 46-year-old Bosnian refugee who, as of this September, will have been here for twenty years. He has been a citizen since 2001 and has run the Taft Street Restaurant and Bar on Gravois Avenue for about ten years.
"This is a great country, probably the best," he says. "But we have a choice. We don't have to live in south city.... But I would like to see [people] stay."
Both fatal shootings with immigrant victims happened in the Bevo neighborhood, and Kukic says he wants police to do everything possible to actively prevent crime in this area.
"We are going to keep patrolling. We are going to keep our eyes open," he says.
"St. Louis is a great place to live. I just think we have to put up a fight sometimes," Kukic says, "because everywhere there is a few bad apples and we have to fight those apples in order to have the safest place."
Speaking of Gogic's death, he says, "It was very hard for every member in our community, because...the way I felt that day when I heard what happen. It's like one of my own family."
He says he had met both Gogic brothers and says that Mirza, the older one who survived, is still recovering.
Still, no matter how hard residents and police work to combat crime, he says, "We cannot bring his brother back."