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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Some Sensible Steps to Confront the Inner City Culture of Violence

In response to this piece in which I reacted to the death of Derrion Albert, I received this comment.

So how do we break the cycle? What perpetuates it? I attended a high school plagued by gang violence, surrounded by awful neighborhoods and I don't have an answer for you. But I'd love to hear people's thoughts.

That's a fair comment. The piece viewed skeptically and cynically any thought that the death of Derrion Albert would lead to any substantive change to the cycle of violence. Instead, it's part of a cycle of violence that appears to have no end in Chicago's inner city, as well as most inner cities. It's however a critic's mentality to bemoan the cycle of violence without suggesting ways to fix it.

Now, in order to try and confront the cycle of violence and be effective you would need to change culture, change mindsets, and change perceptions. To really affect change you need to get on the ground and work in the communities. To provide the sort of solutions that would make real change you would need a book and not a blog post. So, it's unrealistic to confront cycles of violence in the inner cities with one blog post, but I do believe that there are several simple and common sense solutions that can be suggested here.

1)Clean up the literal garbage and the figurative follows.

My old boss once bought a six flat that was filled with drug dealers. His first move was to get several of his police buddies to forceably remove the dealers. His second step was to fix the broken windows, broken doors, paint the place, and clean the place. I asked him why that was important and he told me that literal dirt attracts figurative dirt. By this he meant that drug dealers aren't going to approach a nice looking building. They will approach the building that looks run down.

I have walked through the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago on several occasions. The first thing I notice is just how much garbage is found everywhere but a garbage can. That literal dirt attracts the figurative dirt of drug dealers and gang bangers. Think about any nice neighborhood. How often would you see a beer bottle on the ground? How often would you see garbage anywhere but the garbage can? It's rare. Yet, in any inner city, garbage is found all over the streets.

Cleaning up the streets requires little money and only community effort. Churches can organize together for a clean up party following services. If the community gets together and cleans up its streets and keeps them clean, not only is that something that needs little money but it goes a long way toward cleaning up the violence and crime. Before you do anything, the community must commit to getting the garbage off the street.

2) Block Clubs

One of the best ideas I saw all throughout Englewood was block clubs. In this, the citizens of the block get together, create rules that govern that block, and then they post those rules at the front of the block for everyone to see. One of those rules should always be to always put all garbage in a garbage can only. Throughout Englewood, the safest, cleanest, and most liveable blocks were those that had a block club. It may seem a gimmick but in reality it empowers the people. They live on the block and they should make the rules for the block. In the inner city, every block must have a block club and that block club must have strict rules that the citizens of the block all not only follow but enforce.

3)Police and community outreach

In the inner cities, there is a natural distrust for the police. The police can't get the bad guys if they don't know who the bad guys are. The citizens of the neighborhoods know but if they don't speak up the police can't act. That's all simple to say but more difficult to achieve. The dealers, gang bangers, and criminals are on the streets at all times. The cops may show up once a day. Still, there are simple ways for the community to come together with the police. The simplest way is through CAPS. CAPS is a Chicago area police community outreach program but there is an equivalent in most cities. One of the hallmarks of CAPS is the monthly meeting in which police get together to discuss crime and community. How many citizens attend such a meeting? You're lucky to get a dozen at any CAPS meeting. That's a failure of community leadership. It doesn't cost anything to go to a CAPS meeting. They're scheduled in the evening. These communities are infested with crimes and yet when the police come to talk a handful of people show up. So, community leaders pastors, priests, and business leaders must place more emphasis on CAPS. This isn't all that hard. It's as simple as announcing the next CAPS meeting at the end of services. It's as simple as posting an announcement for a CAPS meeting. It also means the leaders themselves show up to a CAPS meeting. CAPS is a good idea that only works if there is robust participation. It's up to the community to provide that.

4)Innovative ideas toward jobs, business, and community

Imagine you are an H.R. Director at a company and a pastor calls you to ask to post any potential job openings on their job board. That's probably something that most H.R. directors would be more than happy to do. Inner cities are in a constant state of a job problem. Yet, how often do the churches do something as simple as that? How often does the local chamber of commerce organize a seminar on home buying, credit, and investing? If a realtor knew that hundreds of potential property buyers would attend, they would show up to a seminar anywhere. Yet, that rarely happens in the inner cities. To attract business and industry you must be innovative. There are simple ways to do this and they are rarely used.

These ideas only scratch the surface. The schools in the inner cities are in a state of chaos. That has a lot to do with corruption and also with a lack of funds that happens because of depressed real estate value. There are no easy solutions to that. There's also a liquor store on nearly every corner. Homeless are constant all over the streets. These issues all have no easy answers. The cycle of violence is not easy to break but the ideas I have come up with are simple and cost little. They can have significant impact if implemented correctly.


Anonymous said...

Since the people of the United States are unwilling to do the hard things to save these young men.

Youth Hard Labor Camps 2 year sentences minimum.. first offense for any gang or drug related activities. 12 hours a day forced labor, education as a benift for good behavior not a right.

Since all anyone wants to do is throw money at the problem..

Just lock them up and do everthing you can to throw away the key early and often.

That just might give the kids like the young boy murdered enough room to grow up as decent human beings and break the cycle..

We will do neither.. and the violence will remain.


Anonymous said...

Hard Labor Camps, like the one that got shut down in Louisiana after some kids were worked to death?