It was not reassuring to hear Deputy Mayor Saul Green say “we’re making progress” on the same day Detroit Police Chief Ralph L. Godbee announced the number of murders and gunshot victims had increased this year compared to 2010. But Green’s dismissive statement may be as good as it gets. City government doesn’t have the capacity or competence to address the root causes of violence.
The good news is that rape, robbery and aggravated assault showed double digit declines comparing year-to-date figures. These stats, though, only reflect “reported” offenses, not the hundreds of crimes that go “unreported.” Either way, there’s not a lot to celebrate in the face of double digit increases in the most violent crimes – murders and shootings carried out by people with ultra-bad intentions.
The public policy to contain the violence that has gripped Detroit for the past half-century or more has primarily been a crime control ideology. Addressing the root causes requires a deeper understanding of why crimes occur.
The culture of violence is only partially related to depleted police ranks. With more cops, law enforcement could deter crime in the short term through better deployment and by locking up more criminals. But Mayor Dave Bing contends he can’t afford to hire more than the 3,000 officers on the job today. The state of Michigan is also in the throes of closing prisons to save money. Local jails must adhere to court-ordered edicts governing overcrowding.
There too is a relationship between violence and the almost omnipresent drug culture, which is connected in multiple ways to 80-percent of all crime.
Drugs are a wealth-generating enterprise that causes the best families to lose the battle for the future of their children. Recruits to the trade are lured into a lifestyle that takes them down the path to addiction, if not an abbreviated life. Boys and girls caught in the indiscriminate crossfire in turf wars over transactions “gone bad” are considered collateral damage.
The lack of connection between crime and punishment breeds contempt and disrespect for the law. Drug busts mean nothing when those arrested for possession and sales are recycled back to the neighborhood with their pipe dreams and appetites more pronounced. And since the chances of rehabilitating a $10,000 a week Uzi-toting drug merchant of death are remote, putting more cops on the streets only temporarily chokes off drug markets or drug-driven crimes.
A bolder, aggressive policy to suppress violent crime might usher in a police-state mentality that tramples on civil liberties. Deployment of the National Guard might help. There’s little support for either of these ideas. Plus, the city is already under a federally supervised consent degree for past violations of citizens’ rights.
Social controls to fight back violence are laughable. Community groups are disconnected from the criminal element. With the large number of churches in the city, one would think they might be helpful in quelling the brutality. But moral preaching seldom is heard beyond the pulpit. More often than not, congregations are escorted by parking lot security guards into expensive edifices and sanctuaries to prevent churchgoers from being robbed before they make their Sunday morning tithe.
Chief Godbee constantly prods citizens for help. Yet I wonder if he is aware or indifferent to the public’s need to address the social aspects of crime; moral failure, the unwillingness of parents to take personal responsibility for their children and the vanishing emphasis on marriage, family and community relationships. Violence invariably runs rampant in any city where the disappearance of fathers from family life is a form of neglect that robs children of the psychological support they need to avoid the temptations of the street.
Detroiters are at the unenviable junction of an accelerated crackdown on homegrown criminals, or major modifications to their personal behavior. It’s a choice between doing what’s necessary to make neighborhoods safe or more pain and suffering. It’s a life or death decision.