The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Our Leper Colony

Ever get the the powerful sense that gun violence is an inevitable part of life in Central Brooklyn? Serious, persistent, yes. And though easy access to guns is a major drag, it probably won't go away at the wave of a magic pistol. As I've tried to understand the recent spate of shootings in the 71st and 70th precincts, I've noticed that other neighborhoods are trying new tactics, while I see little evidence of innovation around here.

Friday's NY Times highlights the Man Up! Program which is quite literally saving lives in East New York, which is currently experiences serious drops in crime while the shooting continues unabated elsewhere. The Man Up! approach echoes other efforts seen in detail in the film The Interrupters, which you can watch on PBS for free at that link, and it's required viewing for anyone trying to understand the widespread use of guns to settle dispute. The brave souls (usually ex-toughs themselves) who stand between warring factions, are often the only ones capable of understanding and mediating these issues before they become mortal.

From the Times article:
The founder of Man Up!, Andre T. Mitchell, said the group was trained in public health approaches developed first in Chicago by the Cure Violence Initiative. The creator of the initiative, Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist, advocated fighting violence as if it were an epidemic, so that it was essential to interrupt its spread — just as a contagious disease is contained or prevented.
“People think the violence is just about gangs, but it’s not really,” Mr. Mitchell said. “The majority are interpersonal disputes: ‘Why you looking at me?’ ‘No, why you looking at me?’ Our job is to get them before they reach for the gun.”
The Q catches some flack from time to time for taking up so much blog acreage talking about crime. I apologize if it's a bummer, but I don't apologize for focusing my attention on an issue that is literally killing people. As the cops like to remind me, I guess to make me feel safer (which is pretty perverse when you think about it), the story of shootings in Central Brooklyn is a story of black men shooting black men. And so, it stands to reason, if you're concerned about black men killing black men, you're probably going to look for solutions to the epidemic. However, if you're primary concern is your own safety (despite the remarkably low chance of being caught in the middle of gunfire), you're likely to focus your attention on ways to contain the men doing the violence, through incarceration, stop-and-frisks, more and more cops, surveillance, etc.

Were the epidemic to happen to a less pariah-like group, I think it's safe to say that the emphasis would be on solutions rather than containment. If young white women were dying in numbers out of proportion to the general society, we'd bust our butts trying to find a cure. The way we deal with poor black men reminds me of the way poor people with tuberculosis were thrown into "sanitariums" to keep them from the general population. If you had more money, you might get better treatment (think minimum security prisons today, for white collar offenders, or richer yet, you can expect no prison at all). This from Wikipedia:

 Tuberculosis caused the most widespread public concern in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an endemic disease of the urban poor. In 1815, one in four deaths in England was due to "consumption". By 1918, one in six deaths in France was still caused by TB. After determining the disease was contagious in the 1880s, TB was put on a notifiable disease list in Britain, campaigns were started to stop people from spitting in public places, and the infected poor were "encouraged" to enter sanatoria that resembled prisons (the sanatoria for the middle and upper classes offered excellent care and constant medical attention). Whatever the (purported) benefits of the "fresh air" and labor in the sanatoria, even under the best conditions, 50% of those who entered died within five years (circa 1916).
You might think the analogy far-fetched, but I don't think so at all. In fact, I'd take it a step further, and say that what WE, as members of mainstream society, are most scared of is CATCHING the bug, i.e. getting shot ourselves. Thus, containment. We identified the problem, and we don't want it to infect us, but rather than treating it as a sickness in the whole body (society), we've decided to create leper colonies.

And the biggest problem? The president put his finger on it yesterday. It is EXTREMELY hard to tell who has the bug and who doesn't. Therefore, Trayvon or Barak could easily be misdiagnosed by an amateur doctor like George Zimmerman. And since our fear as a culture is outsized, an amateur like George might take them out, rather than risk infection. How would you like to be mistaken for a person contagious with a deadly disease, a/k/a thugism? The stigma could be devastating to your life, social development, self-esteem. Especially if it happens not once or twice, but ALL THE TIME.

Okay, I've taken that line of reasoning far enough. you get the point.

Man Up! gets its dough from none other than the wonder boys Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year, to find solutions to young mens' struggles that don't resort to incarceration, incarceration, incarceration.  The Young Men's Initiative has this mission statement:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg launched the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) in August 2011. This cross-agency enterprise is the culmination of 18 months of work, begun when the Mayor committed in his 2010 State of the City address to finding new ways to tackle the crisis affecting young black and Latino men in New York City. Over the next three years, the City will invest a combination of public and private funds, totaling $42 million annually, to support new programs and policies designed to address disparities between young black and Latino men and their peers across numerous outcomes related to education, health, employment and the criminal justice system. These programs and policies will break down barriers to success and help young black and Latino men achieve their professional, educational and personal goals. The Young Men’s Initiative is funded through a combination of city funding and generous contributions from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement at the Open Society Foundation.
It may be a blip, but right now, violent crime is going dramatically down in E.NY (read the article). It's going up around here, and the main culprit is unmediated disputes. I've been paying close attention long enough now to see the pattern, and to expect the story before I even hear the cause of the gunfire. Stuff that should be talked out gets shot out, and everyone's too afraid to intervene.

Any leaders out there going to step up and see that Flatbush gets its share of the latest resources? Anyone?


KCW said...

Thanks for this post and resources/links. Keep doing what you're doing! Don't worry about those who complain

KCW said...

Thanks for this post and resources/links. Keep doing what you're doing! Don't worry about those who complain

Anonymous said...

Q: you are inspirational... I love reading your take on things and it is inspiring... I'm looking forward to seeing the PBS show (which I will watch tonight) and researching how we can get some of this going in our nabe. You keep rocking.

diak said...

A few thoughts re this excellent post:

I second your endorsement of "The Interrupters." A film that was an eye-opening visit to an alien planet for middle-aged white guy like me.

Similarly, check out this book —
I read it last week. A very effective twist on a coming-of-age memoir in the inner city.

Any chance the Bloomberg haters will acknowledge that—for all his shortcomings— the man is usually on the right side of the argument and will put his big bucks behind the effort? This is a good example as well as his funding of gun control candidates for office. (And I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that in a few years a lot of people will be nostalgic for Mr Bloomberg's calm efficient management and refusal to be bullied by any one constituency.)

And, Mr CB, please keep TQAP focusing on crime—and accountability—issues. For some of us, this is more important than the neighborhood's lack of fancy cheese and artisanal pickles...

margaretbk said...

Q, thanks so much for this!

margaretbk said...

Q, thanks so much for this!