Tuesday, August 4, 2015


D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier listens to Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger

speak during a news conference following a meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)






(Tuesday August 4, 2015 NYC)  Yesterday Washington, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier hosted a hastily arranged meeting with many other Police Chiefs from some of our largest cities.  The unofficial ‘summit’ was called to discuss the recent spike in shootings and firearm related deaths as well as other major crimes such as armed robbery, aggravated assault, gang and illicit drug associated activity, and the overall sense of foreboding that has descended upon the Members of Service (MOS) of some of the Police Departments represented at the summit.

Awash in statistical proof of this sudden escalation of primarily inner city violence, the gathered Chiefs sought to identify common trends that may suggest reasons for the upsurge in crime that has infected cities from Philadelphia to Baltimore, from Chicago to St. Louis, Atlanta to Houston, Milwaukee to Memphis, and many other large urban centers.  What, if anything positive, came out of their meeting remains hazy at best.  Clearly all participants expressed their jurisdiction’s statistical and anecdotal evidence with the focus on the numbers of illegal firearms, many that operate with high-capacity magazines, as the prime concern.  Another factor that received some serious attention is the prevalent use of K2, commonly known as “synthetic marijuana” which can result in the users experiencing abnormal strength, resistance to pain, and extreme violence.  Other street and “club” drugs including heroin and MDMA, popularly known as ecstasy or as Molly, has also been cited as a causative agent in street violence and territorial turf wars among rival drug dealing gangs.  While none of these factors are new, there appears to be an odd confluence of elements that have led to the amount of raw violence on our streets.


This past twelve months has seen the advent of a new phenomenon within the inner city and predominately Black communities across the country that has been dubbed The Ferguson Effect after the events that transpired last August when an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown was shot and killed by White Police Officer Darren Wilson.  In the immediate aftermath of that episode, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson saw several nights of violent protests, looting, arson and criminal civil disorder.  Brown’s untimely death was the first of several other high profile deaths of unarmed Black men by White Officers.  There followed a nationwide protest movement that was predominately peaceful demonstrations but violence flared again in Baltimore after Freddy Grey died while in Police custody.  There were several other cases that seemed to suggest a pattern that the Black community coalesced under in the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The Ferguson Effect seems to imply that in the wake of these incidents Police Officers have adopted a passive posture to policing the communities they serve and that has contributed heavily to the upsurge in violent crime.  The corollary to this notion is that young Black men now feel empowered to challenge the authority of the Police by any means necessary which serves only to perpetuate the cycle of Black men being charged and arrested after a routine interaction with an MOS is escalated by the feeling of empowerment.  How much, if any of the Ferguson Effect is a real prime mover within our inner city communities that are predominately Black and policed by predominately White Officers is difficult, perhaps impossible to ascertain.  Whatever causative factors are conspiring to create the high level of tension and distrust on the streets between the Police and the Black community, this is certainly NOT the time when the Law Enforcement Community (LEC) be it a Sheriff’s Office, a State, County or City Police Department to “stand down” and step away from the tried and true methods of policing that have been so widely effective over the last 20 years.  Despite condemnation from academics and “activists”, politicians and pundits, the “Broken Windows” approach to community policing led to the unprecedented, sustained drops in crimes across all categories over the past two decades.  To abandon that philosophy now would be grossly misguided.


Atlanta Police Chief George Turner made some salient points during the summit that were echoed by other participants.  He commented that a “small” number of known repeat offenders perpetrate most of the violent crime in his city.  He also noted that often there are “50 to 60 cartridge shells at a crime scene” indicating the use of high-capacity magazines as well as multiple shooters.  In Atlanta, he continued, there are currently 150 “known individuals” who appear to be involved in 99% of the shootings and firearm deaths.  Relevant or not he added that only one of the alleged murderers arrested this year finished high school while one in three of the victims managed to complete their high school education.  Yes, employment opportunities for those who so happen to be born into the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder, are scarce indeed.  This also begs the question: had these young men been employed in entry level, minimum wage jobs, would they not have participated in their criminal endeavors?  This hypothetical question cannot be answered. 


If Americans have learned nothing from the violent events of the last year, they have certainly had their collective eyes opened to the harsh reality that the relationship between the Black community and those who police their neighborhoods are awful, to say the least.  The level of distrust, the animosity towards and the embedded biases on both sides of the LEC/racial divide are as pronounced today arguably as they were 40 or 50 years ago; this is actually an understatement.  The Black community typically perceives the LEC as an “occupying force” as Police Officers too often are seen to treat Black people differently than White people. Some Officers come to their jobs with long held racial bias, overt bigotry and do not perceive Black people as equals. Many in the Black community believe wholeheartedly that the Police are free to act with impunity. They feel that justice in a tangible sense has always and will always be denied them by a criminal justice system that is multi-tiered; White perpetrators are treated far differently than Black perpetrators. The historical basis for each of those stances is deep and wide.  This seems to be the most challenging chasm to span; there are no easy or ready solutions.  These ingrained mindsets are virtually indelible.


If one truth emerged from the summit it was that there are no easy answers, no quick fixes to what is a societal-cultural divide and a criminal justice system that is admittedly often inequitable regarding how it handles Black perpetrators and suspects.  As a burgeoning movement for jail and prison reform is taking shape the reality of the streets is unchanging. 

Those Police Chiefs who participated in yesterday’s meeting were unanimous in their assessment that it is the repeat offenders who are responsible for the majority of the violent crimes plaguing our inner city neighborhoods.  Some of the most egregious of recent violent crimes have been perpetrated by individuals with long criminal records, lengthy histories of arrests and incarcerations that leave the public wondering how these men ever got out of prison.  Recent efforts in some states to cull nonviolent offenders from the inmate populations and nascent initiatives to “divert” younger, first time non-violent offenders to jail/prison alternatives are noble but ill-conceived. Our penal system is not designed towards rehabilitation despite some high-minded lip service to the contrary.  The real crux of the matter is that by the time young boys and men end up incarcerated they have fallen through all the structural cracks.  The dropout rates for violent and non-violent offenders alike is startling but, how do you keep boys in school who clearly have no desire to be there and see little or no value in obtaining an education?  The blunt answer is, you can’t. There is also the undue influence of some of our pop culture that celebrates “thug life” portraying criminal pursuits such as drug dealing as a viable lifestyle that leads to riches and a life of ease.  Such a belief system is virtually impossible to correct and far too many Black men wind up in some of our country’s most notorious prisons as no more than post-adolescent boys and they usually are “lost” forever.  The Darwinian environment of prison life serves only to harden young offenders and, once they are released which assuredly the majority of them will be, they return to their neighborhoods to resume the very same activities that landed them in prison, angry, bitter, and better schooled in the life of crime.  This is a terribly vicious cycle because every child, Black, Brown and White is born a blank slate and only with proper nurturing and a healthy home life can they have an equal chance. 


Returning to the specifics addressed at yesterday’s summit, how to halt the surge in violent, gun and drug related crime is the top priority.  It will be only after the bloodletting on our streets begins to ebb that the etiology of the social pathologies present in our inner city neighborhoods can begin to be discussed. 

One of the most disturbing elements of the current violent crime wave is the “war” against the Police.  Police Officers are being killed at a rate never before seen in our country in modern times.  The use of the word “war” is not hyperbolic considering the daily headlines and the perpetrators braggadocio on social media.  It is a twisted street culture “badge of honor” to kill a Cop and, as long as the LEC is under assault as it is there can be no discussion about sentencing and prison reform of any kind. 

The all too real price that all of society will pay in the long run is in the reality that we are losing a generation, in particular, a generation of young Black men.  The cycle of violence will be passed on via osmosis to the children of the children killing each other, innocent bystanders and Cops.  For all the alarm expressed by “community activists” and self-appointed spokesmen for the African American community, they need to get down to work.  The fixes or any meager efforts to begin to help the youth trapped in the vicious cycle must start in the neighborhoods; a micro approach not a macro approach is the only viable point of intercession. 


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