BLOG: Differing views on approach to crime in York City
So I was on TV last week, talking about that CeaseFire York program York City is implementing, along with a Philadelphia community activist who was talking about his own antiviolence initiatives.
Wanda Miller, a local who has a show called "Knowledge is Power" on White Rose Community TV channel 16, hosted a discussion with Anton Moore and me on Thursday. Moore and Miller are pretty skeptical about the CeaseFire program, which is meant to stop gang violence. I was there to provide background and answer any questions they might have about it, as I've been reporting on it since June.
Moore, an antiviolence activist and community organizer based in South Philly, presented his ideas to the York Progressives, a group of liberal Yorkers, a couple of months ago. More recently, he spoke to a bit bigger of an audience: the Democratic National Convention, where he had a brief spot to talk about urban violence. Before I went on the show with him, I called him and chatted with him on the phone for a while to see what his deal was.
He's sort of a classic community organizer. His strategy involves holding a great deal of events — music, food, activities, whatever — in an effort to bring out the youth and promote good feeling. He's dismissive of one-off or even periodic events on their own. He said that only repeated, consistent efforts can build trust, which is the key.
People have to know you're looking out for them before they'll listen to you, he said. You have to connect with people; use sports, use music, use the arts to draw young people — who normally don't come out to community meetings in large numbers — and then, after that connection's been made, you can parlay that into helping connect people with services and helping to squash beefs.
Moore calls his efforts Unity in the Community.
So here's the deal with criminologist David Kennedy's anti-group-violence program CeaseFire: First off, he writes, local and federal law enforcement team up to come down hard on whatever group is committing the most violence. An investigation culminates in raids, federal charges and then long federal sentences. Then, with that hammer looming, law enforcement conducts "call-ins" with members of the other gangs around town, hauling them in to give them a multipart message. First, police say that the next group to shoot someone will face that same kind of massive-scale investigation and federal charges as the group that just got them. And then there are the community voices — parents, teachers, coaches, victims — telling the shooters that what they're doing isn't OK, and they won't support it. Finally, social-services organizations such as job-training centers and health care providers say that anyone looking for a way out will get one. After the first call in, the police follow through with their promise: the next shooter's group gets taken down, and then they do another round of call-ins and so on until, in theory — and in practice, Kennedy says his work in Boston, Cincinnati and other places shows — groups stop shooting each other.
Moore's said Philly is trying Kennedy's strategies of focused deterrence, but he said they haven't gotten much traction. In Moore's view, the city hasn't gotten much of a community buy-in for the program.
I told Moore I thought it was interesting where his reasoning and Kennedy's were opposed, and also where they converge. Both reiterate the line I've heard from York City Police Chief Wes Kahley over the years: We can't arrest our way out of this. Both also talk about trust — namely, the lack of trust between police officers and some of the communities — especially those of color — they serve.
And they also talk about the need for consistency to build trust. Kennedy's angle on it is that police need to show communities that they can and will follow through on enforcement against violent crime, and police and government have to show they're able to follow through on providing community services.
Maybe oversimplifying things, I said to Moore it sounded like the difference was that Kennedy was coming at the issues of violence from the top down, and Moore from the bottom up.
"You have to go from the bottom up," he said.
Moore called Kennedy's approach a Band-Aid, while the communities where poverty and other issues are concentrated need surgery, to follow through with the metaphor. What he means is that this program doesn't tackle the underlying issues of poverty, race, education, et cetera, behind the violence.
Because Kennedy was not there to make his argument — but I've interviewed people advocating for his program and read his book — I'll write here what I assume he'd say to that.
In Kennedy's writings, he fully acknowledges that this isn't a massive-scale approach that is going to solve all of society's ills. This is specifically meant to stop people from shooting each other. There is a role, after all, for a bandage — to stop the bleeding while help comes. It's pretty uncontroversially good if the number of shootings drops, and that's what Kennedy purports his program will cause.
Of course, Moore said, that assumes help is coming, which he said he hasn't seen a ton of in Philly.
Kennedy's office told me that he is not going to talk to me until the city has a contract in place with him. York City doesn't yet, his office said a couple of weeks ago.
Stay tuned, in this case both figuratively and literally, to the cable-access show.
— Reach Sean Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SPCotterYD. Look for his news reporting about York City daily online and in print, and keep an eye out for a new installment of this blog every week, or have Facebook keep an eye out for you: Like the Developing Story page.