The Most Violent Cities?
Last week, the CQ Press released city crime rankings that placed Oakland at #5 and my home town, of Flint, MI, at #4 for the most violent cities in America. Many people who I shared this news with did not seem surprised. I even noticed shrugged shoulders and a sigh of apathy, “Oh well, what are you gonna do.”
This sort of apathy frustrates and concerns me. Too often the crimes in our cities are shrugged off as a product of poverty and broken social structures that haven’t allowed people to thrive. If this is the case, then why are we not addressing those issues head on in a radical and transformative way. What would happen if we had stronger gun laws? What would happen if people had ownership of their communities? What if every city had enough jobs and opportunities that every person and family could take care of their needs? What happens if government was there to empower rather then enforce?
The FBI warns that these rankings are misleading because most of the crime happens in specific areas of town. On a wild hunch, I bet the areas of town that have more crime are low income communities and communities of color. Why then, are we not looking hard at the economic factors and legacies of prejudice and oppression that bring and keep crime in certain communities?
Also of note, is that the data makes no effort to capture violence perpetrated by police officers and other law enforcement agencies. If police officers are told that certain towns and residents are the most violent, does that impact their use of force in those communities?
Flint (#4), like Oakland (#5), is a majority people of color city with an economy that is struggling to rebuild itself from a crisis of unemployment. Having lived in both, I can attest to the impact poverty and the lack of opportunity on folks’ lives.
Ron Dellums, Oakland's current mayor, responded with a press release on November 23rd stating, “Oakland’s own data says that our city is making progress in bringing peace to our streets.” He noted a 17 percent drop in homicides and a 13 percent drop in overall crime.
I think it’s important for the City of Oakland to share their triumphs of less homicides and a drop in overall crime, but I’d also like to see more creative responses to dealing with issues of criminality in our communities as clearly we still have a long way to go.
We need new strategies to deepen our relationships with communities and call on our local governments to address the violence head-on. The City of Oakland has used Measure Y, Safe Passages, Project Choice and other programs that support safety for all community members but we need to do even more. Below are a few ideas I had based on my experience living in two of the top five cities on the list:
1) Gun laws should be changed to lessen gun violence and the illegal sale of firearms to minors
2) There needs to be more accountability of police officers as well as community members who commit violent crimes
3) Organizations, local governments and institutions need to collaborate more actively and tackle the real problems of poor education, lack of jobs and lack of safety for residents. If we can’t work together then we wont be able to alleviate any problem.
To help Heal the Streets and the Ella Baker Center create new strategies for peace in Oakland, fill out our survey and tell us your ideas.
NOTE: You can find the listing of the 2010 City Crime Rate Rankings here. (Rankings 1-5, (1) St. Louis, MO, (2) Camden, NJ, (3) Detroit, MI, (4) Flint, MI (5) Oakland, CA.)