Don't Shoot

{Dwayne Betts}


I didn't introduce myself before my first post. I'm R Dwayne Betts. The R is for Reginald - I was named after my daddy. I write poetry mostly - but I wrote a memoir too (shameless plug - it comes out August 6th. Okay, I won't mention it again.) My thing here will probably be sports, some juvenile justice issues, and some random stuff from the news. I'll try to keep it interesting. I love that folks challenge each other's ideas here. Challenge mine, please.

Every once in a while you read an article in a magazine about someone approaching an old topic with a fresh eye. In the June 22nd issue of the New Yorker, Seabrook tells the story of an interesting approach to curbing gang violence. "Gang violence." Before I could really say what I want to say about Seabrook's article, I can't help but to mention the way phrases like "gang violence" and "at risk youth" get at me in the wrong kind of way. I can't help but to read the phrases as society's euphemism for young black folks. But, even approaching the article feeling that way - feeling like no matter what it would be, it would be a thinly veiled finger pointing party where young black males get to be card board cut out villains with less depth Wesley Snipes in the I'm Bad video (you remember that?). Every once in a while though I get taken aback. 

In this article, Seabrook gives it up on a program that, on the surface, sounds outright revolutionary in its simplicity.

So what is Seabrook talking about? Without rehashing everything that's in the article (an abstract can be found here) I'll say that Seabrook breaks down a program developed by David Kennedy that boils down to this: you reduce gang violence by telling the gang members to stop the violence.


Maybe that's too simple. What Kennedy argues is that violence can be reduced by bringing the major and minor players in a room together, telling them to stop, offering them resources to help them change their lives if they want - and, and this is the hook, ultimately promising to hold everyone in a gang responsible if violence continues. 

While the strategy is interesting, it really isn't new. It's an amped version of scared straight - yet Kennedy claims it has been shown to work in Cincinnati and a few other places. I think it works because it starts from the belief that there is no inherent criminal proclivity amongst the gang members and it develops a plan based on that belief. The piece also argues that both the tough on crime and the social program approach to reducing crime doesn't work.

It seems like Kennedy is just going back to old fashioned accountability. He could be Bill Cosby or any one of a hundred old heads I know in a room telling me to get my stuff together.  And while I agree with him on a lot of fronts - the thing I wanted to present here is how often the strategies really do act as if crime in inner cities isn't, as much as anything else, a result of inadequate education, a lack of programs and a lack of the basic things folks with good sense and resources give their children and communities as a rule. Kennedy might be saying that tough on crime and the social programs doesn't work, but what he's really saying is that those programs weren't adequately put in place. Even when his program fails - he recognizes that the people did the wrong things at key moments. It's disturbing to see how people get paid to make programs more complicated or simple than they are - the truth is that everyone runs the pick and roll, but there is just one Stockton and Malone. You'd be crazy to argue that the pick and roll doesn't work. The real question is how to develop something that will work to slow crime, to create different environments even when it's not the best and the brightest at work. Or how to acknowledge that without a cadre of extra talented folks certain things just can't change (see the history of the LA Clippers or Chicago Cubs). 

If you read the article, you'll see that this cat Garcia, who was working with Kennedy was fired because he had issues with the failure of the resource part of the rhetoric they hit the gang members with. If I'm right, he's predicting how this program can't work if it can't transition folks from gangs to productive society membership. Kennedy says that ain't his job - and I get that, but how can he succeed if the gang members have no life to move towards? I admit it's a complicated issue, and I haven't worked out the sense of it in this blog - but if anyone has read that article, or has just read what I've written, I wonder what you think about Kennedy's approach - and if you think it's a system changer - or just a way to control crime a little better.
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