Democrat - Joe Biden

How U.S. Cities Can Get Rid of Violent Crime

By Robert L. Woodson Sr.,
from The Wall Street Journal,

I was born in segregated Philadelphia in 1937. When I was growing up amid ruthless discrimination, the young and elderly could still walk the streets safely without fear of being attacked. We were denied civil rights that we later fought to be rightfully given to us. But we also enjoyed a relative standard of safety. From Emancipation on, peaceful black cities were the norm, not the exception, in America. Yes, there were places where black prosperity provoked envy: In Oklahoma in 1921, a white mob set fire to the Black Wall Street area in the Greenwood district of Tulsa. But peaceful black cities existed across the country, including in Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Illinois and Mississippi. My hometown of long ago was a completely different place from the Philadelphia of the post-civil-rights era. It became plagued by crime, poverty and feuding gangs. By the early 1990s, such cities as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were each reporting between 900 and 2,200 homicides a year and homicide rates that exceeded 30 per 100,000 residents. People who could afford to flee to the suburbs vanished, taking tax revenue with them. Explanations for the rapid urban deterioration abounded, with progressives pointing the finger at poverty and racism, and conservatives blaming individual and community moral failings. There is plenty of blame to go around. Liberals have a point that white flight and the choice to put interstate highways through black economic centers in some cities played a huge role. And conservatives are correct that welfare policies that discouraged women from marrying the fathers of their children and so-called urban renewal projects that used eminent domain to raze black-owned homes and replace them with public housing proved an incubator for violent crime. Whatever caused homicide and violent crime to surge, the legal victories of the civil-rights movement clearly were no panacea. But something interesting happened toward the end of the 1990s and in the following decades. Crime rates began to go down.

There is another, more powerful explanation: The crime wave activated community “antibodies,” local leaders and the neighborhood organizations they formed to address these problems. In the paper “Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime” (2017), Patrick Sharkey, Gerard Torrats-Espinosa and Delaram Takyara write that such local efforts are largely “overlooked in the theoretical and empirical literature on the crime decline.” “Drawing on a panel of 264 cities spanning more than 20 years,” they wrote, “we estimate that every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate.”

Unfortunately, crime is rising again in some American cities. The Woodson Center has responded with the Voices of Black Mothers initiative, deploying mothers of homicide victims to form partnerships with police and heal neighborhoods from within. In time, we’re hopeful that these communities will go the way of Benning Terrace and Omaha. To rebuild our urban centers, we must first restore peace. We’ve done it before and must do so again.

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