Monday, May 28, 2007

From Newark to Pittsburgh

The New York Times has a gargantuan story by Andrew Jacobs called Newark Battles Murder and its Accomplice, Silence. It describes a scene common to many American cities, very much including our own.

It covers outdated police equipment, political patronage, and lack of opportunity in poor areas. Yet what struck us most is the universality of these kind of tales:

One night, the rookies clambered over backyard fences in pursuit of a mugger, tackled and handcuffed the suspect and marched him to the crime scene, only to have the victim snatch back his wallet, refuse to press charges and saunter away without so much as a thank you.

This cannot be simply attributed to a wildly successful "stop snitching" campaign. It was the reality that caused the slogan. Mistrust of the police now comes naturally and easily.

In the few moments it took officers to scurry down the block, the killer had vanished, leaving a man slumped in the street with a bullet in his face and bystanders who treated investigators like a band of pesky door-to-door salesmen, shrugging that they had witnessed nothing.

It really, really, really is like Iraq.

Just as the article was becoming too depressing to read, the futility too overwhelming to bother with, comes this note, tossed-in as an aside after fifty paragraphs:

Most of the killings are drug-related, and while a new citywide narcotics unit is making a dent, Newark’s reputation for having the purest heroin in the region keeps the customers coming, and the South Ward’s four highways bring them straight to the Fifth.

One reason the cops operate in isolation is because everybody has something to hide, or somebody to hide. Respect for the law has suffered because the law is now consumed with hypocrisy and trivialities -- and is complicit in creating opportunities for lawbreakers.

There is a solution to urban violence. Or rather, there is a hugely necessary first part of the solution, and it is sitting right under our noses.


  1. You’re being a bit oblique, even for me, Bram. Maybe the story should have led off with the heroin. Certainly that is pumping a new infusion of cash in, and maybe some of that cash is filtering into cops’ pockets. But it seems like the residents of Newark, in particular the area patrolled by the fifth precinct, would still not trust the police, because of decades of problems, and the young people still would not much else to do besides shooting each other. Being poor because the only jobs around pay chump change is a hard life, being poor because there are no jobs you can get hired for is a recipe for disaster.

    Around here we have that new computer program thing, which is either on the North side or all over the city, and does something, I think it broadcasts criminal descriptions to your desk top or sumpin’. But what we need are some jobs. Anybody for a Hyundai plant?

  2. An acquaintance of mine owns a small grocery store in Homewood.He and his wife,who are black,stated to me that the police are the source of the discontent and disorder in so many of our black communities.That police officers,
    black and white, are at war with the citizenry. The couple have told me that they believe that in shootings between police and gang members,the gang member is usually murdered after giving up.An example was the shooting several weeks ago in Homewood where the suspect died of a "self-inflicted" gun shot wound.These are business people who are young,ambitious and intelligent. The wife is going to school(CCAC)studying accounting for the business.But they believe the police are the bad guys in their community.

  3. Ed,

    Are you sure you didn't mean we were being opaque? Because we don't think we were being oblique. Be that as it may ...

    We were honing in on the clause "most of the killings are drug related." We think this demonstrates that a regime of legalization would in fact result in "most" of the violence going away. Not a panacea, obviously, but a greater share of the solution than anything else proferred.

    As to jobs -- yes, jobs are important, but how important? Can an honest $8.25/hr construction job compete with the drug trade? Although it will for some people, others will doubtless continue to reap huge windfalls from the black market, and spend that money on paramilitary operations.

    The other thing about focusing on "jobs" is how? And who? And very frankly, are these areas presently capable of fielding a large, reliable workforce? Not in the opinion of most employers, and we can't march their HR reps down there at pike-point. The city can't hire everyone, or even many-one.

    Making "jobs" happen is not so easy, but we could wake up tomorrow and change our drug policies like that (snaps). And THAT could actually be the egg to our jobs chicken.