Ending the “War on Drugs” and unemployment are the keys to stopping the violence in Black communities throughout the country, speakers said at the “Reducing Youth Violence; Models for Success” symposium.
Psychiatrists, social workers, artists, ex-gang members, physicians and researchers from across the country brought their expertise to the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild recently to share their experiences about what works in the struggle to reduce youth violence.
It is fitting they came to Manchester, said Manchester Bidwell Corp. CEO Bill Strickland in his welcoming remarks, because in his experience the center itself is one of the things that works.
“This is our vision of what a school looks like, and we built it to change the way people see themselves,” he said. “In 28 years, we’ve had no police calls, no drugs, no violence. What I discovered is if you build a world-class environment, you get world-class people. You build prisons, you get prisoners.”
After thanking the sponsors and partners that made the June 16-17 symposium possible, Dr. Howard Foster introduced the panelists and the symposium’s opening presenter Ralph Bangs, associate director of the Center for Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh.
Bangs address, an “Overview of Violence in Pittsburgh and Projects to Reduce it,” summarized data on the city’s violent crime, victims and perpetrators, as well as the factors behind the violence.
Two of the primary drivers for the high incidence of violence, particularly homicide, which in Pittsburgh is primarily Black-on-Black crime, are lack of access to employment and a welfare policy that excludes males.
As for the unemployment, Bangs said, while there is still racial discrimination, the bulk can be attributed to low education levels, low incidence of custodial parents, and lack of work skills
“All of this leads to drug dealing—which requires guns,” said Bangs. “In addition to the homicides, we average about 500 shootings each year in Pittsburgh.”
Another causal factor Bangs noted from his research is poor environments for youth both at home—exemplified by poor parenting skills, lack of monitoring and cognitive stimulation, harsh and inconsistent discipline, and at school—where ineffective responses to these and their manifested language and learning problems lead to “kids on the street with no skills and bad attitudes.”
Bangs recommended sweeping changes in social, educational and criminal justice areas to address what he said is a systemic problem. One such change would be to include middle-class students in educational programs so children with poor study and social skills actually have peers from whom they can learn those skills—change the peer response. He also recommended more community-wide social and educational intervention for parents to improve their skills.
“The Homewood Children’s Village, based on the successful Harlem program is a hopeful sign,” he said. “But there are limits to community schooling—because it requires a healthy community.”
Bangs also noted the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program as a positive sign that appears to be working, but said its scope should be expanded to reach disadvantaged youth.
Bangs biggest recommendation, echoed by several panelists, was to end the “War on Drugs,” which has poured billions down the drain and achieved nothing. Taking the criminal, monetary incentive of the illegal drug trade away would eliminate nearly all community violence, and the destruction of families via incarceration.
“We need more treatment and less jail,” he said. “Stop decimating Black families in urban areas.”
Finally, Bangs said the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime has to be made to work. The program is designed to stop homicides. Just two days earlier a report he had done for the city was leaked to a reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bangs would not discuss the report, as it is proprietary, but he did say the portions highlighted in the press were accurate.
As reported, the draft report said the city deviated from the model and PIRC is flawed in both design and execution. Its narrow focus on “gangs” misses other violent groups, among them, parolees.
The police response—which is supposed to round up everyone in a group associated with the person suspected of a killing has been, the report said, too broad, and indistinguishable from standard “saturation raids.”
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