GATORCHOPPIN ON ... The Murder Capital and Reverend Joe

Updated 44 weeks ago by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent
GATORCHOPPIN ON ... The Murder Capital and Reverend Joe

An award-winning documentary featuring a year in East St. Louis will premiere on DirectTV on Nov. 8. “Give Us This Day” has already been seen at the Tribeca and Woodstock film festivals an won at the Los Angeles Film Awards. 

The documentary follows three police and three residents.  East St. Louis, Illinois has the highest murder rate per capita in the country.  It is 17 times higher than the national average.  Here is a preview of the show.

The city is a dirty little secret as it is trapped in the shadow of St. Louis' Gateway Arch.  The city has almost 27,000 people but it is in exetreme poverty.  Only one per cent have a full-time job and the average income per capita is $13,000.  The city lacks a grocery store or hospital.

The city once flourished.  My family is from East St. Louis.  My mom, dad, and two brothers were born there.  They moved to Cincinnati right before I was born in 1963.  In 1950, the city had a population of 80,000.  The old saying was "if you can't find a job in East St. Louis, you can't t find one anywhere.". My father started his 35 year career in the railroad industry in the railyards of East St. Louis.

The city lost 70 per cent of its' businesses between 1960 and 1970.  Industrial reorganization, city government mismanagement, corruption, crime, and racial problems left the city in poverty.  Gangs took over the streets.  White flight resulted in most of the white folks being driven back up a few miles.  My grandparents moved up into Belleville, just a few miles down the road.


My uncle Joe Hubbard started working in the 60s with St. Vincent DePaul.  He eventually helped form Southern Illinois Catholic Urban Programs or CUP.  He would walk the mean streets of East St. Louis at all hours and no one would hurt him because they knew he was there to help.  They called him Reverend Joe.


My uncle worked over fifty years trying to help feed and keep utilities on in the poverty stricken area of East St. Louis.  He walked through burned out streets, sat with the dying, and saw things in households that no man should have to see.

Joe Hubbard said, " It's not nice to walk into houses and see kids eating garbage, or the father who assaults his daughter, or houses burned out by the neighbors.  But the miracle is that Christ is there.  He is the great healer."

Joe Hubbard is retired now but still helps out when he can.  He is approaching 76.  Joe is slowing down and is suffering from Parkinson's Disease.  But he is finally taking time for himself and married a lady he loved for forty years.

Inside Edition story

Belleville AND story


CUP is in the good hands of Gerry Hasenstab who has been beside Joe every step of the way.  He was hired around 1970 by The Bishop to " Keep Joe alive.". He has done that and much, much more.  He has not only took over as director of CUP but he has also been a brother to Joe.  Joe has won the awards but Gerry's greatness has made much of it possible.  

Joe Hubbard's life is made up of many stories....the main ones are his service to East St. Louis, his marriage and love to Julie, and his great friendship with Gerry Hasenstab.


Meanwhile, East St. Louis continues to struggle. Two weeks ago, a 20 year old former East St. Louis High track star, Sanchez Rhodes, was gunned down.


Illinois State Police say Rhodes was driving eastbound in the 3000 block of St. Clair Avenue when he was shot and crashed into a MetroLink fence. 

Six months ago, Rhodes best friend and teammate Roosevelt Davis was shot and killed in Cahokia.  Both had bright futures.


Just three days ago, a 62 year old man was shot in the chest twice while riding a bicycle at 1 am.  He died on the steps of a residence.

The violence in East St. Louis has gone on for over fifty years.  It will not stop.  Reverend Joe has tried to help heal a city that many call a war zone.  Reverend Joe is old.  He will not see an end to that violence in his lifetime...none of us will.  The violence in East St. Louis continues.

The Hubbard House was named after Joe Hubbard, founder of CUP, to celebrate his ongoing dedication to the East St. Louis, Illinois area. Hubbard House provides housing, food, program support, and volunteer sites as needed for those looking to volunteer in East St. Louis.


HBO produced "Atomic Homefront" , a documentary about toxic radiation dangers from a continuously burning landfill fire in north St. Louis.



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