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Take action against violence

Monday, February 18, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:18 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I was disappointed, but not surprised, at Missouri’s distinction of leading the nation in black-on-black crime. I lived in Kansas City during the beginning days of school desegregation, and I realized early on that its decades of de facto segregation were going to lead to years of racial problems of one kind or another. The same is probably true of St. Louis.

Some people have a difficult time understanding the effects that 50-odd years of so-called “separate-but-equal” status can have on a community. Many insist that’s all in the past and it’s time to get over it and move on. Fortunately, most people have gotten over it and moved on. It’s those who have not who perpetuate the problem.

I am, personally, an anti-war person who detests violence of all kinds. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t believe that guns solve problems, and I really think that the availability of these weapons creates more criminals than it restrains. And frankly, I don’t think our criminal justice system does an acceptable job of keeping villains off the street.

A few weeks before I learned this distressing news about Missouri’s position in this disreputable category, a good friend and well-meaning community activist wrote to invite me to join a committee called the Restorative Justice Task Force. Obviously, this committee is about good work in an effort to deal with the effects of crime and violence on society. And while I appreciate the sincerity of my friend and those who work with her, I declined the invitation.

I’ve been a champion of lost causes most of my life. But in reflection several years ago, I realized that I took on all these causes with the intent to work myself out of a job. That didn’t happen, and the reason it didn’t happen was because along with the activities of those trying to solve the problem, there was not a companion preventative process in progress to educate those who were in danger of becoming future victims.

I’m happy to say that I have learned from my experiences. I have no doubt in my mind that restorative justice is a worthwhile project, but until some genuine educational efforts are made to effect change in dysfunctional families, until communities focus on creating parenting programs and standards of behavior are established and maintained, as fast as justice is restored in one case, hundreds of cases will be erupting at the same time.

Sure, there are many things we can blame for the violence that exists in our society. But the truth is, we have not been good stewards, either of the earth or its inhabitants. Just as we have spoiled and wasted our natural resources, we have failed as caretakers of children, the sick and older people.

As a country, in some ways our wealth and privilege have served us honorably in our generosity and kindness to others. But in other ways they have served us poorly in our many addictions to vices that render us unworthy of our blessings.

According to statistics, our Missouri prisons are home to almost 30,000 individuals. Every year, millions of tax dollars are spent to feed and house these people. Applying bandages here and there does little to put an end to the problem.

As far as the issue of black-on-black crime is concerned, until I am proved wrong, I will persist in believing that the genesis of that problem was the closing of black neighborhood schools during desegregation. Community standards were taught and enforced in those schools and were a vital part of the students’ education. Parental participation was easy because the parents lived in the neighborhood. Desegregation could have been accomplished by other means, but that is an argument that will probably go on for many years to come.

As far as guns are concerned, some people are determined to own them, and the law is on their side. I imagine that violence will continue to grow because in almost every family, every school, every neighborhood and every community, there are always going to be people who refuse to obey the rules. As a society, we have not learned to devise an effective system to deal with these individuals, and it should be among our most pressing concerns.

One benefit of hard times is that they force us to focus on the important things. Maybe we can come to realize that we do not have to continue to live with violence. We can use our talents and skills to create solutions that change potential criminals into productive citizens, whereby we spare ourselves pain and suffering, as well as protect the funds of the tax-paying public. As it is, some jailed prisoners receive better free health care services than our next-door neighbors.

Our national crime statistics are demoralizing and disgraceful. As Missourians, we need to do better. After all, we are the Show-Me State. Since when are we willing to provide a bunch of sick, depraved, illiterate fiends a safe place to operate?

We are a nation of laws, so let’s use them to free ourselves of this dangerous trend. The time to take action is now.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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Comments

Mark Foecking February 19, 2008 | 9:11 a.m.

Communities need to work with their police forces, not against them. And police need to be in the neighborhoods in a non-threatening, friendly fashion. Too often, police are regarded as much as the enemy as criminals are, and police only show up when something bad happens. A true community approach to police work would help solve a lot of the problems you mention.

DK

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