Saturday, August 1, 2015

Baltimore Murder Rate

Violence in the city of Baltimore shows no signs of abating. Young black men continue die at the hands of other young black men at staggering rates. The mayor, despite having been thought highly enough by her peers to be named to chair the National Council of Mayors, has been able to stanch the bloodshed, and is indeed thought by many to be a big part of the problem for her refusal to support her police force in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray last spring and her decision to pretty much allow rioters to wreak whatever destruction they wanted on the city.

Here are some excerpts from a recent Fox News report about the carnage:
With 45 homicides in July, the city has seen more bloodshed in a single month than it has in 43 years. Police reported three deaths — two men shot Thursday and one on Friday. The men died at local hospitals. With their deaths, this year's homicides reached 189, far outpacing the 119 killings by July's end in 2014. Nonfatal shootings have soared to 366, compared to 200 by the same date last year. July's total was the worst since the city recorded 45 killings in August 1972, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The seemingly Sisyphean task of containing the city's violence prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to fire her police commissioner, Anthony Batts, on July 8.

"Too many continue to die on our streets," Rawlings-Blake said then. "Families are tired of dealing with this pain, and so am I. Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime."
So, to borrow one of our sociologists' favorite questions, what are the "root causes" ?
Crime experts and residents of Baltimore's most dangerous neighborhoods cite a confluence of factors: mistrust of the police; generalized anger and hopelessness over a lack of opportunities for young black men; and competition among dealers of illegal drugs, bolstered by the looting of prescription pills from pharmacies during the riot....

Across West Baltimore, residents complain that drug addiction and crime are part of a cycle that begins with despair among children who lack educational and recreational opportunities, and extends when people can't find work.

"We need jobs! We need jobs!" a man riding around on a bicycle shouted to anyone who'd listen after four people were shot, three of them fatally, on a street corner in July.
Some 350 businesses were damaged or destroyed by thugs and vandals during the riot, and though many have reopened since, how many businesses will risk moving into these neighborhoods, and how easy will it be for them to get insurance?

In other words, one reason there are few jobs available to young men in Baltimore is that their neighborhoods are an intrinsic disincentive for employers weighing economic risks.

Moreover, one has to ask why there's so much anger and hopelessness for young black men over a lack of "educational and recreational" opportunity while millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, are flooding into the country because they see unprecedented opportunities for them here.

Whatever one thinks about illegal immigration and illegal immigrants, most of them are coming here to work, even at less than the current minimum wage, and many of them are finding jobs. There may not be many jobs in poor neighborhoods, but there are businesses outside those neighborhoods that are hiring unskilled workers. The sometimes hear the excuse that it's unrealistic to expect people to travel to jobs in the suburbs because mobility is difficult for the poor, but that excuse seems ridiculous when one considers what millions of Mexican, Cuban and Asian immigrants have gone through to get here.

The reason many young men are not working is quite simply because they won't take what jobs that are available to them.

It used to be that immigrants who came to this country worked hard at miserable jobs, not so much for themselves but for their children and grandchildren. They were willing to work themselves into an early grave, but they forced themselves to go every day to lousy, dirty, dangerous jobs, sometimes several of them, so their kids could go to college and have a good life, but that's a commitment few people in many parts of this country seem willing to make anymore. People want the good life for themselves, and thoughts of denying oneself so that one's children will have a better life are far from their minds.

They want what they want right now, and if the available jobs don't pay them enough they'd prefer not to work at all. If, in order to get a good job, they have to do well in school, they'd prefer not to have the job. If to create a better life for their kids they have to marry their kids' mother and show up for work every day they'd rather not worry about their kids' future.
More community engagement, progressive policing policies and opportunities for young people in poverty could help, community activist Munir Bahar said.

"People are focusing on enforcement, not preventing violence. Police enforce a code, a law. Our job as the community is to prevent the violence, and we've failed," said Bahar, who leads the annual 300 Men March against violence in West Baltimore. "We need anti-violence organizations, we need mentorship programs, we need a long-term solution. But we also need immediate relief," Bahar added. "When we're in something so deep, we have to stop it before you can analyze what the root is."
I agree with much of what Mr. Bahar says but nevertheless even the poor in Baltimore live better in material terms than did the wealthiest people throughout much of history, and they live better than most people in the world today. Their fundamental problem isn't a lack of programs or material deprivation, it's spiritual impoverishment, a loss of the work ethic, and the deterioration of the traditional family. Until those crucial elements are repaired nothing else is going to change in their communities no matter how many programs and taxpayer dollars we spend on "fixing" the problems.