City violence: Band-Aid remedies don’t work

May 11, 2016 at 10:28 am
City violence: Band-Aid remedies don’t work

Let’s be honest, there are too many young black men dying because of violence. The increase in crime we see in Louisville and other cities speaks to the wider issues of poverty, segregation and the importance Americans place on material wealth. This is aside from issues of race or violence. America is still a very segregated nation, and in areas where segregation and poverty coincide, one can expect an elevated level of violent and petty crime. Louisville is no different.

Louisville, like many cities in the nation, has seen a spike in violence, most often in its impoverished neighborhoods, and not in just those where the racial makeup is heavily African-American. Poor folks are scratching for the same nothing, and that nothing gets less and less each year.

Fourteen and a half percent of all Americans live in deep poverty. Those who are still poor but fall slightly above the poverty line fare only slightly better. But slightly better can make all the difference in the outcomes of their lives, including the exposure to, and risk of, violence.

The more people are in need, the more desperate they become, and the more risk they are willing to take. And since the financial crash of 2008, many Americans have been driven to extreme desperation. However, there are those who lost life savings, homes and cars but managed to regain much of their wealth, and more than that, they retained the skills and opportunities granted to them by their earlier economic status. Those in the most vulnerable areas have had little respite and are still playing catch-up, while having limited success.

Certainly, an economic explanation of violent crime seems somewhat simplistic, but when those economics have created generations of distorted thinking about money and material goods, it isn’t difficult to surmise that down to its most basic parts, improved economics net improved community outcomes and less violence.

What is Louisville doing to combat this? Louisville, like most other cities and much at the federal level, seeks Band-Aid remedies to combat increasing crime. Those remedies often benefit the penal system more than the communities in need. In Louisville, there are groups asking for investment in economic security, and others seeking investment in education. The bottom line is that both are necessary, along with the eradication of the barriers to both. Eliminating systematic barriers for residents in all of Louisville, but, more specifically, West Louisville and South Louisville, where the poorest in our city live, would result in better overall outcomes.

However, adding poorly-funded educational programming and low-wage, low-mobility jobs in areas where our most vulnerable live, is an inadequate patch and ultimately reinforces the issues that cause both petty and violent crimes to rise. In turn, these lackadaisical remedies do nothing but ultimately assess a corporeal poor tax. More often than not, African-American youth suffer the most because they sit at the bottom of the economic structure of this country. 

In lieu of increasing the economic strength in these at-risk areas, cities like Louisville put more police on the streets. This increases the incarceration rates and does little to combat and remedy the root causes of the crime problems in these areas.

So when those young black kids, who are desperately seeking a way out of their impoverished existence, make the only choice available, they are fed into a system that follows the modus operandi of systematic oppression and sentences them more harshly, thereby removing their freedom and decreasing the chance at opportunities they might have post prison. Prisons, ultimately, are the insidious leftovers from the invisible caste and very visible chattel systems of our nation.

Each time the violent-crime numbers tick upward, we should look to our city leaders to not simply stick more officers on the streets, but to create real opportunities in these areas so that jobs that are skilled and unskilled increase. All the while, city leaders should make sure these jobs have opportunities for education and mobility. We have to see our civic leaders increase educational opportunities that are well-funded and supported. Band-Aid remedies don’t work.

Thinking about crime in our cities as neighborhood-specific or ethnically-specific ignores facts that are integral to addressing the overarching issues of bad education, bad economics and a lack of real opportunity to improve the health and economic outcomes in these areas. Violence increases as poverty increases and opportunities diminish.