Officials of the Chattanooga Chapter of the NAACP said gaining community trust will be a key factor in whether a new crime fighting initiative by the Berke administration.
The group said, "The authors of the High Point Initiative, recognizing that drug markets were the 'scourge of too many communities,' developed a new crime prevention strategy because the policies of the past had little effect on eradicating crimes such as thefts and robberies, illicit drug activity, shootings, and other negative elements that adversely effected most American communities, in particular poor, African-American and minority communities.
"To achieve this the initiative called for: (1) forced deterrence; (2) banking of existing drug cases; and a (3) unified coalition which consisted of community and religious organizations, local government, law enforcement, and family members that met in a series of call-ins that served as an intervention to detail the expectations of the community and stressed the human value of all life.
"The successful implementation and effectiveness of this strategy was dependent upon one key element above all others, gaining the trust of the community. In order to achieve this there needed to be a clearing of the minds that included honest and frank dialogue between community groups and organizations, local government and law enforcement so that a cohesive and well-conceived strategy could be developed. This conversation was also important because it was necessary to view the vantage point of all interested parties, and this frame of reference dispelled of many of the preconceived misconceptions and skepticism's often held by these parties against one another while also pinpointing the most productive remedies that would benefit the community.
"It remains to be seen if Chattanooga's variation of this strategy, the Violence Reduction Initiative, will include key components of the High Point Initiative, particularly community trust, because as of this time there has been minimal community input in terms of strategizing and in plan development. Likewise, there has been a great failure to highlight the goods and services that will provide alternatives to crime and by virtue aid in crime prevention efforts. Furthermore, there are mounting concerns that the Violence Reduction Initiative will be based solely on race and will only target individuals on the bottom rung of the criminal justice ladder.
"The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP does not stand in opposition to effective or productive criminal justice polices, but, nevertheless, there has been a lack of focus on the key socio-economic issues that cause most crime and violence and that often serve as the root of the problems that prevent communities from being more viable, livable and sustainable. For these reasons, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP offers the following recommendations:
·Educate public on specifics of the Violence Reduction Initiative
·Universal focus on illicit criminal activity with increased focus on upper-tier of criminals who manufacture, produce and transport drugs, weapons and illegal activities into poor, African-American and minority communities and who are the true worse of the worse
·Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship as component of criminal justice efforts
·Programs for progress which includes gainful employment, job training initiatives and a focus on education
·Vocational, trade and technical school in inner-city
·Develop a community crisis response team
"The Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative will also be ineffective if there isn't an overall focus on criminal justice equality that considers the faces of justice that adorn the great scales of justice. Numerous criminal justice disparities, inaccuracies and discrepancies effect the livelihood and welfare of poor, African-American and minority communities on a daily basis, and adversely condemns many to a lifetime of mediocrity. In terms of criminal justice, immediate remedies are needed in many of the following areas:
·Profiling which includes excessive traffic stops including stop and frisk tactics.
·Right to a fair trial and legal representation, which has become increasingly worsened because of the repeated reduction in funding for the public defenders office and inadequacies in the pre-trial diversion process
·Reform sentencing laws and guidelines which are harsher for African-Americans and minorities
·Humane treatment for inmates
·Reduce Recidivism through effective and productive probation
·Revise child support laws so that it aides, not assaults, the welfare of children, families and individuals
·Judgeships that reflect population demographics
·Ending the school to prison pipeline and juvenile justice
·Restoration of rights to ex felons
·Life sustaining alternatives which includes gainful employment, training, educational opportunities
"As the stewards of our communities, the task that befalls each citizen and individual in America is to make our neighborhoods more livable, more sustainable, more productive, and more vibrant for ourselves, our neighbors and our children. No individual group or entity is absolved of this great charge of freedom, and if we do not resolve to do this then the liberties, freedoms, and principles of our community and nation will be forsaken. Nevertheless, this declaration of democracy cannot be made to stand alone, for it is deeply rooted in those very liberties, freedoms and principles, and is permanently affixed and ingrained in our legal statues and laws. There is no initiative, there is no policy and there are no guidelines that triumphs over the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, which in itself is color-blind and neither recognizes nor tolerates division along the lines of race, class or gender. The goal of our initiatives, regulations and polices is simple;to build a more perfect union.This can only be achieved through the collective hopes, faith and trust of the willing to balance the scales of justice for us all."