Tuesday, November 22, 2005

murder pool

It's interesting to watch the response to the high number of murders in Kansas City this year. I might be wrong, but it seems as though every comment or publicity stunt I've read has operated with the assumption that it's the governnment's responsibility to solve this problem.


The most poignant comment I've heard about the issue came from an old friend I bumped into back in August who blamed the whole matter on the Republican-controlled White House, pointing out that the last time violent crime spiked so high was at the tail end of the Reagan and Bush Sr. years. Seems plausible, especially after hearing from Ebony yesterday that the murder rate has spiked in Louisville as well. Kind of gives me the sense that things are bad all over.

But I'm convinced that the problem goes much deeper than government, and I'm generally uneasy with the conversation so far. I think it's missing the mark. Just about every morning I read my favorite blog taking our local leaders to task over the issue. He's relentlessly slammed Mayor Kay Barnes, suggesting that she cares more about condo developments than about dying black people. I doubt this is true, though the mayor's silence betrays her obvious detachment from poor and downtrodden in her city, which is certainly worthy of stinging editorial comment.

But then, what would she really accomplish by calling some press conferences and making a show of doing something about it?

She'd get slammed.

Tony has consistently lampooned Alvin Brooks, Mike Sanders and Terry Riley for their responses to the situation. And now my former employer has taken an extremely odd, not-so-subtle dig at Brooks with their latest cry for attention, by asking contestants of a twisted betting pool to guess how many more murders will occur, and how many people died before Brooks "proposed the formation of the new Commission on Violent Crime." Aside from being another example of how the paper mirrors the inconsistent personality of its corporate owner, Michael Lacey (which, as the anemic page counts would seem to suggest, might not be a perfect match for Kansas City), the implied barb of this contest, and of Tony's regular sniping, only serve to reveal how disconnected both of these media sources are from the black side of town, where most of the crimes have taken place.

I don't want to prop Brooks up as some kind of saint. But the fact is that he's one of the only leaders in this city who has consistently addressed the issue of violent crime in the black community. He's done so on many, many levels. He founded the Ad Hoc Committee on Crime back in 1977, and he's served on numerous criminal and social justice committees over the years. But perhaps more important than that is the work he does behind the scenes. He routinely visits prisons with the hopes of reaching some young convict and setting him or her straight. He counsels families of young people who are falling into lives of crime. And he consoles folks whose loved ones have been murdered. He doesn't make a big show of this. Indeed, I wanted to profile him a few years ago when I worked for the Pitch and he declined because he didn't really want the attention. But this is all widely known in the black community. (Similar things can be said of Riley, who started his public life as a community volunteer in the Blue Hills neighborhood during the height of the crack epidemic. I've spent just a little time with Riley, but it was enough to see that he's deeply involved in the lives of his constituents, that he's well known, widely respected, and that folks truly depend on him.)

I have to admit that I'm skeptical of how effective this new committee Brooks has founded will be. But that's not because of some lack of sincerity on his part. It's because the problem is beyond the grasp of government. This is a societal thing, stemming from what Joseph Barndt calls "the prison of individual, institutional and cultural racism." And the media's calls on the government to find solutions only contribute to this because it distances the majority community -- the consumers of media -- from the problem. It's the classic middle-class liberal approach: We want to help the poor and the downtrodden, but we don't want to get our hands dirty.

It's doubly sad that I'm singling out Tony's Kansas City and the Pitch for this criticism, because, aside from The Call, Carter Broadcast and KC Currents, they're without a doubt the media sources in this city that are the most proactive in airing diverse points of view. I would count them among the good guys. So if they're contributing to the problem, then the problem is very, very bad. Indeed, the focus of my fury should be on the Star for its dangerous and irresponsible series rating suburban communities, because that -- the cult of separation -- is what I think is truly at the heart of the issue. (In fairness, I should note that the author of the Star's "Rate the Suburbs" series wrote an excellent series ten years ago called "Divided We Sprawl" about how disconnected this metro area is.)

History has shown that segregation is a blight governments simply cannot solve. The solution lies with us. Bottom line, we all need to get off our asses and start tearing down the walls of separation.

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