The pandemic is now officially over. Thankfully most Americans survived, although we shall always miss those who were taken from us. However, one part of American society is still reeling from the pandemic’s effects – small business, especially small minority owned businesses. Those that weren’t forced to shut their doors as a result of financial devastation are suffering from the double whammy of rising crime and sluggish recovery. Yet local governments seem indifferent to their plight. If governments don’t open their eyes, we could see more and more business shut down – particularly in black and other minority communities where the businesses are desperately needed.
Small businesses cannot recover from the pandemic if local leaders remain callous to their plight. Many city officials are hamstringing the peacekeeping efforts of police, while proactive crime prevention efforts are cast aside, allowing violent crime rates to surge. Small businesses suffer, as increasingly brazen criminals take advantage of crises and police absenteeism. We’ve seen this time and time again in Ferguson, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and just last week at a 7-Eleven in Stockton, where two employees defended their store and are now facing criminal charges for doing so.
Recall how many local officials told law enforcement to stand down and not use force, allowing anarchy to reign against private businesses during the George Floyd riots of summer 2020. That wasn’t reassuring to small business owners and their employees fearful of losing their livelihoods. (RELATED: BROOKE ROLLINS: Never Forget What The Left Is Capable Of)
Small businesses comprise 44% of the U.S. economy and have generated 12.9 million jobs over the past twenty-five years, serving as the backbone of the U.S. jobs market. Yet, concerns over small businesses being vandalized, looted or even demolished are often mislabeled as “fearmongering.” These concerns are generally dismissed by officials with the assertion that new businesses will simply rise from the ashes of the old. “It’s all covered by insurance” was the dismissive response that many city leaders took after the 2020 riots. As a result, we have seen insurance rates rise sharply, leaving a number of businesses uninsurable in vulnerable communities lacking crime control safeguards. A recent survey revealed that 90 percent of small businesses polled were not confident in the adequacy of their insured status, while about a third (29 percent) had no insurance plan. When faced with potential risks, like robbery or arson, 51 percent admitted that they were less than “very prepared” to protect their property.
Many of those permanently affected include small “mom and pop” shops that will never be able to recover or reopen, regardless of how much government relief aid is pumped into local communities. The damage from crime and lockdowns was too much for many businesses to bear.
For those that have survived, the rising crime wave creates new dangers, especially in the underserved areas that need local businesses the most. Residents and businesses have begun to flee neighborhoods like this, leaving behind urban vacancies for criminals to fill. This lack of legitimate opportunity encourages more serious criminal activity, as informal barriers of social control dissipate.
Regrettably, we have seen this before. In the 1990s, police forces and social scientists found that proactive policing measures that employ a “broken windows” approach counteracted this trend. These approaches concentrated resources on crimes of disorder such as breaking windows, committing random arsons and jumping ticket barriers. (RELATED: STONE A. WASHINGTON: Don’t Stop At College — End Race-Based Admissions In Public Schools)
A 2015 study confirmed the success of policing strategies that actively surveyed and protected neighborhoods vulnerable to serious crime. These methods had a statistically significant-to-modest impact on reducing crime in every category. A “problem-oriented” focus, where officers prioritize the underlying problems in a community that most likely lead to criminal behavior, produces results.
Researchers at the Manhattan Institute and elsewhere have called for New York mayor Eric Adams to restore the broken windows approach that once made the Big Apple among the safest cities in America.
In order to protect small businesses, local governments must acknowledge the harm caused in the first place. Policies should safeguard businesses from damage first and foremost.
The callous disregard to what small businesses suffered will reverberate for many years to come. Big city officials can make amends by acknowledging the essential role that small businesses play in job production and civil society. They must also withdraw any lingering lock-down inspired barriers that continue to restrict business activity.
While cash relief for recovery is helpful, local governments must learn from their careless mistakes. They can do so by permitting police to do their job to protect communities, while enabling small businesses to flourish in a manner free from government-imposed restraints.
Stone Washington is a member of Project 21 Black Leadership Network.
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