In Jackson, and Mississippi in general, it is a sport to complain about crime, not to mention to sensationalize it. The TV stations love to milk crime, especially in the capital city, for viewers and ratings, often leading the evening news with it, as if nothing could be more important.
But when a discussion about how to prevent crime comes up, often people aren't as interested, or shrug and say that is the responsibility of "the family," usually meaning black families. That may be the easiest thing for an individual to do, but it does nothing to actually stop crime. Usually, neither does incarceration.
The reality is that the more times a young person comes into contact with the criminal-justice system, the more likely he or she is to commit a worse crime. That means that the favorite method of "crime prevention" by many people actually makes the community less safe.
It is high time to get serious about preventing crime in Jackson. And as the Jackson Free Press is showing in our ongoing "Preventing Crime" series (jfp.ms/preventingviolence), that is not an easy thing to do, and there is no one way to do it. As a community, we need to develop a tight net around the young people most likely to commit violent crime, ensuring they have the love, mentoring, education, training and job opportunities they need, not to mention mental-health services and basic health care. And even the ability not to grow up next to a dangerous abandoned house.
In the spirit of furthering this conversation, the JFP is sponsoring the visit of a gang-intervention expert the week of July 11 through July 16. Kai Smith is a six-time felon who now runs acclaimed intervention programs in New York City. He called himself a "credible messenger" because at-risk youth can identify with him because he has been there. Research shows that is the best kind of "messenger" to interrupt the cycle of violence.
Smith is bringing high energy and big ideas to Jackson as part of our journalistic efforts to explore crime solutions, sponsored in part by the Solutions Journalism Network. JFP Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd and Deputy News Editor Maya Miller both watched Smith in action in New York recently, and will sit down with him at Millsaps College on July 14 at 6 p.m. for a free public conversation about ways Jackson can save what one study estimated is 225 young people in the city who are most risk of committing violent crime. (When told that number, Smith said he works with that many young people personally, an inspiring statement.)
We urge you to attend this open conversation (with food and drink afterward) and pick the brain of this crime expert. He is also available to meet with other groups. Call 601-362-6121 ext. 12 to arrange to meet with Smith during his visit or for more information on his talk.