October 16, 2005

Richmond’s Violence Conference

A Nice Beginning, But No Cigar
By Fred H. Arm

MayorAnderson.JPG On October 15th, yesterday, Richmond held an all-city conference in a valiant attempt by Mayor Irma Anderson to wrestle with the epidemic of violent crime that has been plaguing Richmond for many years. About 300 people were present in the Richmond auditorium to share crime-prevention strategies as part of a conference called "Richmond Rises Above the Violence," as orchestrated by Mayor Irma Anderson and Jay Leonhardy, her chief of staff.

The keynote speaker, Deborah Prothrow-Stith, associate dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of "Murder Is No Accident," told the eager assembly that significant action must be undertaken to ensure that today's 8-year-old doesn't succumb to violence in 10 years. Offering hope for the beleaguered community, Dr. Stith pointed out that "Children who watch their mother beaten on Sunday and sit in school on Monday need more from their parents and teachers than punishment when they misbehave." The good news is that it's preventable," said the prime mover of the successful Boston violence-prevention plan. "Violent behavior is not genetic, nor is it an immutable part of the human condition."
After Dr. Stith’s excellent presentation, the program was quickly eroded by two peace officer presentations. The FBI presentation by Robert Lasky, a FBI supervisory special agent who specializes in tracking gangs, was extremely difficult to sit through. Lasky was a stereotypical cop who seemed to have the understanding and empathy of a block of ice. He had many statistics to back up how horrible the gang situation has become; however, his primary solution was to “put away” the offenders for as long as possible. A solution that will most likely fail. The United States has declared war on drugs with its “get tough on crime” stance for at least forty years. It seems we are no further ahead today than we were forty years ago. What he does not grasp is that violence is a social disease that cannot be simply remedied by more law enforcement alone.

Our own local interim police chief, Terry Hudson, followed with his rather meager presentation that was hardly a confidence builder. This city spends about 37% of its budget, almost $40,000,000.00 per year on the police force. Is this the best we can do?

Following the lame law enforcement production, we launched into a roundtable, brainstorming discussion with approximately 100 teenagers and 200 adults. Unfortunately, the round-table was much too large (some 30 feet in diameter) to allow any real creativity and intimacy to spring forth, it was too noisy, and the facilitators were unable to inspire any confidence or leadership that could lead to any viable solutions.
The groups were allowed to vote on their own pet issues they wanted implemented without any expertise as to what really was needed to implement a broad-spectrum approach to this rather monumental problem. Many apparently emotional ideas were offered primarily dealing with the elimination of guns as a solution to violence. Only a few members of the group really understood that guns were merely an instrument of violence and not a solution in and of themselves. If you eliminate guns from the gangsters, they would use swords. If you eliminate swords, then knives, clubs, hands, and what have you would be used to slay their adversaries. It is much to narrow a scope to have any efficacy.

The group made numerous forays into band-aid remedies such as gun turn-in programs, afterschool programs, opening community centers, etc.; however, they failed to realize that it will take all of these pro-offered remedies, not just here and there. None of the groups addressed what these programs would actually consist of, nor was there any understanding of the costs that would be incurred. After about thirty minutes of frustration, I couldn’t stand it any longer and just had to get out of there.

About two months ago on August 8th, the movers and shakers in Richmond attended a Coalition On Violence conference at Kaiser’s conference hall. At the meeting, an impressive array of dignitaries and helper organizations attended, consisting of local government offices, such as George Miller's Office, John Gioa's Office, the Sheriff's Office, Neighborhood Councils, Mayor Anderson's Office, City Council people, various non-profit entities that are engaged in preventing violence and helping youths find their way in Richmond, several physicians, the Chamber of Commerce, religious leaders, teachers, psychologists, the Chief of Police, probation officers, Parks and Recreation, and many others. After hearing exceptional and scholarly presentations from each of the participants, it seems that a viable coalition would soon be born consisting of very highly competent and motivated people.

This quality of attendees is what was missing from Saturday’s conference. These groups are already in place, they have their own funding, and are much more cognizant of what is needed to make a difference. I was very optimistic that this group, with its superior knowledge and skill, would be able to promptly come up with a collective plan to deal with Richmond’s violence efficiently, effectively, and without having to go through the long painful process of “reinventing the wheel”.

Some of the solutions could consist of:
· After school and evening classes to develop communications skills, parenting, and conflict resolution;
· Experts could be employed to mediate domestic conflicts and neighborhood adversity;
· Mentoring programs could be set up;
· Seniors could be utilized for after shool care, mentoring, training, and supervision;
· On-the-job training could be provided for youths at special sites or at employer’s locations;
· Alternative programs to incarceration could be designed;
· Special training camps could be set up for teaching new communication skills and conflict resolution.

With such a combined effort by the highly qualified and diverse group of the August 8th Coalition, Mayor Anderson’s and Dr. Stith’s dream would have had a significant shot at becoming a reality. Although Saturday’s enthusiastic coalition of community members, administrative staff and teenagers were highly motivated, well-meaning, and organized, it is highly doubtful that anything meaningful or effective would ever come out of it. Let the experts do what is needed to finally make this city a safe place to live and raise children.

Posted by fredarm at October 16, 2005 06:25 PM