Last night I was catching up on my Y-town blog reading. Up for discussion this past week was the recent Vindicator story about the Congressional Quarterly stats which place Youngstown as the 15th most dangerous city in the US and the 4th most dangerous city in those that have populations of 75,000 to 99,000.
Defend Youngstown ,discussed the Vindy.com message board and the thoughts of area residents about the crime stats. The message board confirmed what I already knew. Youngstown citizens are highly frustrated. Youngstown Renaissance asked the question, "Is how we feel about crime based on what happens around us and affects us directly or is it a vague sense of unease created by headlines and national reports?" Both writers call for us to think about the subject of crime objectively. I agree.
I understand the tizzy that many in the city succumb to. I live in the city, and I too saw the stories reported within days of the CQ Report; one about a home invasion and the other about an assault with a gun against a couple on the Northside. The reason that the two incidents created such a buzz is because they appeared to be random crimes. Here in the city we often hear about drive by shootings and murder. We tend to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that generally the perp and the victim knew each other, or that they were involved in some type of drug activity. Even when an innocent victim is caught up in the gunfire, as awful as it is, we tend to think that the victim was in someway connected to either gangs or drug activity and somehow that is alright. This thought process itself perpetuates racism and classism, and the cycle of violence. I will discuss this a bit later. But back to my point, when crime happens to your neighbor, or someone who lives on the same street as you, it gets frightening, this is true for everyone.
Our fear motivates us to change our behavior. We tend to become more observant, we start to watch for the man in the dark clothing with the gun that could grab us as we get out of our car in the driveway at night, or worse yet, if we are middle class, we decide it is time to move to the burbs where it is perceived as safe. It is by virtue of the fact that fear is an emotional response, that we must look at the crime problem from an objective point of view, otherwise the problem feeds racism, urban flight, suburban sprawl, and causes untold pain to families and victims.
Before addressing the issue of racism, classism, and urban flight however, I would like to suggest that our city officials consider a program that I came across several years ago when I was thinking about ways to reduce crime in Youngstown. The name of the program that I came across is called Citistat . Many of you may have heard me speak about this program in the past, and I raise the idea yet again because I believe it could work here. The program is one that was adapted from CompStat which was a program created by the New York City Police Department. CitiStat is a program about personal accountability. It is a computer database system that allows a city to regularly review every aspect of its city government. It serves as a transparent accountability and management tool through which the city can collect and thoroughly analyze data on an array of issues, police, fire, streets etc. It isn't complicated. It allows the Mayor to run the city more efficiently. Baltimore paid $20,000 in off the counter software for their system. In Baltimore in fiscal year 2001 the impact that CitiStat had on the Budget resulted in a savings of over $13 million, mostly the result of lower operational costs, increased revenue streams, and the termination of costly and inconsistent initiatives. It is a results based system of government. CitiStat promotes four tenets:
1. Accurate and timely intelligence
2. Effective tactics and strategies
3. Rapid deployment of resources
4. Relentless follow-up and assessment
The foundation of the system is bi-weekly meetings between the Mayor and the head of each city agency. Each department head answers questions from a panel led by the mayor or his appointed delegate. The questions are culled from Citistat's statistical analyses of the agency's previous two week performance. The program is not about dispensing blame but rather to generate accountability and problem solving efforts to produce quick effective results. The program improves service delivery a great deal, and the citizens of the community can see the improvement by viewing the results of Citistat on a city website. This creates a win/win situation, the city workers benefit from an improved image and fewer complaints; citizens win because there is increased governmental transparency, better service, and less crime.
If such a system were implemented I believe that it would stanch the flow of people to the suburbs. The social ills associated with inner city neighborhoods real or imagined, have become associated with with cities in general, and blacks in particular. I have often expressed the view that the underlying problem in the Youngstown area is two-fold; racism and classism. The social ills of crime and poverty are seen not as a problem of the system or culture that we live in, but rather are associated with black people. This leads to devaluation of the lives of black people, and as I previously mentioned it also leads to urban flight, suburban sprawl, increased racial tension, and ultimately full circle to increased crime.
White America is largely suburban America, 71% of whites live in what they describe as the suburbs, only 39% of black America live in the suburbs. Black America is largely an urban nation. Sheryll Cashin explores this fact in her book, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are undermining the American Dream" . She states, " In the code of our unspoken understandings, 'urban' means black. For many it also means crime and bad schools. This separation of life spaces fuels misunderstandings. To continue she says, "the most enduring invisible cost is the gulf between Americans who live far from the reality of the ghetto and those who live in it."
Racism is not only a belief that race is a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. It is also an attitude, which subordinates a person or group because of their race. Class too is an attitude. In Youngstown race is inextricably intertwined with class, which is defined as a discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social and economic classes. Attitudes about race and class must be addressed in conjunction with the implementation of a program such as CitiStat if we are to begin to make the changes needed in order to create a vital, sustainable city. The loss of citizens to suburban sprawl is not good for our city or for our planet. Steering growth to the urban core produces numerous benefits; It saves millions in public resources by building on existing infrastructure rather than sinking funds into new roads, sewers, and utility lines. It makes cities more vibrant and attractive, reduces carbon emissions and it makes the centers of job growth more accessible to the urban poor.
Currently separatism fosters a narrow conception of self interest that blinds our citizens to the benefits of building alliances with people different than ourselves.." I agree with Cashin when she states, "I have come to the conclusion that cultivating race and class integration... and building coalitions of enlightened self interest across boundaries of homogeneity is the only route to creating the kind of fully democratic society we imagine our very diverse country to be. Integration is critical to the enduring strength of our democracy."
As "Generation Next" stated per "Defend Youngstown" blog, "Now we live in a global economy and we still fight. This is why we don't have time for fighting any longer." To this I would add, we do not have time for racism and classism in Youngstown any longer, it is time to begin to re-create the city and in order to pursue an alternative vision of the city, we must change our mind set and an open our hearts.
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