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November 1, 2011

A must-listen: NPR segment with researcher David Kennedy discussing violent crime

9781608192649_customFor lots of reasons, I urge everyone concerned about violent crime and punishment to find the time to listen to this lengthy NPR segment from the Fresh Air program.  The piece is an extended interview with criminologist David Kennedy, which discusses some of his research and work discussed in his new book titled "Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, And The End of Violence in Inner-City America."   Here are snippets from the written NPR segment to whet the appetite:

In 1985, David M. Kennedy visited Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles.  It was the beginning of the crack epidemic, and Nickerson Gardens was located in what was then one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

"It was like watching time-lapse photography of the end of the world," he says. "There were drug crews on the corner, there were crack monsters and heroin addicts wandering around. ... It was fantastically, almost-impossibly-to-take-in awful."

Kennedy, a self-taught criminologist, had a visceral reaction to Nickerson Gardens.  In his memoir Don't Shoot, he writes that he thought:  "This is not OK.  People should not have to live like this. This is wrong. Somebody needs to do something."

Kennedy has devoted his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence.  He started going to drug markets all over the United States, met with police officials and attorney generals, and developed a program — first piloted in Boston — that dramatically reduced youth homicide rates by as much as 66 percent.  That program, nicknamed the "Boston Miracle," has been implemented in more than 70 cities nationwide.

Today, Kennedy directs the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, but he still regularly goes out into the field.  The drug world he works in now, he says, is a little better than the one in which he worked in 1985 — but not by much.

"Still, it's almost inconceivably awful in almost all of its dimensions," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies.  "And no one likes to say this stuff out loud, because it's impolitic, but the facts are the facts.  You get this kind of drug activity and violence only in historically distressed, minority neighborhoods.  And it is far worse in poor, distressed African-American neighborhoods."

Those neighborhoods are also more likely to be deadly for African-American men — and they're getting worse, says Kennedy, citing grim statistics: Between 2000 and 2007, the gun homicide rate for black men between the ages of 14-17 increased by 40 percent.  The rate for men over the age of 25 increased by 27 percent. In some neighborhoods, 1 in 200 black men are murdered every year....

But there are plenty of law-abiding residents in these neighborhoods that have been overtaken by drugs, says Kennedy. They outnumber the gang members and drug dealers by significant percentages.  "What matters is that these offenders are in the communities in groups," he says.  "They are in gangs, they are in drug crews, they are in chaotic groups. And those groups drive the action to a shocking degree."

In Cincinnati, for example, there are about 60 defined gang groups with about 1,500 members.  "[The people] representing less than half a percentage point of the city's population are associated with 75 percent of all of Cincinnati's killings," he says.  "And no matter where you go, that's the fact."

The national homicide rate is now about 4 per 100,000, but the homicide rate for members of gangs and neighborhood turf groups is dramatically higher: as many as 3,000 per 100,000 a year....

Kennedy's homicide-reduction program, called Operation Ceasefire, brought gang members into meetings with community members they respected, social services representatives who could help them, and law enforcement officials who told them that they didn't want to make arrests — they wanted the gang members to stay alive, and that they planned to aggressively target people who retaliated. The interventions worked to reduce the homicide rates.

November 1, 2011 at 07:29 PM | Permalink


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I live in a lawyer residential neighborhood. It is 7 miles away from a Fallujah like ghetto. It has virtually no crime. Shoplifting makes the local paper.

College educated police arrive within 3 minutes to the scene when called. If the person has a weapon, they blast the person. The death penalty is at the scene a couple of times a year for foolish criminals who have crossed over from the city. For the rest, there is plenty of room in the county jail. They have racial profiling to a point where even the Supremacy is embarrassed. Our black neighbors drive fine German metal or Bentleys. They are not racially profiled, just people waiting for a bus after dark. There is no civil rights or excessive force litigation where the lawyer lives.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 3, 2011 8:43:21 AM

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