VATZ: The Only Prospect For Alleviating Large Cities’ Culture Of Violence

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Richard Vatz Contributor
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On Sep. 15, 2020 The Baltimore Sun had as its headline of the newspaper’s only editorial that day, “Baltimore’s plague of gun violence continues.”

If I hadn’t given you, dear reader, the precise date, would you have had even a clue as to when or where that headline was written?

Violence is ubiquitous and increasing in the United States:  mass murders, random murders, rape, aggravated assault police targeted violence, violence intimidating entire neighborhoods, bullying in and out of schools (strategically misnamed from “assault and battery”), and all the fear engendered from all the violence, fear which understandably inhibits people from living their day-to-day lives without stultifying terror.  Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Austin, Los Angeles, Portland…need I go on?

Much of the media reaction is stunted and peculiarly limited to reports of the existence and effects of American violence, not the causes, as well as analyses only of some of those who can possibly stop it after the fact: beleaguered police, not parents, teachers, clergy and others who are most often missing from media reportage.

Most media, even conservative media, will, if they mention the need for two-parent families, will not even discuss strong incentives and disincentives, financial and psychological,  to ensure it.

In fact, you could listen to media discussions for hours, as I have, and hear seemingly endless attribution of causes found in the perpetrators (criminal element, felonious inclinations, mental illness) and sociological causes (peer group, neighborhood surroundings, poverty, gun availability, etc.). You likely will not hear a mention of the familial causes of violence, those influences located wherein most of their youth time is spent, including most prominently fatherless and single-parent homes. The silence on the operant serious general causes is deafening.

This has been the case for decades, but it is worse now, as almost no one will try something new that could seriously attenuate the exigencies of the war zone that is now major American cities.

For the multifarious solutions that are suggested concentrating on jurisprudence and prevention, Baltimore City has taken a minor step toward action.

Baltimore finally again has a state’s attorney who gets the need for serious gun prosecution and tougher sentences. More significant by far, he is aware of the considerable effect of broken families on Baltimore youth and the rest of the population(Full disclosure: he spoke to my class several months ago.)

As States Attorney Ivan Bates has said, “I think when progressive prosecutors go out and say what we’re not going to do, that sends a message to the community that they’re not going to prosecute. You hold violent repeat offenders accountable, but also low-level individuals — misdemeanor handguns, simple possessions. I’m not here to throw you away, but you will go to jail.”

Thus, in one city we shall see a serious movement toward meaningful and consistent punishment.

How about strategies for changing the criminal element, without which there are replacements available to perpetuate the violence culture?

Children in families with no fathers around are more likely to gravitate toward gangs, and they often lack role models and encouragement for education and serious employment prospects.   The effects of a father in socializing children, especially but not exclusively boys, is constant and far-reaching: problems at school including bullying, interacting with the opposite sex, choosing friends, managing illness and the general value infusion of honesty, fairness, responsibility and time-management, loving siblings and others, and just the second parent’s being there and being available can mean a world of difference.

Unless and until large cities’ leaders and sociologically effective opinion-makers like teachers, parents and clergy start stigmatizing single-parent and fatherless homes and political leaders stop subsidizing them via government funding, the widespread violent ethos fueled by the always available up-and-coming perpetrators can easily replace the small number of those currently jailed or imprisoned.

The 72-80% of single parent, fatherless families in large cities are breeding grounds for gang parentage, gang culture and the culture of violence that envelopes cities and increasingly, all of America.

Fatherless families – no, again not all of them – have children with no employment prospects and no perceived future outside of criminality.  Moreover, they lead the way toward ready-made perpetrators and victims of violence and threats, the cause of childhood terrorizing that leaves scars for life.

Ten years of stigmatizing single-parent and fatherless homes could make these crime-ridden locales livable again and places in which families could flourish.

Back in 1965 25% of families were single-parent…in ten years that too-high level could be beaten.

The journal Marriage and Family Review (2003) argues that absence of fathers rather than poverty predicts violence; this doesn’t mean poverty is not problematic, but it highlights the relative destructiveness of single-parent homes.

 A two-parent home does not eliminate all differences, but it invariably makes a difference, a considerable difference.

Are there not leaders who have the guts to promote two-parent families and incentivize them and disincentivize fatherlessness?  Can the counterparts to Lori Lightfoot be defeated across the country?

 In one decade the horrible violent culture of our major cities could be reduced — significantly reduced. It takes political guts.

Richard E. Vatz, retired, was professor of political communication at Towson University for almost a half-century and was political editor of USA Today Magazine 1985- 2022; he is author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model” and has written and spoken often on fatherlessness.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.