Newark: Crime And Poverty

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The anger at the murders that have reached epidemic proportions in some parts of urban America should provoke indignation, rage, and action. The rightful target must be the Federal government.

There is a perfect correlation between crime and poverty. Much has been written about the recent brutal murders of three college students and the wounding of one other in Newark, New Jersey, by a gunman or gunmen.

While some suspects have now been arrested initially it was believed by many –and this in itself is a revelation of bias – that the suspects were young African American males; following a pattern we have seen in many distressed urban areas primarily populated by African Americans.

All the articles we have so far seen focus on the need for “better parenting” and the need to “take back the streets,” and the need to “get in touch with our spirituality.” All these are well and good; but they amount to mere flagellation without tackling the root of most vices—poverty. This isn’t to say that those who commit violent crimes should not be punished; yet, at the same time, we must face the reality of the conditions that produce such depraved murderers.

A parent can only “parent” to the extent that he or she can provide, at a minimum, the basic needs –health, food, drink, or nourishment, education, clothing, housing- of the child. The minute a child becomes aware that the parent is not in a position to provide these needs, there is no “parenting.” Similarly, it is difficult to “connect with spirituality” when one is surrounded with poverty and despair. Cynicism and anti-social behavior, including violence, become the norm.

Last year, President Bush declared that unemployment in Iraq was contributing to the violence there. The President’s plan was to attack this “crisis” by creating more jobs. Already, as of last year, nearly $20 billion of tax payer money had been spent on “rebuilding” Iraq—The money went to everything from education, the electricity system, health centers, sanitation and sewage systems, and the prisons systems.

Newark, New Jersey, could use some of that money, as could the other Newarks around these United States. In New York City, for instance, it’s also estimated that 50% of Black men between the ages of 16 to 19 are unemployed.

Counting the three young victims of the latest tragedy, the body count for this year is at 60 in Newark for 2007 murders; last year the total was 106.

More than half of the Newark population is Black. Twenty-eight percent of this group live in poverty, compared to about 9% in other parts of the state. Additionally, the unemployment rate is estimated at double the average of the state of New Jersey. Newark’s per capita income is a mere $13,009, one of the lowest of the United States’ 50 largest cities. So is it any wonder then at the rate of crime in Newark?

Where is the Federal government in all this? In Iraq, of course, where it’s estimated that the cost of the war is $2 billion per week.

Why won’t the Bush Administration announce a plan to rescue cities like Newark and parts of Detroit, and Washington, D.C., and Chicago and Compton, in LA? Why won’t any of the major presidential candidates on both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party adopt a program for rescuing “inner city” America on their platform? Why is it more critical to address the needs of unemployed Iraqis before the needs of those in the Newarks of this country? Is the implication that the Newarks of this country need to explode in rebellion and destruction before any concerted action occurs.

So it’s not really about what Newark mayor Cory Booker can or cannot do and it’s not primarily a “cultural” issue as proposed by New York Times writer Bob Herbert on his column—it’s about the economy, stupid. Poverty and crime are permanently wedded.

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