Thursday, July 25, 2013

Michael Nutter Tells Us How to Stop Urban Violence

I'm not a registered Republican and I am not a registered Democrat. So I want to get that out of the way since any sort of commentary on, about, or not about Trayvon Martin turns into a political discourse where a person's position depends on his/her political party. It's obviously a tragedy that Trayvon Martin was killed, but I'm not surprised George Zimmerman was acquitted. The prosecution went for Murder 2 and that's pretty hard to prove in a case like this. They would have been better off going for Involuntary Manslaughter or another charge easier to prove, but politically they had to go for Murder 2. It's somewhat ironic the media and political focus on this case could have played a part in Zimmerman's acquittal. If the prosecution felt pressure to go for Murder 2 because of the politics and attention surrounding the case then they took the hard route. I hear some saying and writing they thought Zimmerman would be guilty of something and I think he would have been found guilty of something if there wasn't pressure to charge him with murder. That's just my opinion.

On a related note Michael Nutter, who is the current mayor of Philadelphia, writes an op-ed for "Time" where he tells us how the United States can stop urban violence. I appreciate his effort, even if it comes off as naive. Unfortunately much like solving hunger, urban violence can't be "stopped," so I think more realistic terms need to be used in the headline to this op-ed. I feel like Nutter's heart is in the right place, but he's also a little bit off in his execution to "solve" urban violence. He seems to want to talk about solutions, but ignores (what I see as) the best solution to the urban violence problem.

Why is it that African-American males are so disproportionately both the victims and the perpetrators of violence, more often than not against one another?

If you have to ask this question then you aren't paying attention. Crime is a sociological issue that can't easily be attributed to one or two factors. Crime can be attributed to income level, household life (one/two parent household) and various other factors. Obviously all African-American males who were the victim or perpetrator of violence can't be explained away by sociological factors, but it is usually a good start to explain the perpetrators of violence no matter what race that person is.

In Philadelphia, where I am mayor, 75% of our homicide victims are black men. About 80% of the people we arrest for homicide are black men.

I'm sure some racism plays a part in these black men being locked up, no doubt. A question I might have would be how many of those 80% arrested for homicide that are black men end up acquitted of the homicide charge versus the percentage of other races that are arrested and acquitted of homicide. To me, that tells me more than the percentage of black men arrested would tell me. If the result found is that more black men are arrested and then acquitted for homicide (as compared to other races) then I could probably feel good about discussing the race issue contained therein, but if the percentage of black men arrested for homicide and then acquitted is close or equal to the percentage of other races arrested and acquitted of homicide then it just shows the unfortunate possible truth that black men are arrested and found guilty of homicide by a wide percentage more than any other race/gender. I tend to like it when people are arrested for homicide and found guilty if that person is truly guilty.

Of course there is also the whole "the justice system goes against black men" and that would take me too far down the rabbit hole for what I am trying to write. It's possible the system is against black men, but simply given the statistic that 80% of people arrested for homicide are black men is a meaningless statistic without some further investigation into what percentage of these men are found to be guilty or are acquitted as compared to other races. Violent crime among black men is a social issue obviously. That is what Nutter is discussing without going into too much depth as to the legal results from these arrests, so I will skip over the legal results of these arrests for the sake of discussion. What solutions does Michael Nutter have for this issue?

Black men across the country are killing one another, yet that epidemic is rarely part of any national conversation.

Not entirely true, though I wish there was as much protesting and anger about a murder when it comes to black-on-black crime, as opposed to the over-focus on this specific Zimmerman-Martin situation. Chicago could certainly use some protesting and national recognition of the crime problem they have, but most people are too busy protesting to get justice for Trayvon Martin. The citizens of Chicago need justice too. 

With each death, the networks aren't interrupting game shows or soap operas to give you that information. We get lulled back into complacency and somehow live with the fact that we have a Newtown every day in America. And a disproportionate number of those dying are black men.

By the way, if the issue is black-on-black crime (as Michael Nutter seems focused on) then this has nothing to do with Trayvon Martin (which Nutter is writing this column as a result of the Martin trial) and George Zimmerman since that crime didn't fit into this category.

Our priorities are askew. Our leaders talk a lot about international terrorism. I often talk about domestic terrorists, by which I mean not foreign nationals plotting violence on these shores but the day-to-day crime that is even more devastating to our cities than the episodic threats from overseas.

Let me be honest here. The United States could greatly curb crime on the local level, but this would turn parts of the United States into a police state. I'm not sure anyone wants that. Americans are known for craving freedom and liberty, while doing more to curb crime in American cities would require more of the invasive police techniques and suspicions of normal people going about their day in order to curb crime. This isn't the kind of thing people like Michael Nutter want to hear though. He wants more of a focus on preventing crime, but he also wants less harassing and racial profiling of individuals. Frankly, I want less harassing, invasive monitoring and racial profiling of individuals too. But to try extreme methods to curb violence when 80% of murders are committed by black men would require some police racially profiling of black men (and other races) in order to prevent this crime. It's only logical it would work this way for three reasons:

1. The intent is to do more to curb violent crime at the city level.

2. To curb this violent crime the city would need to find out who is committing the violent crime and statistically it says black men are committing 80% of the homicides.

3. In order to best curb the crime of homicide, cities should pay more attention to black men who are acting suspiciously in and around society. 

Obviously black men would not be the only members of society racially profiled, but unless American cities get exponentially at crime prevention the best solution to curb crime at the police level is to make sure the authorities catch a crime before it occurs. And remember, if America really wants to prioritize curbing domestic terrorism (as Nutter calls it) stronger and more invasive tactics would need to be used. Of course Michael Nutter and myself don't want stronger and more invasive tactics to be used, so prioritized efforts to curb crime would really have to start before the individual is about to commit the crime. I will get to what where I believe these efforts should start in a minute, but this early effort is what Michael Nutter conveniently skips over when discussing how to curb (or "stop" as the headline says) urban violence. So the United States could prioritize the occurrence of violent crime on the local police level, but it will take a larger police presence and some sense of profiling. I don't want this, but a stronger police state could significantly curb violent crime.

(Also if anyone reads this and thinks I'm saying the best way to curb crime is to profile African American men then you are an idiot and stop reading now please. I'm saying if the United States wanted to treat domestic terrorism the way they treat international terrorism there would be need to be an increased focus on stopping crime before it starts, which much like is required in preventing international terrorism requires a certain amount of profiling of individuals. If 80% of those arrested for homicide for black men then the city police would be wise to keep a larger eye on these certain individuals. Obviously this is an extreme way to prevent crime, and though I don't doubt it would be somewhat successful, it is also a violation of civil liberties and racist too. I don't recommend this method, but am merely saying how the United States treats international terrorism isn't a transferable to domestic terrorism because of the whole "civil liberties" issue. It's always beaten around the bush on how local police need to do more to prevent violent crime, but then no one rightfully wants their civil liberties disrupted, so the police end up in a more reactionary position in regard to preventing crime. No certain race should be profiled ever.)

The United States could be turned into a police state and cities could start to get more aggressive in trying to prevent crime, but along with this aggressive prevention will come the violation of civil rights and profiling that so many people absolutely hate and had become an issue in the Trayvon Martin situation. Airports are good at preventing terrorists from getting on the plane because they treat every person as a terrorist suspect and (secretly of course) keep an eye on certain individuals. I'm not advocating racial profiling, but simply stating the truth as I see it, that if America really, really wants to curb violent crime in cities then there will have to be a little bend to the civil liberties Americans are used to. It's an option that I don't like.

My focus comes from my experiences and the buildup of living all my life in West Philadelphia and Wynnefield, and as a city-council member and then later as mayor, attending numerous funerals and talking to moms and dads who have lost their children and other loved ones to senseless acts of violence.

No offense, but attending funerals and talking to the loved ones of victims doesn't make you an expert on crime. If so, funeral directors would be the police chief. 

What's missing are the fundamentals. It's about jobs. It's about education. It's about economic investment and job retraining.

Here's where Michael Nutter and I diverge. What's missing is all of those things, but he leaves out the most important one. Responsibility. I'm not going to give a high-and-mighty lecture, but Nutter leaves out the parental responsibility in not raising a little shithead child who ends up living a life of crime. That's the biggest discussion I consistently see missing from this issue. Responsibility and how parents and relatives need to take responsibility in raising their children in the best way possible and giving that child good role models to look up to. Having a job, education, and economic retraining will work well with a person who wants to make something of himself and not live a life of violence. 

It's about getting benefits to people who need them. We know that in Philadelphia, thousands of people are not even signing up for the available benefits to take care of themselves and their families.

How silly of me. I didn't know the key to stopping urban violence was to make sure families were relying on welfare opportunities or getting involved with government programs that may not fix the core of what is the cause of violent crime. Again, we are missing the responsibility portion of the discussion. I understand how signing up for available benefits and non-violent programs can help a family, but I'm missing how this is going to help a child not head towards a life of violence. A kid has a hand full of food stamps or spends 10% of his week at a community outreach so he won't join a gang? What about the 90% of the time he spends at home or at school? Won't that affect the child's current and future behavior?

We know clearly that there are a few things that work: investing more in Head Start programs, summer jobs and programs for teens and community-development block grants for cities to put people to work.

Great idea. Got money? 

Also, where are the parents at in this discussion? Not once does Michael Nutter mention parental involvement and that shows me his priorities are askew. America is so afraid to criticize a person's parents for how a child was raised or the life of violence the child may have led. I'm not saying a parent is at fault every time a murder is committed, but there needs to be dedication to ensuring kids growing up get a great opportunity to look up to successful people and have a support system to help them achieve their goals in life. Curbing violence is about giving people a chance to choose a life outside of violence and an example that this type of life is fulfilling. That's just my opinion.

Those three areas have been cut significantly over the past few years. The U.S. seems to be more invested in nation building in other countries around the world, Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, than in nation building--or rebuilding--here at home.

Not a terrible point by Michael Nutter. I can see where domestic concerns take precedence over nation building.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and I co-lead an effort called Cities United. We now have close to 50 mayors signed up. It's specifically focused on reducing the violence affecting African-American men and boys across the country.

It's fine if Latino kids kill each other of course. Who cares about them?

The first step is getting municipal leaders to acknowledge these challenges and then deciding on the best practices for addressing them. What are some programs and services we can provide?

Ah yes, throw money at the problem. Provide the kids with programs and services and other taxpayer subsidized solutions. I'm all for spending money when it works, but as we have learned in regard to the war on drugs, parts of the education system, and various other pet projects Congress has had through the years, throwing money at the issue isn't always the best option. 

It disturbs me that programs and services are recommended rather than a focus be on the home life and what the parents can do to raise their children to where the child has the option of choosing a non-violent lifestyle. It doesn't always take a village to care for a child, sometimes it takes family members that give a shit. If as a parent you are relying on programs and services or a mentor to help instill the proper values and direction in life then you are doing parenting incorrectly. 

I've done stupid shit in my life and I managed to make these stupid things I have done into a short detour from where I want to be as opposed to a new direction I want my life to go. I was fortunate to have parents who could show me an example of where I want to go in life and the kind of person I want to be. I've been accused of stealing twice in my life because a convenience store clerk and a bookstore clerk didn't like the way I looked (or for some reason they thought I was stealing, I'm not sure). I've had a knife pulled on me once at a McDonald's because I had the wrong color shirt on. These aren't obviously situations I intentionally chose to put myself into and good people can get into bad situations, but it's easy to go down the wrong path without having role models or mentors. What better people than your parent(s)? I don't like this part of the discussion on how to stop urban violence is missing from the discussion entirely. 

If we get this right, everyone would be involved. We need a partnership among cities, states and federal agencies; the corporate community; the philanthropic community; the religious community; the social-advocacy community--all working toward helping African-American men and boys.

Sounds great and yet it means very little if African-American boys and men go home to a shitty household that doesn't support and encourage him. All of this hard work will go down the drain if buy-in from parents isn't obtained. There can be a great partnership of every community thought of, but if an African-American boy is surrounded by a bad group of people I venture to say these programs won't be successful. 

I know that President Obama cares about these issues, but as powerful as the President of the United States is, he will need a lot of folks to rally with him to work toward solutions

The most powerful man in the free world can't do anything. Got it. It's a team effort, but any sports fan knows one team effort can be undermined by one bad apple who doesn't buy into the team concept.

It will require folks to have open minds and open hearts and, more than anything, to be dedicated to change.

I don't even know what this means. I don't see why anyone wouldn't be dedicated to changing violence and death. Quite frankly, this all sounds like a lot of talk and talk about future action with no action.

The question is, are we ready to do it? Are we willing to set ego aside, be vulnerable and hear things that none of us necessarily want to hear?

Like what? You are the author, so tell me what don't we necessarily want to hear?

Spoiler alert: Michael Nutter never tells us. I would venture to say he can't give examples of what we don't want to hear and is just writing in generalities. 

It sounds to me like Michael Nutter doesn't want to hear that real change starts at home. He knows if he starts blaming the parents who can vote for him then he won't get re-elected. If he thrills us all by creating a plan of future action and talking in general about the community getting involved then no one person gets offended and it feels like it is on all of us to curb the epidemic of violence. It is on all of us to curb the violence, but on a micro-level as well as a macro-level. By not calling out shitty and uncaring parents no one feels responsible and no one gets offended. Michael Nutter gets votes. 

We have to try right now, because our children are dying in the streets every day.

You write "our kids" but not much can happen if the people who really can claim these children as "our kids" don't take action and do what they can to ensure their children head away from violence. No mention of the responsibility of the parents means Michael Nutter's plan is doomed to fail.

One last thing. On my local FOX news Sunday night they showed a "Justice for Trayvon Martin" rally that had taken place in Raleigh. The very next news story was about the police searching for a suspect who robbed and killed a convenience store clerk near Greensboro, North Carolina. The police were asking for the public's help to identify the man who killed the convenience store clerk and then the local FOX news showed the suspect's picture from the store video tape. The suspect who killed the clerk had done so while wearing what looked like either a white or gray hoodie, but you couldn't see his race or any of his features due to the hoodie being over his head. I don't think it was intentional and it certainly doesn't prove George Zimmerman was right to "stand his ground," but I thought it was interesting. The stories went from a kid who was suspected of being up to no good because he was wearing a hoodie to a person who really was up to no good and happened to be wearing a hoodie.

As someone who has worked at a store that was robbed at gunpoint I have to admit that if I am in a convenience store over the next week and see a guy walk up to the counter in a white or gray hoodie I am going to remember a guy wearing a white or gray hoodie robbed and killed a convenience store clerk recently. Obviously I won't immediately shoot this guy because he happens to be wearing a hoodie, but my enjoyment of living would at least remind me in that moment there was a murder committed by a guy wearing a white and gray hoodie and I have no idea what the guy who committed the murder looked like. There is a clear difference in the hypothetical situation as I just presented and the events surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin. I found it interesting the news transitioned from the Trayvon Martin protests to this story of a murder committed in a convenience store.

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