Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How awful is this?

The senseless murder of 4 yr old Jasmine Owens horrifies us and, to be honest, leaves us stumped. To his credit, Governor Doyle has committed to helping the city fund police overtime in Milwaukee. While I think that the Governor is over fond of spending and I recognize that some conservatives won't support state taxpayers "bailing out" the city on this, it is impractical to think that Milwaukee can deal with this crisis on its own. Doyle is doing the right thing.

I wish that handwringing about guns and greater controls promised to help. I'm actually in favor of a lot more regulation of the sale of firearms. I think background checks should be required for not only gun show sales but private transfers. (I understand that the latter requires gun registration but that doesn't scare me.) I might even be willing to listen to arguments for a legislative mandate of smart guns should that technology ever become workable and affordable. (But imposing liability for the failure to adopt it is pure mischief.)

But it is entirely implausible that any of this would make much difference in the rate of gun violence. People who conduct drive-by shootings tend not to care much about the law. You'd have to get guns off the streets to make a difference and I don't see that happening.

If complaining about gun laws is beside the point, so is bemoaning the absence of good jobs. The guys who drive around in SUVs shooting at one another are not doing so because they can no longer work at Tower Automotive. Expecting nothing different until that day in which the lamb lies down with the lion because the kingdom of perfect righteousness is at hand will leave a lot of lambs to the slaughter.

Actually, tomorrow morning"s Journal Sentinel editorial suggests the larger answer: Inner city neighborhoods must rise up and reclaim themselves.

How does that happen?

It raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions. How do you tolerate a political leader who calls for "no snitchin'?" If you are properly concerned about the high incarceration rate of African American males, is there a solution for the problem which will not require, at least in the short run, continued high incarceration rates for African-American males? If you distrust - with some justification - the Milwaukee Police Department, is there any solution that doesn't require more cops who will tolerate less anti-social behavior? Everyone - and I mean everyone - who I ever speak to who works at MPS says that a significant minority of disruptive and uninterested students materially impairs the education of the rest (and drives the middle class out of the system). If you want to oppose extraordinary measures to restore extraordinary disorder because they seem stigmatizing or racist, then what is your alternative?

And perhaps most difficult: what do you do when too many people (it doesn't have to be all that many) become amoral and deracinated? Do you ostracize those who indulge in any aspect of thug culture? Do you stop tolerating cruising (dropping the McNally-ite illusion that it is just an urbanization of Richie and Pottsie)?

If these questions can be avoided, tell me how. If the answers do not require the abandonment of much of the rhetoric that we have traditionally heard from Milwaukee Democrats who do not represent districts on the south side, tell me why.


Anonymous said...

A few random thoughts/answers to your questions.

1 - concrete steps to increase positive relationships w/ the cops. e.g., one oft-ignored aspect of "community policing," having specific cops assigned long-term to building relationships and communication with the many productive and law abiding mmembers of the community to help build trust, identify problems, and develop solutions to problems before arrest and prison are the only option left.

2 - Teach cops that economic disadvantage may lead to certain things that, in Shorewood or on the Eastside, would suggest "anti-social" behavior but in context may not. e.g., Having children playing in the street at night rather than the basement den in Shorewood might be odd, having kids playing in the street, people congregating, etc., at night is not so strange when you are dealing with a more densely populated neighborhood with lousy housing stock.

3- Massive job training available in the neighborhood.

4- Alternative activities that actually attract kids with nothing else to do (fewer xBoxes, you see).

5- Easy access to basic healthcare and transportion.

7-Much smaller class sizes and better staffing in schools with disruption problems.

6- Generally, we need to focus on programs that fill in what's missing that would allow more people to build better lives for themselves. School breakfast program is another one.

The fact is that few will choose to become criminals, etc., when they believe concretely that, with work, they can build better lives. Stated differently, selling dope is alot of work and very risky and, contrary to what you see on TV, ain't very profitable. Make legit alternatives real and break the cycle of destructiveness.

Rick Esenberg said...

The problem I have with much of this is that it assumes that violence is just a response to relative deprivation. That's hard to square with the facts. We once had more deprivation (there was certainly not more opportunity for black males in 1960) and less violence and crime among the deprived.

But what if it cultural breakdown, e.g., kids without fathers, a lack of commitment to education (whatever the size of classes), widepsread drug use, and uncontrolled street crime, has now become the larger cause of lack of opportunity and deprivation.

If that's so, then I don't know that all of this stuff would help.

There is nothing wrong with a lot of this, (although smaller class sizes seem ot be a false grail), but isn't what you are proposing just more of the same?

I could be wrong but I don't think those guys in the SUV who shot Jasmine did it because there were not enough busses, free clinics and midnight basketball.

Anonymous said...

Well, once again, the right responds to concrete proposals for dealing with concrete problems with isolated abstractions.

And, Rick, you are smart enough to know that human society is more complex than you acknowlege with your notion that anyone assigns a simple and direct causal relationship, i.e., less opportunity=more violence.

The fact is that members of groups within society that percieve themselves to have meaningful opportunity to create better lives (and who see themselves as being included in the larger community) typically function more productively, refrain from the level of anti-social behavior we are talking about, and generally pursue better lives.

Even if you want to quibble about causation and the relationship between these facts - no one can dispute that they are the facts.

And, you set up a second strawman - we are talking about generational cycles of disfunction and a community dynamic. No 1+1 causation. So no, i can't promise that if the kid in the SUV had midnight basketball going on he wouldn't have killed. the fact is though that if he had been raised in a community percieving itself to have a larger investment in a productive future and was raised to believe it to (because those that raised him believed it) - the chances of him killing the little girl (and destroying his life in the process) would have been dramatically reduced.

But, again the right seems more interested in coming up with reasons that nothing (other than imprisonment) should be done.