J. Pharoah Doss: What gives criminals power?

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

In 2015, there was a shooting that left 11 injured and 1 person dead on a Saturday afternoon in Detroit. Detroit’s Police Chief James Craig begged the Black community to help the police catch the shooters. Chief Craig said he understood the fear of reprisal, but demanded to know if we were going to let these “urban terrorists” take over our neighborhood.

The president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Action Network chastised Chief Craig for calling the shooters “urban terrorists”. He insisted that these young people didn’t know any better.  He also said these young people were “products of poverty” and “bad education policies”, with no other options.

Detroit’s homicide rate didn’t drop the next year, but there was a small decrease in violent crime. Chief Craig attributed the progress to improved police-resident relationships. One Detroit resident said the more people get involved, the safer we all will be. What gives criminals power is when people don’t speak out.

That raises a serious question.

When the local National Action Network and other activist groups defended the youth by blaming the youth’s transgressions on “the system”, did the activist groups deter more Detroit residents from reporting violent crimes than Chief Craig was able to encourage? 

If the answer is yes, then that type of rhetoric empowers criminals and should no longer be taken seriously in public discourse.

In 2018, there were 60 people shot and 9 died over one weekend in Chicago. 

During a press conference, Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked why the police force was failing at public safety. Mayor Emanuel ignored the question to focus on a problem he admitted was “politically incorrect” to address. 

He said the community has to do better developing and nurturing character, self-respect, a value system and a moral compass that allows kids to know right from wrong.

Mayor Emanuel was accused of insensitivity. 

The CEO of the Chicago Urban League retorted, “I cannot see the victims of racist policies and bigoted practices shamed by anyone who says they need to do better or be better in their circumstances.”

The community had no interest in this conversation. There was no decrease in violent crime in Chicago, but there was an increased effort to get rid of the mayor.

At the mid-point of 2019, there were 143 homicides in Baltimore. 

Baltimore was on pace to surpass the 309 homicides of the previous year. At a press conference to address the violence, Baltimore’s Mayor Jack Young asked why isn’t this happening in other neighborhoods? “It’s just happening in the African American neighborhoods. The African American neighborhoods need to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ and start turning these folks in.” 

Mayor Young stressed that the police and prosecutors have long complained about a “no snitching” culture that prevents witnesses from coming forward and makes it difficult to solve murders. 

By November, Baltimore reached 300 homicides.

Mayor Young’s plea for community assistance was ignored, but the community accused the mayor of not providing the proper leadership to curb the violence.

During the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, seven people were shot at a park on a Tuesday in Baltimore. This time, Mayor Young didn’t ask the community for help. His plea went directly to the criminal element. He told them to stop shooting each other because the hospitals needed the beds for COVID-19 patients, not victims of senseless shootings.

This time, the right-wing accused Mayor Young of making a pathetic attempt to appeal to the civic nature of gangbangers, which proved cities ran by Democrats were dysfunctional.

In 2022, a fight in Pittsburgh led to 20 gunshots being fired.

Two mothers were killed by stray bullets while they waited for the bus.   Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, Ed Gainey, joined the long list of American city officials pleading with Black communities to help police departments stop the violence. 

Mayor Gainey said, “There’s no reason that anyone should want those types of killers on the street. We want to get them off the street as soon as possible because anybody who would not take any value in a life is not someone that needs to be on our streets. We know that somebody knows something.”

It’s too early to tell if Mayor Gainey’s plea will lead to a small decrease in violent crime like in Detroit, but if his plea falls on deaf ears like in Chicago and Baltimore, at least Mayor Gainey will know he has to confront the criminal empowering culture of silence before progress can be made.

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