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We Cannot Address Crime and Violence without Addressing Poverty

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Every year, when the weather begins to break there is always a shooting. The usual response from our elected officials and community leaders is to have a forum on crime and violence.

I have personally attended an anti-crime forums every year.  After attending them for seven years, what I see is just rhetoric and political grandstanding. In each one, elected officials and leaders have failed miserably to address the real needs of the community to combat crime and violence. Where we fall short is in not realizing or finally figuring out that you cannot just arrest crime and violence away without addressing the root cause. Our leaders must be conscientious to the cause of crime in violence in communities in need of economic development and job creation.

There have been many debates on the effect poverty has on high crime areas and communities or color. Studies show that there are just as many Americans in poverty today as there was in 1965. Despite what they would have you believe, Westchester County, one of the wealthiest counties in America has no immunity to poverty and crime.

Crime rates have a capacity to take a city’s economy into a vicious cycle that causes unemployment and low community growth. In many of Westchester’s municipalities that are affected by crime and poverty, you have a high population of minorities or poor whites.

Society as a whole has a general misconception of the link between poverty and crime. Although crime is often committed by those who are impoverished, all those who are poor do not commit crimes. Other misconceptions include the assumption that people of color are automatically more likely to commit crime because of the color of their skin, rather than their surroundings and upbringing.

Many of these misconceptions may lead to adverse effects of racism and bigotry in real-life meetings between those with and those without. Understanding and solving the root of the link between poverty and crime will inevitably cause citizens to take pride in their neighborhoods and become productive participants in the labor force.

If we look at crime in the U.S. more broadly, patterns emerge that make it difficult to look at crimes as simply the personal faults of individual crooks and villains. Starting from the 1970’s, studies in the U.S. pointed out increasingly more the link between unemployment, poverty and crime. Other connections like low-income level, schooling, neighborhood quality, education, etc, were revealed as well.

Dierdre Golash in her report, The Case Against Punishment: Retribution, Crime Prevention, and the Law, says that there is a “wide, (though not universal) agreement among criminologists that social factors such as income inequality, poverty, unemployment and local social disorganization contribute to crime. One thread that all these potential causes listed by Golash, have in common is the economic factor.

Is there disproportionality in wealth and economic development here in Westchester? Profoundly Yes! Municipalities like Mt. Vernon’s median family income is $50,555 compared to its neighbor Scarsdale, whose median income is $208,750. Rye City’s median income is $207,773 and neighboring Port Chester is $51,652. Scarsdale minority population is 5.3% minority compared to Mt. Vernon’s 75.6% minority population and Rye city 7.8 % minority compared to Port Chester’s 64.7%. The income inequality can be applied with other cities and municipalities in Westchester.

There has even been discussion among Mt. Vernon home owners to file a joint lawsuit against the Westchester County government for Reparations. It is well-known throughout political circles that in the 1980’ and 90’s, Westchester County purposely moved people living on Welfare, Receiving Section 8 Vouchers, and homeless shelters to cities like Mt. Vernon, Yonkers, Peekskill and other high minority populated areas and did not give financial assistance to fund support programs for the large migration of needy families that were purposely sent to these cities by the Westchester County government. Mt. Vernon now houses 28% of all families that receives social services in Westchester County.

At the beginning of this process, it was reported that former Mt. Vernon Mayor Blackwood was quoted saying “Mt. Vernon will not be a dumping ground for the poor”. Ironically, Mayor Blackwood was attacked by his own Democratic Party for standing up for the economic stability of Mt. Vernon.

Now many years later, what you see in Mt. Vernon is the effect like many other cities in Westchester; high crime, high unemployment, low economic development and high taxes for homeowners.Why havent  our county, state and federal elected officials aggressively addressed these issues? What monies have they brought in to cities like Mt. Vernon to compensate for the deliberate stacking on families that are in need of assistance?

Crime is clearly an important problem that must be confronted. However, it cost about $40,000 to detain a person in a correctional facility in New York each year. Westchester County Jail moves over 10 thousand detainees through its doors per year. We see from an economic standpoint, detaining every prisoner is actually a greater burden to the tax payer than creating policies that truly address the needs of youth and families here in Westchester.
Real “Community Policing” or what we call “Extended Community Policing” is police management understanding the need to coordinate all institutions of the community to work together. We need apprenticeships that provide career pathways to jobs in government, technology, hospitals and educational institutions. Unions need to reach out to inner city youths to help them find routes to construction jobs and other growing industries that offer apprenticeships. The criminal justice system and local business owners must give young people with minor criminal records a real chance to succeed.

“From a Law Enforcement perspective, in hard economic times, police management and government has fallen away from real community policing or thinking outside the box in addressing and solving the problems in our community before they become serious police problems. That’s how you being proactive in policing and in government,” says Ron Hampton, Executive Director of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America, Washington D.C.

Damon K. Jones

Damon K. Jones is an Activist, Author, and Publisher of Black Westchester Magazine, a Black-owned and operated newspaper based in Westchester County, New York.

Mr. Jones is a Spiritual Life Coach, Couples and Family Therapy Coach, Holistic Health Practitioner, First Aid in Mental Health Practioner, Diet and Nutrition Advisor, and Vegan, Vegetarian Nutrition Life Coach.

Mr. Jones is a 32-year Law Enforcement Practioner New York Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America.

Mr. Jones has been a guest commentator on New York radio stations WBLS (107.5 FM), WLIB (1190 am), WRKS (98.7 FM), WBAI (99.5 FM), and Westchester's WVOX (1460 am). Mr. Jones has appeared on local television broadcasts, including Westchester News 12 "News Makers" and Public Television "Winbrook Pride. You can now hear Damon every Wednesday at 830 AM on WFAS at 1230 AM, Morning with Bob Marone Show.

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Ron Hampton April 6, 2016 at 2:16 AM

Excellent my Brother.
– Ron

Lenora Fulani April 6, 2016 at 2:14 AM

Brilliant! And politically strong.
– LF


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