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Sunday, August 9, 2009

murder, mayhem, guns, cops - another day in the urban core

I follow both Kansas City and Camden comings and goings. Right now, in the heat of August, most bloggers and newsies attentions turn to crime and violence. Atmospheric heat = street violence. Just another season in the crime cycle. But this year people are pointing to a decline in the rate of violent homicides on the streets, but others point out that the rate is slowing while actual numbers are still higher in KC and Camden, even though nationally the numbers and rates are declining. I have a couple of news articles in my list to the right, that discuss the current sea change in the Camden police department. If you want to know what's going on in KC - read Tony's Kansas City blog (see my blog roll). Here's my take on the situation:

Rule #1 - there will forever be violence, murder, and mayhem on the streets where poor people are stuck because drugs, unemployment, and despair lead to crime. So all these folks that keep commenting on news stories and blogs should stop judging and realize it is a sobering reality to live in the urban core because that is all you have.

Rule #2 - statistics are always interpreted and interpretation is subjective. Does it matter if crime rates are going up or down if we still have 150 homicides in KC and 30 in Camden in 8 months? KC is 475,000 people in 300 square miles. Camden is 76,000 people in 9 square miles. Size matters.

Rule #3 - police on the street is part of the solution. In Camden, the new chief has put cops on the street to practice spot enforcement and martial law. It's designed to be a wake up call for rampant lawlessness on the streets in some neighborhoods. Basically, however, it is saying that the police will force crime to go underground. That sounds good - because if you aren't dealing on the streets, it is less likely that a drive-by shooting will claim innocent people sitting on their porch or stoop, or a kid playing in the street. It's laughable that the police union in Camden is whining about lunches missed and grieving the loss of time off. Sorry, but millions of people work their lunch hour every day to get the job done (I do). Camden is in trouble and it is your job to help fix it. It's a big change when the new chief says go patrol in the tough neighborhoods - and now you don't have a choice. Why did the police every have a choice? And if there are too few cops in Camden, why were any of them assigned to sitting behind a desk?

Rule #4 - jobs, jobs, jobs - urban core neighborhoods are dysfunctional because there are no jobs. The rest of the country is starting to feel that now. Suburban neighborhoods with foreclosures are finding that the houses are unsightly and unkempt and making people annoyed. Petty crime is up in the suburbs. We glorify a suburban widow dealing drugs in Weeds. Why? because she can make money doing it - why else? Drugs in the urban core is a business - a violent, dangerous, cutthroat business. It is an illegal business, but when there is money to be made, people will make it. Don't have to commute, dress is casual, I know my co-workers, and I get paid in cash. This is the American dream. If farmers in Afghanistan can grow poppies as a cash crop, inner city residents will deal drugs. Give people something else to grow or sell or get paid to do that is commensurate with their time and effort - and people will stop selling drugs. But please, don't offer the drug dealers and users a minimum wage job working 40 hours a week at the grocery store as a substitute unless there is health insurance, walk to work, easy wardrobe, and a willingness to accept people not judge them. Will people want to get off the dangerous streets? Yes, they will. But not to be insulted, to earn a fraction of what they had earned, and to not be compensated to replace the incredible danger of their former job.

I think the police are incredible people - they take on a job that most people don't want. But just because you wear a badge, doesn't mean you have license to be a prick or a bitch. Doesn't mean you don't have to maintain control of a situation - I get it that police can easily be in danger and not everyone likes them. It is a dangerous job and no one has forced you to take it. You do the job and we are grateful, but it doesn't make you immune from criticism. You carry a gun and are licensed to use it on your judgment. That's an incredible responsibility. But bear in mind that people are to be protected too, not just brutalized and ordered about. It is a difficult line, but we need you to do your job and do it well - not just be a thug. We have plenty of those on the streets already.


Khary Golden said...

i generally agree with everything you explained in this post but i do take issue with your stance on drug dealers. growing up in the city of Camden, i have witnessed many of my friends become disenchanted with the public school system and frustrated by the lack of jobs offering any type of upward social mobility. many of these individuals then go on to dabble in the world of drug dealing only to find that its not only a dangerous profession, its also not very profitable. dealing drugs is not the American dream. the money is slow and sporadic at best, and although you may know your coworkers or competitors, the population that you serve is endlessly frustrating. dealing drugs is a viable career option for a lot of young black and latino men because of the comraderie it offers and the immediate satisfaction that can be gained from selling a product for cash, however more often than not this profession does not allow dealers the freedom to make any type of financial progress or substantial purchases that go along with achieving the American Dream. a particularly busy Friday afternoon may allow a dealer to purchase an expensive bottle liquor or sneakers for the next Saturday night but come Sunday morning they still wont have enough money saved up or a steady source of income to live comfortably. the image that we have of drug dealers in this society is fueled by the distort image of drug dealers turned rappers driving luxury cars and dancing with beautiful women while still recollecting on their days as a supposed King Pin. the drug dealers that I know don't live like this. i have read studies that have explained that the average drug dealer makes substantially less than what they would have made working a minimum wage job. the problem is that many of these individuals do not have the proper education or job training to even be successful at something as mundane as a grocery store cashier. a full time job is not an insult to a drug dealer. there are barriers, whether real or imaginary, that prevent them from re-entering society once they have become accustomed to life on the corner or in a jail cell. i wholeheartedly agree that the willingness to accept people instead of judging them is a major reason why many high school dropouts, ex convicts, and drug dealers remain complacent and dont seek to find a better way of life for themselves. however, it takes a very strong individual to leave the comfort of the so-called American dream as a drug-dealer to take courses at Camden County College in hopes of finding a career path. these individuals have become completely marginalized by society and i find that most dont have the courage to make an effort to improve their lives. basically, they're cowards. early signs of this are in urban classrooms where many students refuse to try hard because they are scared to fail so they intentionally goof off in class to make it appear as though they are controlling their own destiny. its an act of autonomy to reject the schooling and grade system altogether and declare that you don't have to try because you know in the end you won't succeed anyway. there is no model for success in urban classrooms or on street corners. drug dealers don't switch up professions because they don't see it happen in their everyday life. they may see another drug-dealer get arrested, sent to a prison, then to a halfway house, then back to the same neighborhood and forced to take a menial job as a janitor, but its forced assimilation. i have very little sympathy for drug dealers. very little. they put up a violent and abrasive front but are quiet as church mice in any other setting because of their perception of the world around them, which doesnt extend much farther than their corner.

Mr. Tarng said...

An incredible amount of criminal activity in the urban core revolves around drugs, and I often wonder if what the cops are doing, what the drug counselors are doing, what the schoolteachers or any of us as concerned citizens are doing is making any real difference at all.

I remember Frank Fulbrook came in as a guest to one of my undergrad urban studies classes to give a lecture about the American history of drug prohibition, how it informs racism in American society, how the criminalization of drug dealing and drug abuse perpetuates that racism, and finally the politics that keeps drug dealing underground as opposed to a regulated market. The takeaway was that drug dealing should be decriminalized, legalized, and taxed. In theory, this would eliminate gang activity, employ the "unemployable," make drugs safer to use, and provide tax revenue to all levels of government. The obvious arguments raised against this were that drugs are inherently bad so they should be illegal, drugs abuse causes other serious health and family issues, and our society just isn't ready to "legalize it."

But again, I think about all of the violence that arises from drug dealing all around the world, and sometimes I wonder what's worse- people and their families getting killed for their involvement in an underground economy, or people losing their families and livelihoods to drug abuse. Personally, I believe that you can bring someone back from a life of drug abuse, but you can't bring someone back to life once they're dead.

Just a thought.

Sara said...

This was an awesome and informative post - you don't frequently hear about race riots starting in frigid temperatures, right? The anger bubble bursts when people are hot, miserable and feeling hopeless.