Friday, June 1, 2012

My Hometown and Violence in Baltimore

These days, I consider Baltimore to be my adopted hometown sufficiently that a tattoo I'm planning to get should have a bit of Baltimore's skyline--although I have not seen the artist's final pre-drawing yet.  But, where I grew up was just outside Philadelphia, and I have commented recently on the argument against cutting too many of the classes like arts, gym, and library as a result of a budget that must be cut.

Recently, there has been what seems like an inordinate amount of violence in Baltimore--from shootings, to stabbings, to robberies and assaults.  At least some of it has been linked to groups of youth.

I think I may see a connection.  Not a causal connection between the two.  But a common theme that is reflected in both discussions.

There are many reasons that a local school district in tough economic times has to make budget cuts which may result in entire programs being cut.  It is unfortunate.  But it is a reality.  The cuts are made should be determined rationally.  The cuts that are made hopefully reflect the preferences of the local community when it comes to where they are willing to accept less public investment in their children.  The cuts can be countered (in part) by more investment (and it will most likely involve time and money) in the children by parents and others in the local community.

It is the idea of the investment in children by parents and others in the local community that brings me back to Baltimore.  Why do youth feel that they have nothing better to do than rob and assault?  It may be, at least in part, due to a lack of investment.  That lack of investment may be from their own parents, it may be from others in their neighborhood, or it may be from their school district.  Most likely it is some combination of two or three of those listed above.

How willing are individuals in our society to invest in others?  I don't know what any scientific data will tell us.  But it is a fundamental political question for this year.  What is the role of government when parents or the local community don't have much to invest?

And what does each community invest in safety?  How can communities keep themselves safe?  At the end of the day--more investment.  Things like citizens on patrol.  But those only work if the investment is made consistently.  If they are only a response after negative events begin to occur, then they may help stop what is occurring but are unlikely to prevent things from starting.

I think we are at a point where communities need to focus on answering three questions.  First, are they willing to maintain a constant vigilance?  Why constant--because any problem that is arising should be nipped in the bud and not allowed to get out of hand while there is a lot of talking and hand wringing.  In other words, how action oriented are communities able to be?

Second, how much of our own time and money are we willing to invest in helping our communities.  Are we just in it for ourselves?  Each person or family making sure that they are safe and well?  Or are we all in this together and trying to keep our neighborhoods and our communities safe and strong?

Finally, how much time and money are we willing to invest in our own children and others' children?  Why should we be willing to invest at least something in others' children?  I think that not investing in children sufficiently can lead to a need for more investment in community safety and greater vigilance.  Maybe that is okay.  But we, as a society, amy want to shift some resources to more investment in children so that we would have to invest less later on.

I don't have any illusion that answering these questions is simple.  I am just trying to point out how the root causes of some of the problems that one suburban community outside Philadelphia faces are not so different from root causes of some of the problems in Baltimore City at the moment.  And I believe that many communities in America will have to struggle with answering the questions I have posed about themselves in the coming years.  The answers to those questions will define how we as a country will define ourselves in the future.

May our consciences, guided by whatever religious or other moral compass each of us uses, guide us to the best decisions for our communities.  

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