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Sunday, January 11, 2009


A lot of people are getting real apoplectic about a new set of crime reports that suggest rising rates in homicides can be linked to the increasing number of young men of color. The statisticians are hard at work trying to blow holes in each others p values, but that's not the subject of my thoughts today.

The NYT had an interesting piece about the black community's reaction to the New Year's Day killing by police of an unarmed young black man in Oakland. The policeman apparently went for his tazer and instead pulled his gun. Oops. The community took to the streets of Oakland and looted shops and burned cars (not unlike what the fans in Philly did when the baseball team won the world series - no kidding). Here is the NYT article.

What really struck me about all this is the following snippet from the article:
"I wonder about the impact of vicarious trauma. Police officers (and social workers) are secondary witnesses to really hard circumstances everyday. None more so than Oakland Police. I wonder how absorbing trauma everyday impacts professional roles (not to mention personal lives) on the job. I work with social workers who abuse their power and no longer see the individual person. Social workers who refer to real people as useless crack heads. I wonder if they have absorbed too much trauma and do not even realize it. This is the analogy of the frog in the pot… you have heard it. If you dump a frog in boiling water it will jump out. But if you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it will cook to death. I have seen social workers and police officers who are boiled frogs and they don’t even know it."

Only an outsider could make such a statement. Police and Social Workers??? What about the people that live there? They absorb trauma every day too and it is worse for them because many of the people know the victim or know someone who knows the victim or went to the same school, etc. It's personal and traumatic. And then you wonder why people who live in the inner city get jaded? Duh. It's one of the things I realized happened to me when I lived in KC. I got used to it. I got jaded. I adjusted. And when a police officer comes in and shoots an unarmed man - yeah, the people are going to get upset. They say enough is enough. Those perceived as outsiders come in and shoot us, like we don't have enough trouble living here as it is. You come in, punch in a shift, and then leave. Call us crack-heads. What do you know about it, really?

Now I know that some people who read this will throw up their hands at the liberal sympathizer, blah, blah, blah. Well here is my solution to this problem and it is one that I have already suggested in Camden. Anyone who works for a government unit should live in that jurisdiction. Cops should live in the city, teachers should live in the city, social workers should live in the city, etc. In Camden (and elsewhere) cities gave up on residency requirements because they felt they couldn't get good people to take jobs if they had to live in the city or that good people would quit if forced to make a choice. Well, I say let them. If you can't live where you work for the taxpayers and residents of the city - you have absolutely no business enforcing laws, rules, or regulations. If a city cannot believe in itself enough to demand its employees live in the jurisdiction, then why should anyone who lives outside the city take the city seriously? I mean really. Why do I want scared suburban people creeping into my city to collect a paycheck and being "traumatized." Live here 24/7 and we can talk. If the police, teachers, and social workers live in the city, 2 things will happen: one they get rid of the us v. them and become a we. two is that they will demand improvement in the city and will work to get it. If they refuse to live there and quit, then those that take their jobs will be subject to those 2 things as well. If existing residents take the jobs, they will find themselves surrounded on the job by their neighbors. A change in residency requirements will produce a cultural transformation in these important public sectors.

So solution #1 to urban revitalization is have all government employees of the city (including police, fire, and teachers), live in the city.

1 comment:

Brent said...

I don't necessarily disagree with your premise -- that these people should live in the city. The problem is, what happens when you have difficulty staffing the positions because these people don't want to live in the city?

For years, KCMO has lost many of its best police officers because they no longer want to live in KC-- primarily because they end up having school-age children. So they feel the need to move into a different school district, and the suburbs get our best police officers.

I don't really disagree with your premise...but it is tough when so many things are wrong that you lose your best people because they don't want to live in your city either.