U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s task force on children exposed to violence is holding a public hearing in Detroit. It’s possible that some useful ideas might emerge from his Defending Childhood initiative about the cause and consequences of youth crime.
More likely, though, Detroiters will get another dose of pre-national election hyperbole. What the city really needs is better management of the local crime-fighting apparatus, new priorities and serious changes in the police hierarchy.
The Holder task force meets against a backdrop of some of the highest crime and murder rates in the nation. The year 2012 was ushered in by a deadly combination of governmental neglect and community indifference has boosted the number of youths shot to death to a level almost unmatched in other major American cities.
None of this is new. For the past several decades, youth violence has been an unattended fact of life and death in Detroit. Teens are murdered in Detroit every day without sparking a national outrage like what occurred following the killing of Trayvon Martin. Here, almost all the victims and the victimizers are black.
Detroiters have been arming what are essentially time bombs and setting them to detonate far into the foreseeable future. These homegrown weapons of mass destruction are reckless young men whose behavior takes them out of contention for a long, productive life.
Irrefutable evidence of this potent and endangered species is found in neighborhoods that teem with fathers unsuited for marriage and incapable of providing for their children emotionally or monetarily. With no real sense of psychological preparation for parenthood, they unwittingly engage in a ritual that breeds a dead-end, generational culture of despair.
Better-educated and well-off families are too busy fleeing ghetto violence to assess or address the social pestilence. Unable to identify common values, the middle-class ceases to interact with underclass youth leaving the most at-risk alienated from positive role models, moral codes and the values of honesty, truth, fairness in interpersonal relations, respect for neighbors or human life.
The reality is that youth violence is rampant and police protection virtually nonexistent. As anarchy spreads though communities, residents have lost faith in city government to shield them from their own.
The principled legacy left to Detroiter’s, however, should not be one that accepts empty rhetoric or band-aid solutions. Nor should the law-abiding become numb with benign resignation to this explosive situation.
No ingredient is more important to dealing effectively with crushing violence than strong, intense and committed police management. It’s a matter of steady, unrelenting pressure out in the streets. It’s an issue of leadership that sets a good example through strong efforts and vigilant pursuit, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.
The need to do what is morally right and the imperative to do what is necessary to rescue the city have converged. The word must go out in a credible and sustained manner that street lawlessness is intolerable. People deserve the benefit of an unapologetic attack on criminal activity and relief from day-in, day-out reality.
Arresting moral deterioration in the city will be a protracted, formidable task. Reversing it will tax the public will and community resources to the limits. But no longer is there the luxury of time. The accelerating pace of young killers destroying families and their futures has advanced perilously close to the point that a crackdown is necessary. Respected change may have to come from new leadership at the top of the police department.
Feelings of hopelessness, misery and death are pervasive as a murderous rampage destroys much of the potential of an entire generation. Unless the number of homicides is substantially reduced the city will continue to be mocked by a youth culture that intently observes weak crime control policies and exploits their deficiencies at the expense of us all.