Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Who Can Say What and Not

Yesterday, a friend and I were having lunch at a sushi restaurant in Center City, Philadelphia. The conversation got around to the murder rate in Philadelphia. In the wee hours on Sunday, five more people were murdered. That brings our total for 2007 up to 232. My friend said, “Of course, we’re not supposed to say this, but if guns were taken away from young black men, we wouldn’t have the highest violent-crime rate in the nation.” I agreed. And I also agreed, we couldn’t say it because we would be called racist. But last night, on CBS News, Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, who is black, answered Byron Pitts question, “Is it an urban problem or is it a black problem?” by saying, "I can only speak for Philadelphia — and Philadelphia is definitely a black problem because of the 85 percent of the people being killed, close to 80 percent are African-American males.” Commissioner Sylvester Johnson could say it. And he did. Backtracking on Johnson’s math, he said that 85% of the people killed are non-whites: that is 198. And of that 85%, 80% are African-American males. That comes to the whopping figure of 158 out of 233 people killed in Philadelphia between January 1 and July 23, 2007 were black males. Another statistic is that since 2001, Philadelphia has had 10,000 shooting victims. Most of the gunmen are under age 25, and most of the murders have occurred in predominantly black North Philadelphia where the unemployment and school dropout rates are the highest in Philadelphia. The headline on the CBS News story about Philadelphia’s murder rate was: “Philadelphia: City Under Siege”. I live in an area of South Philadelphia that is just south of Center City. And that headline is blatantly sensational. The people in this part of town only feel under siege by the Republican Party. However, the black community in North Philadelphia is most definitely under siege. And that is one of Philadelphia’s biggest problems and it’s certainly not racist to say so. In any culture, when a group is failing by all the standards set by the community as a whole, then it is that community’s fault. But seeing the problem and confessing to culpability does not make it easier to solve the problem. I certainly have no answers. But I suspect the problem is going to have to be solved by the people who are affected most by the problem, which is the black community in North Philadelphia. How? I don’t know. And that’s the worst part of living in a city with the highest violent crime rate in the United States. We can point to where the problem is occurring and we can point to all the circumstances that are causing it and we can cluck our tongues. But we don’t have the foggiest notion what to do about the problem.

1 comment:

Barry Schwartz said...

When Minneapolis was Murderapolis in the mid '90s, the phenomenal murder rate supposedly involved drug-trafficking gangs branching out from Chicago. Is there anything like that going on in Philadelphia right now?