Column: How we nurture high-crime areas
September 23, 2015
Of course black lives matter, as do all lives. But it's not just a few excessively frightened police who threaten black lives.
Add together unrelenting poverty, the drug war, cash-strapped municipalities and inadequate gun control, and you have a perfect-storm recipe for creating and maintaining high-crime areas.
The only intervention, the only face of the larger society seen in the poorest neighborhoods, is entirely negative. Over-policing and excessive punishment for minor infractions. No helping hands in the form of job opportunities for youth, free health services, counseling or better educational services.
You don't have to be black to suffer the consequences, you just have to be poor.
Many youth in these neighborhoods perceive from early childhood that the only way to make this world work for them, the only way to support themselves comfortably, is to sell drugs. And with drug sales, you might, given great luck, even enjoy riches, at least for awhile.
And since the drug trade is illegal, it must depend on guns rather than the law, to try and enforce some order. So our society, by its uncaring negligence, has created these heavily armed, high-crime areas. Then we send in the police, many of whom, if not most of whom, have to be scared and thus on a hair trigger as it were, every time they go into these areas.
After all, the police have families who depend on them and they don't want to risk getting shot any more than you or I would. (Although I don't see why they can't defend themselves with Tasers instead of guns.)
On top of all this, cash-strapped municipalities have recently started trying to raise money with big increases in fines for all sorts of minor infractions, and then adding fines for not paying fines.
Because the poor, high-crime areas are so heavily policed, these fines hit them the hardest.
Finally, too many poor people, even those trying to live within the law, have fines they will never be able to pay and are even jailed for nonpayment.
The municipalities may make some money, but the larger society pays for jailing these people in what has been termed a modern form of debtors' prisons.
Obviously we must better train our police and officer-involved shootings must be independently investigated and prosecuted. But that alone will never solve the problem.
What we really need to do is change the underlying situation. Instead of throwing astronomical sums of money away trying to solve the rest of the world's problems according to our own ill-conceived interests and ideas, we need to spend some real money on our own problems.
We should make a concerted effort to rid ourselves of heavily armed, high-crime areas.
The federal government should mandate that all local governments must provide those unable to pay fines with community-service alternatives. We should end the drug war altogether and use the money saved for free treatment and rehab programs.
We need much, much tighter gun-control laws.
Then we need a mammoth program to repair and replace our decaying infrastructure. As part of this program, every government agency or private contractor working on these infrastructure programs should be required to hire disadvantaged youth as apprentices, while at the same time various government agencies help with counseling, housing needs, etc.
We need to equalize school funding throughout the nation, with variances only for teacher/administration pay scales according to the area's cost of living. Class sizes, expenditures for books, supplies, equipment, and arts and sports programs should all be equalized by federal mandate and money.
We don't need fancy panaceas from the federal Department of Education. We just need to put enough federal money into schools to make sure they all provide the same opportunities.
We need to have a federally paid community-service program open to all youth and another open to adults unable to find other employment.
Public higher education must be free to all those whose families earn less than, say, $100,000.
And that limit should have automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments.
We need Medicare for all. After all, we don't want people trying to pay family medical bills via criminal activity.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders keeps repeating, we need a political revolution. And we are all responsible for making it happen. As has been famously said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." — Edmund Burke
Mary Boland's column appears on the third Saturday of each month. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.