Roy Exum: How We Stop The Bullets

Friday, January 24, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Earlier this week Deontrey Suthers, an eighth grader at East Lake Academy, was shot and killed in the 1500 block of East 50th Street. We cannot allow that 13-year-old to die in vain. While his assailant is still unknown, his blood is on the hands of our entire community – not just Chattanooga but our surrounding towns as well – and thank God there is a proven formula available that promises an end to our senseless shootings and tragic deaths.

Paul Smith, who I went “all in” with when he engineered a brilliant transformation as the principal at The Howard School, is today the Public Safety Coordinator for the city of Chattanooga. His hiring was a masterstroke by Mayor Andy Berke and Paul has just shared the formula that will stop the madness. He sent me a copy of an essay that appeared on the HuffPost website just one day after Deontrey Suthers died from a bullet shot from outside his house.

David Kennedy, a renowned criminal justice professor and co-chair of the National Network for Safe Communities, believes that places like the 1500 block of East 50th Street where Deontrey was killed, or Central Avenue where two other Chattanoogans were shot around the same time, aren’t necessarily bad areas. Good people live in those areas, just as the overwhelming numbers of those who live in our inner city are decent and law-abiding citizens.

No, our new focus isn’t on neighborhoods like Alton Park or East Chattanooga but instead on “hot” places” and “hot” people. In an article entitled, “The Story Behind the Nation’s Falling Body Count,” Kennedy writes, “Research on hot spots shows violence to be concentrated in ‘micro’ places, rather than ‘dangerous neighborhoods,’ as the popular idea goes. Blocks, corners, and buildings representing just five or six percent of an entire city will drive half of its serious crime.”

The same is true about people. “We now know that homicide and gun violence are overwhelmingly concentrated among serious offenders operating in groups: gangs, drug crews, and the like representing under half of one percent of a city's population who commit half to three-quarters of all murders.”

Read it once more: “ … under half of one percent … commit half to three-quarters of all murders.”

It is vitally important for us to realize the recent “worst of the worst” roundup had very little to do with race, yet to the uninformed it clearly appeared that only blacks were targeted. Try to forget that all were black and focus instead on the far greater fact – there is ample evidence that each is alleged to be a serious criminal.

Kennedy writes, “We also know some reliable predictors of risk: individuals who have a history of violence or a close connection with prior victims are far more likely to be involved in violence themselves. Hot groups and people are so hot that when their offending is statistically abstracted, their neighborhoods cease to be dangerous. Their communities aren't dangerous; (these criminals) are.”

Once the hot spots and hot people are identified, interventions, or face-to-face meetings, take place is a positive way. Law enforcement and social-service officials identify “group members with extensive criminal histories and engage them in meetings – ‘call-ins’ -- to demand an end to violence, explain the legal risks they face, and offer them help,” according to Kennedy.

“In New York City, NYPD has launched Operation Crew Cut, aimed at street crews and their dynamics. Closely monitoring crews, focusing enforcement on the most violent, and intervening when violence is imminent appears to have cut youth homicide in the city by half while resulting in only 400 or so arrests -- at the same time that, at year's end, the city's controversial street stops were down a full 80 percent.”

“A gun-offender call-in initiative pioneered in Chicago over ten years ago by now-Yale Law School Professor Tracey Meares has shown remarkable impact and is being replicated in five sites across New York State, and expanded to juveniles in New York City. High Point, North Carolina has even extended the approach to the most dangerous domestic violence offenders, with very promising early returns,” the essay read.

And the biggest payoff of all? “The (intervention) approach can transform what are often broken relationships between police and historically troubled, oppressed, and deeply angry minority communities. By making it clear that law enforcement can tell the difference between the very few even potentially violent and everybody else, and leading with intervention rather than arrest and incarceration, law enforcement wins the trust of communities and strengthens their ability to act on their own behalf and police themselves.”

Bingo! The approach is phenomenal and Kennedy cites case after case where cities have prospered and crime has dramatically decreased. “Community actors -- elders on the block, pastors, the moral voices that remain strong and authentic in the most troubled of neighborhoods -- help make the Chicago-style ‘custom notifications’ and say to young men and their mothers, we care about you, we need you alive and out of prison, the violence has to stop. These and similar efforts are not about ‘community relations.’ They are concrete, pragmatic working partnerships between police and communities.”

Intervention, proving the police really want to help, leads to “police legitimacy” – proof that the officers are there out of respect for the people and every neighborhood’s best interest. “We now know that where legitimacy goes up, crime goes down: if police are seen as allies, rather than an occupying army, and street offenders hear ‘put your guns down’ rather than ‘stop snitching,’ the spiral of decline we have been used to for so long becomes a virtuous cycle,” Kennedy wrote.

The author states that soon after Garry McCarthy was hired as the Police Superintendent in Chicago, the man stood and said:  "I understand the historical divide between police and communities of color. The most visible arm of government is a police force, and the institutionalized governmental programs that promoted racist policies that were enforced by police departments in this country are part of the African American history in this country.”

McCarthy then added, “We have to recognize it because recognition is the first step towards finding a cure towards what is ailing us. Over the years we've actually done a lot of things wrong and I'm willing to admit that. A lot of police executives are defensive. We've done a lot wrong."

Kennedy’s article named dozens of cities … Philadelphia, Detroit, Denver … as well as the entire state of Connecticut where law-enforcement experts believe progressive efforts will work. He even named Chattanooga, with smaller cities like Peoria and South Bend, where leaders are “taking on squarely the core public safety issue for American cities, and in many ways for the American democratic experiment: how to police both effectively and with legitimacy, and how to protect communities without sending whole generations of young men to prison.”

“Homicide may be down nationally,” Kennedy noted, “but until we reach the corners of America that still suffer from daily violence, and where getting stopped, arrested, and locked up are a normal part of a young man's life, we are doing them an injustice. The efforts of these cities, using these methods, represent a major advance -- a workable way forward.

“They foster a focus on preventing violence and incarceration among the people most likely to be touched by both; help police do their jobs in a way that does not harm, and in fact strengthens, the communities they serve; and support communities in reclaiming their voice about the way they want to live.”

* * *

Every one of us needs to embrace our police force and the new High Point Initiative. We need for our black community, and our Hispanic community, and our white community to no longer live with the very real fear another eighth grader like Deontrey Suthers may be shot and killed by an anonymous bullet in the middle of the night.

The bullets must stop. Together we can make that happen. We must make it happen.

royexum@aol.com


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