The 28 people shot in Detroit neighborhoods over a weekend in August revealed more than a murderous rampage. The escalating violence is sobering evidence of a city under siege.
The conventional wisdom is that the lack of jobs has spawned poverty and, by extension, a crime wave. This is, of course, absurd. If it were true, there would have been more crime in Detroit’s past, when more people were poorer and had less opportunity.
A closer examination painfully reveals that the greatest menace to society is a growing pool of uneducated, chronically jobless, fatherless young men.
There is a correlation between high rates of unemployment and the large percentage of males with criminal records. Inner-city youth with felony convictions have an automatic barrier to employment. They may have intermittent employment in menial jobs, but aren’t the first choice of employers. Those with clean records often suffer by association. With little education and minimal marketable skills, they probably aren’t actively looking for work. Job creators tend to look past cities that don’t have an educated workforce.
The most consequential social malfunction of our time is the increase in single parents. Eight out of every 10 children go to bed every night in a home where their father does not live. The typical black male prison inmate grew up in a female-headed home. More than 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions grew up in single-parent situations without an authority figure, without discipline and without moral bearings.
Neighborhoods composed mainly of single mother/absent-father families invariably are chaotic, crime-ridden and controlled by a predatory sub-community of youth capable of committing the worst crimes imaginable without a twinge of conscience.
These predators aren’t “bad seeds” born with evil intent and perverse values. Almost from birth they are exposed to adults who engage in all sorts of illegal activities in the underground economy. Handicapped for life, they are prone to reckless behavior learned from parents that have no concept of responsibility and morality, and who can’t teach their children the difference between right and wrong.
A jail stint is part of a spiraling ritual and a badge of honor that expands across generations. Too many Detroit families are caught in a cycle with at least one close relative who has been incarcerated.
The best way to reduce crime is to identify, prosecute, and imprison violators. However, there is less and less sentiment among policymakers to lock offenders away for long periods. In fact, Michigan prisons and local jails are being emptied because of budget cuts. But did anyone take into consideration that the cost of releasing predators back to the streets might exact a far greater cost on society?
Communities should be the first line of defense and the most effective source of information about criminal activity and apprehension. But criminals are bred in neighborhoods that tolerate them, not neighborhoods that want to give them up.
In the past, the family, schools, churches, and community organizations were relied on to mold children into good citizens. However, the pillars of society that formed basic institutions in the old Detroit have long ago moved to safe locations outside the city.
Hiring more cops and strategically deploying them may help reduce the catastrophic effects of murder and mayhem at the margins. But cops are powerless to police parental indifference and deficiencies in parental supervision.
Is the answer to widespread violence outside the criminal justice system? It appears that way. What we know is that unchecked violence conveys the message that neighborhood structures are weak and citizens are fair game. And despite comforting words from police officials that all is well, it’s become clear that law enforcement can’t bring criminals to justice — or justice to a growing list of victims.