HOUSTON, Texas (FinalCall.com) – Even during the recession, the rate of major crimes in America continues to drop according to preliminary FBI crime statistics but anti-violence advocates warn the figures should not lull the Black community to sleep.
“I’m always puzzled by these types of reports because it doesn’t represent what I’m constantly getting calls about in the Black community. We still have some serious problems and much work to do,” said Reginald Gordon of Operation Outreach OG-1, a Houston organization geared toward helping misguided youth.
“Gang violence hasn’t disappeared, we’re still having murders, our young people still dropping out of school and they don’t have jobs. Also, Texas reported last year that the state saw an influx of gang activity and drug trafficking from Mexico. How is crime down?” asked Mr. Gordon, a former gang member who served 19 years in prison.
The recent FBI report says the number of violent crimes–murder and non-negligent homicide, aggravated assault, forcible rape, and robbery–reported in the first six months of 2011 dropped 6.4 percent compared with the first six months of 2010. The number of property crimes dropped 3.7 percent in same time frame.
Murders declined 5.7 percent, and rapes fell 5.1 percent. Robbery declined 7.7 percent, and aggravated assault decreased 5.9 percent. By region, the largest decrease was in the Midwest (9.7 percent), followed by the West (6.6 percent), the South (5.8 percent) and the Northeast (3.6 percent).
“We should look at these kinds of reports as disinformation that only takes us off our guard and makes Black people think everything is fine when it is really not. They may say in the newspapers that crime is down but when I walk the streets, it’s not getting better,” Phillip Jackson, who heads the Black Star Project in Chicago, told The Final Call.
According to Mr. Jackson, at least 13 people were killed by gunfire in the Windy City during the Christmas week. “That’s more deaths in a week than the amount of soldiers killed the same week in Afghanistan. Let’s not drink the Kool-Aid and the false perceptions. We are at war,” he said.
“When you look at some of the statistics, that decline might be just five or six less murders. At the start of 2012, we are already looking into five murders here,” Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, CEO of Stop the Killing, Inc. in Baton Rouge, told The Final Call.
The FBI report, released in mid-December, does not provide any reason why the crime rate has dropped or offer a detailed breakdown by city or race.
“We don’t know the reasons for the drop in crime. This is just a preliminary report with figures we’ve received from over 16,000 law enforcement agencies. Crime varies from place to place,” said Bill Carter, of the FBI’s press office in Washington, D.C.
“We will release our comprehensive report this fall about the overall crime in America and it will include more details. However, we don’t provide reasons as to why crime drops. We usually refer that to academies and sociologists,” said Mr. Carter.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr. announced Jan. 4 that preliminary police figures show Houston’s murder rate dropped 26.4 percent to 198 murders for 2011, the lowest since 1965.
“Crime is down across the board and we are going to work to make sure it stays down,” said Mayor Parker. “One murder is still too many, let alone 198. While we are pleased that 2011 finished up in this fashion, we want to continue to build on our successes,” said Chief McClelland.
Chief McClelland attributed the decline to deployment of the Crime Reduction Unit into hotspots. He also cited a high-tech 24-Hour Real Time Crime Center, which tracks criminal activity and updates information used by officers every six hours.
Taking responsibility in the face of funding challenges
Dennis Muhammad, founder and CEO of The ENOTA Project, founded the Peacekeepers Global Initiative to call on men to assume personal accountability in reducing violence in their communities. There are 15 chapters in America and the first international chapter opened in London this past fall. Another is slated to open in Manchester, England in February.
“What makes us effective is we ask the men in particular, the community in general, to give one hour a week to patrol the worst part in their community. We believe one hour of doing something is better than 24 hours of doing nothing,” said Mr. Muhammad.
“I believe because of the declining economy and major budget cuts in most cities, especially the smaller cities, they are cutting back on law enforcement and fire service. This jeopardizes public safety but law enforcement also believes this jeopardizes the safety of police as well. Their focus will not be patrolling high crime areas but areas that have less crime, which means the Black community must fend for itself,” Mr. Muhammad added.
The success of The Peacekeepers Initiative inspired hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to financially invest into its growth and the group is also soliciting donors via its website. “The greatest challenge is lack of funding and resources by state and federal government to the inner city programs and grassroots organizations. I would like to see more of our celebrities and private corporations who have an interest in our community to fund these organizations,” said Mr. Muhammad, whose group will also be participating in New York’s Peace Week January 15-22.
“People are still in denial that these problems of violence exist in our community so they don’t feel the need to financially back those of us doing this important work. But I’m seeing a few schools opening up to me because of problems that are arising,” said Mr. Gordon.
Mr. Jackson agrees funding is a challenge. “We’ve applied to about 50 foundations seeking support but they don’t think our work is necessary. They read these reports and hear officials say crime is down, which justifies their reasoning for not backing us,” he said.
“Most of the financial backing in these cities is going to individuals who are skilled at writing grants but don’t do anything in the streets to address the violence. But it’s a shame we have so many Black millionaires who won’t put money into their communities to address real issues,” said Mr. Reed.
To fund his efforts, Mr. Reed sells copies of his award-winning documentary “Live and Die in Amerikkka” that shows gang murders in the streets of Baton Rouge. He also published a workbook for schools to teach conflict resolution. “The work won’t stop and can’t stop because we have lives to save,” he said.