Roy Exum: We Must ‘Fail Better’

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Hardly a day had passed from the time the head of Chattanooga’s Violence Reduction Initiative was arrested on alcohol and drug charges before a 40-year-old mother was murdered in the same city. The man suspected in the killing is obviously a violent man and past police records show he would have surely benefited from such a program before using a gun to determine his future.
Richard Bennett, who was awaiting approval on a $329,000 contract with the city before finding himself in the center of a tawdry mess inside a minivan, is a sore disappointment but instead of throwing up our hands and declaring our initiative as laughable – the chagrin triggered by a numbing number of shootings since its inception – let’s be smarter than all of that.
Samuel Beckett, the late Irish poet, told us precisely what to do in a line from his book, Worstward Ho: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Quite simply, we must forge on. There will be more disappointments and more embarrassments as we “fail better” because, sadly, there is no alternative route. Some voices yell to lock ‘em all up and throw away the key but those are foolish – our jails are overcrowded and crime continues in our streets.
The first person we ought to save is Richard Bennett. If the allegations are true, it will be a good while before he can assume a position of public trust but we must recognize neither of the counts he is charged with is a felony. I have no idea of his past – that’s part of the court’s duty – but he has more recently demonstrated his ability to help deter crime in our city.
We shouldn’t let one night of stupid ruin him, or allow his behavior to sidetrack the Violence Reduction Initiative in any way. When Paul Smith, the city’s public safety coordinator, was the principal at Howard School he famously gave some “second chances” and, while Bennett will pay dearly for his embarrassment, let’s give him the same kind of chance the initiative is offering others to straighten up.
At the same time, we get a stronger grip on some of the characters who flaunt the initiative’s efforts. The suspect in Sunday morning’s murder was arrested on Nov. 13, 2013, with an illegal handgun stuffed down his pants and marijuana in his pocket. On Feb. 14 of this year he was arrested again on criminal trespass. How is it that somebody like this guy is still on the loose?
The hard part of the Violence Reduction Initiative is making sure it has sharp teeth. It’s all warm -and -fuzzy to offer another chance and have people go to a lot of trouble finding jobs and housing but it is another thing altogether when one of the worst commits further crime. We need to come down hard on the initiative’s failures in order to show its strengths.
At the same time, I believe we ought to get tougher on anyone who is caught carrying a gun without a permit. I’m a strong advocate of the right to bear arms and have a permit to prove it but I am also of the belief anyone caught carrying a gun illegally should pay heavily. Any law enforcement officer will tell you that criminals don’t have permits because they’ll get caught.
For the record, the state of Tennessee issued 192,613 handgun carry permits in 2013, this according to new figures released by the Tennessee Department of Safety. Males obtained 133,780 permits and 58,833 were acquired by women. In 2012 Tennessee issued a total of 114,031 permits, 81,677 to men and 32,354 to women.
Do you notice the increase, especially among women? But the figure you fail to see is that in just the last two years about 325,000 permits have been issued in Tennessee and each handgun, whether the dreamers want to admit it or not, represents an individual’s Violence Reduction Initiative.
People are fearful. That should not be, and that is precisely why we must strive to “fail better.”


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