One of the reasons I quit going to community meetings almost a decade ago was that I simply got tired of hearing people complain about the young people in our neighborhood who live outside the law — that small percent of troublemakers that cause many law-abiding residents to lose sleep night after night. I truly do empathize with these citizens and their plight.
Now that Ward 7 is again moving forward, I feel obliged to once again do my part and attend these meetings, but the laments have not changed one iota over the last decade. In spite of the best efforts of law enforcement, the crime rate has remained relatively constant in Cleveland, as well as in Ward 7. Nonetheless, people are continuing to look for quick, easy answers — but there are none to be had.
Close to a quarter century ago I got out of federal prison in the same year my book From Behind the Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass came out. In it I detailed what I felt the problem(s) of inner-city communities were, and put forth what I thought were reasonable and sane solutions. Unfortunately, since I was just coming out of prison some people obviously thought that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But I did then and I do now.
I recall that when I first wrote publishing houses in an attempt to get someone interested in publishing my book, my query letter started off by stating: “America is vitally concerned with crime. I’m an expert on crime — I’m a criminal.” And while I no longer am a criminal, I’m still am an expert on crime.
We in the black community are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand we don’t want our young men to be victimized by a racist, inordinately brutal and rigged criminal justice system. But on the other hand we want to feel safe in our homes and persons. For my part I’d rather err on the side of safety, which means that — in the short term — we have to lock away more and more dangerous individuals, and oftentimes it’s for their own good. I often ask mothers that seek my advice and assistance in dealing with the justice system their sons (and, increasingly, daughters) have gotten caught up in, “Which would you rather do, visit them in prison or in the graveyard?”
Let’s face facts — some of our young men are too far gone, too heavily involved in criminal activity to cease and desist absent a period of incarceration. This perhaps is the only way they’re going to live long enough to grow out of their gangster behavior.
But our focus really should not be on them, but on preteens. These are the children that can be diverted from lives of crime with intense mentoring and other wraparound services. And those services, in virtually all cases, mean removing the child from the home, or more importantly, the community. I know that sounds draconian, but if a boy is exhibiting antisocial behavior around the time they enter junior high school, it’s almost a sure bet the caregiver isn’t equipped with the skills to regain control, indeed if they ever had control in the first place.
In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. predicted that whites would balk at the notion of instituting programs that uplift the black community if they prove costly, and he was right. The fact is, due to institutionalized racism America would rather house young black 19-year-olds at $26,000 per year than prevent 11- and 12-year-olds from starting down the path towards lives of crime for $20,000 a year at a state-sponsored training academy.
What we in the black community must do is to frame solutions to the problems of crime we live with that actually can and will work and then strongly advocate for them to be implemented. But these are solutions that take time to implement.
This means advocating for the establishment of charter boarding schools run by a combination of qualified teachers and members of the community, schools that surround our about-to-be-wayward youth with compassion, caring, and strict mentorship. In other words, the same holistic environment every other successful adult is enmeshed in during their formative years.
The only other solution is to continue to try to police our way out of the problem — and we see where that has gotten us so far. The solutions I write about are not new. I wrote about them close to 25 years ago, but they were ignored then just as they are being ignored now. Anyone who wants a copy of my book, I still have some around, free of charge. Maybe society is more willing to listen now than it was back then.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.