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by Peter Moskos

September 9, 2015

"I do think people underplay the poverty in [Baltimore]. They really don’t understand it."

There's an interview with Justin George in The Trace. He was a Baltimore Sun reporter who recently moved on to Milwaukee. I like that he's willing to consider the possibility there might be some trade-off between aggressive policing, which causes community resentment, and getting illegal guns off the streets, which saves lives:
Which of the citywide initiatives to help cut the homicide rate has been the most successful?
What everyone talks about most is these plainclothes cops, which are very controversial. These are detectives who are working in unmarked cars. They gather intelligence. When Baltimore’s homicides dipped below 200, in 2011, for first time in decades, one of the things pointed to were these units. They were chasing down leads, looking for guns and getting info on who has them. But a lot of black residents were being unfairly harassed. At the John Hopkins gun policy center they say that some units that are specifically trained to spot guns have shown effectiveness in other cities. But these units also run the risk of alienating the neighborhood.

So what can be done to turn things around in Baltimore?
I can only speak to what the residents tell me. And they tell me repeatedly that there aren’t enough things for you to do on the streets. They say that they want more recreation centers; they miss the different athletic leagues and getting youths involved with good influences. And there’s certainly that notion that a lot of these kids need people who are rooting for them. And when I say kids, I’m talking about teens here. I think if there’s a boost in the economy, you’ll see a change. But I want to express, I’m not an expert in any of this — I’m just a humble journalist. But I do think people underplay the poverty in the city. They really don’t understand it.


D Chen said...

You can create all the after school programs in the world but you are just wasting tax payer dollars if you do not have parents who give a shit and make the kid study and do the right thing. It all starts in the home.

Peter Moskos said...

I think it does start with the parents. To some extent it ends with the parents. But that doesn't mean that nothing else helps.

If nothing helped, why do rich areas have ballfields and after-school programs? Of course it helps! It is probably even be more important if your parents are non-existent or poor role-models.

Also, it's hard to fix parenting. It's easy to run after-school programs.

campbell said...

it's hard to fix parenting

This. A huge reason to have a bunch of programs is to enable the kids to stay away from their parents. A lot of the parents in these situations are already broken and aren't going to be fixed.

I don't say this lightly. It comes out of conversations with my father, whose own father was a raging alcoholic. My father once told me that by the time he was ten years old he'd realized that his dad was never going to be good for much and that anything he wanted he'd have to make happen on his own. My father was fortunate enough to be living in a small town on the CA coast so he got into birding, fishing, and other naturalist type stuff and only was at home when he needed to eat and sleep. Inner city kids don't have the option of rowing around fishing and such in year round mild weather. You need to give them an option to their shitty home life.

R. Childan said...

Poverty in Baltimore is inextricably linked to heroin, to addiction. It destroys families, produces emotionally and morally crippled and disfigured children, and creates communities that are violent and unliveable. Until you find a cure for addiction, you're not going to make any progress on poverty.

john mosby said...

"Why do rich areas have ballfields?"

Prof, I am sure you were asking that as a Socratic method of getting someone to say it's not easy to reverse the arrow of causation.

Rich areas have ballfields and other amenities because they're rich. Less cleverly, they have these things because they care about their kids' outcomes and because they have resources to devote to these outcomes.

Some poor areas also have nice things because they also care, and because they make the decision to allocate their scarce resources to these ends. Also, some of these nice things and services can be cheaper for them due to lower cost of the land, cheaper or free (volunteer) labor on the scale of the local economy, etc. And the nice things stay nice because the people who (in some cases literally) built them are right there to keep them nice.

Installing these amenities from the outside like benevolent colonial overlords won't magically turn the area from a slum into a poor-but-proud community.

Not saying we should give up and let the slum stay slummy. But the solutions are more complicated than midnight basketball.

One solution is to end de-jure segregation in the form of city boundaries, gerrymandered legislative districts, etc. I'm not familiar with the Greater Baltimore structure, but I know that a lot of Detroit's problems come because the city is kept politically separate from the suburbs. The larger area people refer to as 'Detroit' is doing pretty well; the actual political city of Detroit is doing poorly. No one has seriously talked about redrawing the boundaries to make a larger unitary municipality because the beneficiaries of flight don't want to share with 'those people' and the left-behinds are afraid of losing political power.

Probably one of the best things NYC did was to become NYC by joining the five boroughs. Could you imagine if the Bronx was still its own completely separate political entity? Or even Queens? With Wall Street and 6th Ave having no obligation to the bridge-and-tunnel periokoi?

Anyway, that's a long way of saying that if you break up some of this legalized segregation, then you have people of all sorts sharing and caring for the public space. Of course, the optics of councils, public meetings, etc, would be a bit uncomfortable, but again places like NYC have figured out how to do it....


Peter Moskos said...

"Not saying we should give up and let the slum stay slummy. But the solutions are more complicated than midnight basketball."

I couldn't agree more. (But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do these little programs.) If there really is "nothing for the kids to do," you at least need to take this excuse out of the equation in order to tackle the bigger problems. And those programs do help a few kids. Might not fix the neighborhood. But why not help a few kids?

Baltimore County, the surrounding suburbs, are indeed doing just fine. Where those boundaries to disappear, people couldn't just run from *our* problems. But were those boundaries to disappear, I suspect people would leave Balto County as well. Given our political system, Baltimore City is going to have to improve on its own. Somehow. Truth is, most of America wants some form of segregation. Most of America (not without reason, I might add) does not want their kids going to school with the bottom percentiles of inner-city school kids. That's a reality nobody is willing to address.

New York City is indeed unique. And size has other advantages of being able to muster large amounts of resources, when needed. And NYC kept a stable middle class (and tax base) in the outer-boroughs during the dark years of the 1970s and 1980s. New York City also has an city income tax (but balanced by a surprisingly low property taxes for middle class homeowners like myself).

As to the previous comment. Yeah, heroin is a real problem. Especially in Baltimore. But we could reduce heroin addiction. Other countries have. And the countries that have reduced heroin addiction all have something in common: a more rational non-war-on-drugs approach to reducing addiction. We know what works on that. Not completely, of course. That's too high a bar. We won't have a drug-free America. Once we accept that, after 100 years of trying, we might be able to reduce the magnitude and harms of drug addiction. but apparently most Americans (and police) still believe "sending a message" is more more important than actually saving lives.

There is no cure for heroin for heroin addiction. We can still make things better. But it's so much easier to simply blame and pass moral judgement. Plus, if one ignores the billions spend on the war on drugs, blaming and passing moral judgement is free!

Anonymous said...

I go by RaymondbyEllis.

1. "...if you do not have parents who give a shit and make the kid study and do the right thing. It all starts in the home." What about the parents that do all that and still have a failure? It may start there, but believing it is solely the parents is just seeking a simple answer. I have three children: the one that should have failed going to college has pulled a 4.0 into his senior year, has his name on a published paper, and is taking post graduate courses this year. He will get his PhD. My over-acheiver is just doing better than a B in college. The one with the highest IQ (she taught herself to read by four, could add and subtract at three, and has matched my oldest child in spelling since she was four) dropped out in HS and we're pushing her hard to get her GED. We have a 2500 book library in our home. We have pushed reading and math from the get go; my wife has the equivalent of two masters in her field and I have a BSChe.It just isn't so simple. BTW, I'm 61, my grandparents spent no time helping me in school but I made validictorian.. It's the parents, the child, the school, and the peers. There is no simple answer. It may start with the parents, but it doesn't end there.

2. Mr. Moskos, this " but apparently most Americans (and police) still believe "sending a message" is more more important than actually saving lives." is a money quote. We do it in the Drug War and the Sex War. The latter from reading of two 16 year-olds that sent explicit pictures to each other (NJ, 16 year olds can have sex, they can look all they want) being charged as adults for exploiting minors, among other charges. Sending a message.

As for the former, maybe it's American hubris, but we can't seem to learn from our own history of the failure of Prohibition or from the successes of other countries.

David Woycechowsky said...

Glad you are back. Couple of nice, thoughtful posts and comments threads. Don't have anything of substance to add to this one, but it makes me think.

JPP said...

I would say that addiction is inextricably tied to poverty and legislation, not the other way around. Almost every problem related to drug use is the result of prohibition, not the actual substance. Theft to support a habit? Inflated prices. Overdoses? Unpredictable dosing as a result of black market supply. Supplier violence? Lack of access to official law enforcement. Drug related health problems? Adulterants, lack of access to healthcare because of drug abuser status. Obviously there are others, but that's on the individual, like tobacco use.

theartistformerlyknownasgeorge said...

And I am sure there will be absolutely no need to have a police car permanently stationed at these new ball parks/community centers, ect.

The very reason there is so much poverty there is because the cure is always seen as coming from the outside and as a handout.

You see other poor communities that cannot even compete with the crime levels of blacks and who manage to either change their neighborhood or get out of it.

In LA you had the same whining all the time, except somehow a Korean could come into that same neighborhood and make a living in spite of the robberies and racism directed towards him.

Black American culture sucks! Either you denounce it or get rich rapping about it. Otherwise it will, in spite of every other form of special treatment given to blacks, keep you in chains.