Detroit Police Chief James Craig swaggered into town boldly declaring that the carjackings, street crimes and home invasions were a thing of the past. Young brutal barbarians were put on notice that their reign was over. The message was clear and unapologetic: thugs will be aprehended, prosecuted and incarcerated.
The self-portrait he painted of a by-the-book disciplinarian and consummate professional heightened public expectations. But Chief Craig has since discovered that his tough talk isn’t reaching the ears of the predators.
Everyday, criminals reinforce the public demand for better police protection against seemingly unabated murders, robberies, aggravated assaults and rapes. There’s no letup in the suffering of victims, in fear, in lost economic vitality and in precious human resources.
The chief, however, isn’t entirely at fault. He may have underestimated the resolve of ruthless and reckless young men who comprise a criminal confederacy that has overwhelmed the city since the mid-1970s. But then, no credible, successful and constructive crime-fighting effort is likely to be waged in the present social climate.
Much of the plight of some Detroit youth can be attributed to their intimidating behavior. They are signifiantly more likely than any other group to be murderers, murdered, unemployed, poor, uneducated or imprisoned. This potent and dangerous criminal element engages in reprehensible behavior that disqualifies them for a long, productive life.
Irrefutable evidence of their ruinous potential is found in the number of youths caught up in the plague of random and drug-related murders. Almost all are black. Many observers attach little significant to that fact. But if young white men were terrorizing neighborhoods and slaughtering each other at the current rate, city leaders would have examined the basis of their turmoil by now.
It’s generally accepted that the poor state of public education helps steer many youth down the path to unacceptable behavior. Low expectations from education and community leaders means hundreds of students aren’t challenged early on when their interest in school is most likely to be decided.
Failure in school guarantees they will have a “skills gap” when they try to enter the workforce. Fading job prospects are closely followed by a lowered self-image and feelings of betrayal. Resentment turns into rebellion, heightened by the fact that society connects men and the evaluation of their worth to their ability to get a job and earn a living. It doesn’t take them long to discover that street hustling pays a lot better than the jobs they qualify for.
Whether by ignorance or indifference, the dimishing role and presence of responsible males in the community is another contributor to the carnage. Neighborhhoods, for example, teem with absent fathers unsuited for marriage and incapable of providing for their children – emotionally or monetarily. With no real sense of sexual responsibility or psychologal preparation for parenthood, they unwittingly engage in a ritual that continually breed and sustains the culture of violence.
Is Chief Craig the new breed cop he portrays himself to be, or another in a string of police exeuctives who fails to understand the root cause of the crime problem and, therefore, is incapable of forging an effecive crime-prevention strategy? Is his get-tough initiatives justifably catching heat for being too long on rhetoric and short on substance? Is he smart enough to factor in the social dynamic?
This much we know: First, the chief doesn’t have enough manpower to realistically make a difference anytime soon. Secondly, public confidence in the police department, essential to effective law enforcement, is waning.
Thus, the chief must be mindful that when his big talk falls short of his obligation to protect citizens from crime he forfeits any legitimate claim to the allegiance of the people.
So it might be a good idea to minimize the tough talk, take a closer look at the deteriorating social conditions and then craft valid anti-violence measures that Detroiters can live with.