Do you remember those Staples commercials from a few years ago that touted the “Easy Button” as a way to fix just about any problem you might encounter around the office? Lost something? Hit the easy button. Out of ink for the printer? Hit the easy button. Have a gang violence problem? Hit the easy button?
What does an office supply store’s commercial have to do with law enforcement in America? Well, that attitude that one button can solve all your problems magically is sadly the exact attitude that most of America has about law enforcement. With one phone call, usually to 911, the cops are supposed to show up and make all of your problems go away.
And nowhere else is the idea that law enforcement can magically solve society’s problems more apparent than in the gang violence arena. Gang violence is a fact of life for many folks in America. Every large city has a ghetto, or more than one, and ghettos breed gang problems, both figuratively and sadly quite literally. Most times one generation of gang member raises their offspring to be just like them. Ask any cop who works a gang infested area and they can tell you what they see firsthand. I have had children so young they were barely able to walk, but in their minds, the cops are bad guys who want to kill them. To this day, I vividly remember a young child, maybe 3 years old, asking his mother if I was going to shoot him. “Mama, is the popo gunna shoot me?” That was 20 years ago, and I can still picture the scared to death look on that little kids face. Who the hell raises their kids like that? The answer, gangsters. Gangsters raising gangsters.
No normal person, no matter what their income level is, wants to live where they have to deal with gang violence, especially not decent, hardworking folks struggling to make ends meet, who have few options except to live in areas where gang problems persist. They call the cops when problems occur, and complain to law enforcement at community meetings about the gang problems, but besides talking about it, few are willing to step up and actually do something about it.
Safe Passage Summit
On Saturday June 3, in Columbus, Ohio, a first of its kind symposium, called the “Safe Passage Summit,” was held with the lofty goal of involving the community that is suffering from gang violence in working toward a solution. Columbus is like any other bigger city. They have nice neighborhoods, and some not so nice. Last year, they had just over 100 murders, mostly gang related, and this year is on track to beat last year’s count.
This summit was organized by Sean Stevenson, a Columbus resident and former gang member. Speakers included some of the founding members from some of the most notorious criminal street gangs in America, all cooperating and trying to work together to break the cycle that ruined many of their lives, and took the lives of many of their friends. The mayor and some city council members were in attendance. One local news station covered the event and talked about the positive aspects and the noble goals of the summit.
What the media did not talk about was the absolute lack of attendance by community members, the very people who are constantly complaining about the gang violence problems. In fact, the news story claimed that the attendance was high. Camera angles and zoom levels were carefully chosen so it appeared to be well attended, but the fact is, hardly anyone attended. They expected a crowd of 300-500, but by the scheduled start time of 1pm, there were only 29 people in attendance. They delayed the start, hoping for more people, but by 1:45, 45 minutes after the start time, there were still far more empty seats than full, and at that point, the mayor, who had planned on speaking, left before anyone had even taken the stage. By around 2:20pm, the attendee count had increased twofold, to approximately 70 people. Such a wasted opportunity!
All of those people who didn’t show up, who put no effort into trying to figure out a way to eliminate gang violence, those are the same people who complain about cops. The following are two recent incident from Columbus. These incidents, and the others like them from around the country, are the reason I say that the people complaining about us are the same people saying we need to clean up their neighborhoods.
About a year ago (June 2016), a couple of (white) undercover officers in Columbus shot and killed Henry Green, a 23 year old black man who was armed with a gun, and who fired his gun at the cops who shot him. Protests and demonstrations ensued, national news media did stories on it, Black Li(v)es Matter got involved and as usual, claimed the cops killed Green for being black. About two months ago, the courts announced no charges would be filed against the officers, because as is usually the case in officer involved shootings, the shooting was justified. As if on cue, Green’s family filed a lawsuit against the city.
A few months after Green was killed, a Columbus cop shot and killed an armed robbery suspect who was pulling a gun on them at the time of the shooting. Tyre King was a 13 year old black kid who was hanging out with a group of older kids and robbing people at gunpoint. His gun just happened to be a BB gun, but neither his victims nor the cop who shot him knew that, at least not until it was all over. The story became national news. “White male cop shoots and kills 13 year old black kid who only had a BB gun.” Protests erupted, Black Li(v)es Matter came and demonstrated. The tired mantra about racist cops was heard. As usual, the protesters completely disregarded any and all culpability that King had in his own demise. And again, as everyone who understands use of force laws expected, no charges were filed against the officer, because while tragic, as the death of any 13 year old kid is, the shooting was 100% legally and morally justified.
And therein lies the problem. Society wants the gang violence problem solved, but is unwilling to do anything about it themselves, and when the cops do anything, that very same society screams at the cops and calls them racist murderers. I think I speak for most cops when I say this is what we hear:
“Hey cops, you need to fix our gang problem , without our help or even our cooperation, and do it without ‘racially profiling’ anyone, even though the gang problem is predominantly a minority issue, and don’t you dare shoot one of them, even if they are armed, even if they shoot at you, even though criminal street gangs are the root cause of the gun murder problem in this country, because if you do dare to shoot them, it was only because you are racist, even if you are black, and you just kill random young black men for no reason… “
While I consider myself better than most at looking at a situation from all sides, I realize that I am a cop and my view on things is always from a cop’s perspective. With that in mind, I reached out to Sean Stevenson, the organizer of the summit, and asked him a few questions. As of this time, I have not yet received a response, but I hope to hear back from him. If I receive a reply, I will update this piece.
Coincidentally, I just read a blog post two days ago and while it was aimed at a different topic, it actually touches on this one as well. The blog is called “The Salty Sarge” and the specific post was titled “Policing in America: Why Good Cops Are Leaving.” It is a good read, one which I agreed on just about every point, but the comment that is pertinent to this discussion is “The only thing that has ever helped a community not suck are the people that live there.” The author follows that with:
“The only thing, in my 2 plus decades of policing, that has ever genuinely helped a community in trouble, has been ‘in your face policing’.
No he didn’t.
Yes I did. And that only solves the problem long term when the citizens in that neighborhood decide they have had enough. Or move.”
In that one section the author hit on the two halves of the solution that can reduce, possibly even eliminate the gang violence problem. Hardcore, directed policing aimed at the gang violence problem and an involved community that is working with and standing behind the cops. Without those two, no long term change will occur.
The cop’s side of this is easy. Law enforcement knows what to do, how to do it and is more than willing to do it, if we get support. If we are met with condemnation, name calling and blame shifting, then you get more of the “Ferguson Effect,” which negatively affects the communities that are worse off at a disproportionate level, thus causing more hurt to the very people who need us most.
The community side of this equation is harder. It requires involvement by the majority of the people in the community and consists of crazy things that include being involved parents, not tolerating gang activity, adults acting as good role models, mentorship for kids on the brink of trouble, employment training and opportunities, teaching work ethics and manners, community development projects and more. It all boils down to being a community that people are proud of and want to be a part of. This is something only the community can do.
There is no “easy button” that will magically fix things. It takes hard work. No one can do this for you, not the cops, not the politicians, not the participants of the Safe Passage Summit. You need to help you. Help us help you. Get involved!