May 28, 2003--Crime is up just about everywhere. That's not an excuse. It's just a fact. In 2002, crime was up 7.2% in Ventura County, Calif., for instance, long considered the safest city in the west. Crime is creeping upward all over the South and all over the country. Property crime is invasive--violent crime is horrific. The JFP's editorial team lives in and around Belhaven and Fondren and Downtown and West Jackson. With every story of a crime committed--whether an armed burglary in a Fondren home, an armed robbery in Brent's Drug Store or an uncle shooting a nephew in West Jackson--we feel pained and determined to do something about it. We are not immune; some of our staffers have been crime victims. We know how it feels to want to blame.
There's a history in Jackson of finger-pointing on crime. We've had 11 police chiefs since 1985. That sort of track record results when a community has not created a culture that is both proactive and reactive to crime. We need a well-rounded approach--one that blends prevention and detection. When crimes happen, we need them solved, and we need the criminal caught and prosecuted. But we also need fewer crimes in the first place.
Something causes crime rates to rise and fall. Throughout the 1990s, for instance, both violent crime and property crime dropped dramatically. Was there a general up swell and wholesome goodness during the Clinton administration that led to record low crime? Bad people suddenly turned good? And now they've turned bad again? Or is it, rather, the economy?
Some would tell us that it was "quality-of-life" policing strategies like those of Rudy Giuliani that cut down on crime in New York in the 1990s. That's an incomplete picture, at best. Here?s why:
First, crime was down all over the country, including in large cities that didn't use harsher "quality-of-life" policing rather than more holistic "community policing."
Second, Giuliani's NYPD enforced one of the strictest gun-control laws with a Street Crimes Unit that "tossed" people on the street for guns regularly, often profiling them racially or economically first.
Third, the outcry in New York against police violence was as loud--or louder--than the outcry in Jackson of today over crime. In 1996, Amnesty International released a report showing that police brutality, particularly against minorities, had skyrocketed in the 18 months prior. (Giuliani took office in 1994.) Over a few weeks in 1999, more than 1,100 people lined up at One Police Plaza to be arrested in a show of public disobedience after 41 bullets struck Amadou Diallo. Protesters included former mayors, U.S. representatives, city council members, actors and the head of the NAACP.
Crime problems are about cause and effect. We've been in a two-year recession, 2 million jobs have been lost, Mississippi is broke while trying to meet new unfunded educational mandates from the federal government while it cuts tax revenues. Welfare benefits have run out for some, thanks to the five-year sunset implemented in 1996.
Many people prefer to blame the city administration rather than talking about education, even in a time of educational crisis. While they're not looking, the city is on a collision course that only promises to get worse under stringent, but largely unfunded mandates required by Bush's ironically named "No Child Left Behind" act. Federal public-school testing requirements are kicking in this year without adequate funding to help the kids prepare for the tests (see letter below). Hundreds of kids in Jackson are dropping out of school every year and finding easy access to weapons. High-school dropouts then commit most violent crime in Jackson. So even if you don't care about public schools, you may become the victim of the education quagmire that is only going to get worse.
Study after study shows that "tough on crime" is an ineffectual deterrent that often just leads to recidivism, although it makes a great political sound bite. Think about it--once somebody makes the leap in logic that breaking into someone else's home or business with a gun is a good idea, they're well beyond weighing the possible penalties. This is Mississippi. That criminal already knows there's a good chance he's going to get shot in that house or business.
What makes more sense is investigating a more intelligent approach such as the "restorative justice" for young offenders advocated by Myrlie Evers-Williams. This combination of restitution, rehabilitation and punishment will likely prove less expensive in the long run, both in terms of money and fewer crime victims.
Chief Moore seems to be a competent manager with a great deal of energy and poise under pressure. He inherited a police department in considerable disarray, but he's implemented the latest police thinking--Comstat--and he's put forth a community-policing plan designed to tackle both the causes and effects of crime. He should release regular crime stats to the media, though. Open government is always the best policy.
The city's five-point crime plan is derided by some media outlets as "Crimefighting 101,' but we've yet to hear any better viable alternatives from the complainers. We all know that you must tackle 101 before you move to 202. And think about this for a moment--you can only get tough on crime after a crime has been committed and more people are victimized.
Beyond the city's plan, we need to find and implement other solutions like mentoring. If we don't keep people in school and get them education and diplomas, they aren't going to get good jobs. And without decent jobs and hope, crime often becomes a reality, whether for the black teens robbing Fondren homes or the white adults holding up Brent Drugs. It's not excuse-making; it's simply reality.
We suggest that those who would use crime in Jackson for political gain look for something else to build a career on. Complain about the water quality or the roads or economic development. But let's work together on crime and safety.
14,600 Children Left Behind
Dear Community Leader:
We thought we'd reprint a plea we received this week addressed to Jackson community leaders. No further comment needed.
Jackson Public Schools is offering an innovative, intensive summer extended year intervention program, Boost, to meet the needs of elementary students who need more time to achieve the annual yearly progress as required by the (federal) No Child Left Behind law.
With District and Federal funds, the District will be serving approximately 400 of our 15,000 K-5 students beginning on une 2nd in this summer intervention program. Because of the increased accountability and the great needs of some of our students, parents' requests for their children to attend the Boost program this summer have literally outpaced our funding to serve all of them. In addition to the 400 students to be served, there are more children on the waiting list who need and want to attend. We will be unable to offer these children the services they need this summer without additional community and business financial support.
Would you consider sponsoring 15 struggling students who need the added instructional time to master reading and math skills? With a $3,000 donation, 15 students would be able to attend summer school for six weeks. It is our hope that you can assist us in providing this much needed instruction time for students. If you have questions, please call me at 960-8905. The enclosed card is for your convenience in responding to this request. We hope that together we will be able to make the Boost program available to all who need it.
Rebecca K. Starling, coordinator
JPS Partners in Education