Monday, October 8, 2007

Violence in Philadelphia: Will 10,000 Men Accomplish the Job Cops Cant?

On October 21, 2007, Philadelphia will begin its initiative titled, “10,000 Men: It’s a New Day,” (to the right is a photo of the plan’s flier, a vibrant but idealistic push for peace). The program, which will be referred to as “10,000 Men”, was proposed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. 10,000 Men aims at alleviating the city’s growing crime rate. Between January 1 and June 30 of 2007, the Philadelphia police have recorded 203 homicides, 159 of which involved an African-American victim. “More than 80 percent of the slayings involved handguns, and most involve young, black males.” This overwhelming surge of killings has forced the Philadelphia police to rely on other means of containing violence, extending policing power to volunteers within these dangerous neighborhoods. The plan is to plant a volunteer force of 10,000 men on notorious drug dealing and shootout corners, and these volunteers will serve as mentors to the youths committing violent acts. Volunteers would ideally work “three hours a day for at least 90 days,” and would be trained in cultural sensitivity. These 10,000 men would impart advice and guidance for the youths prone to aggression; the goal would be to advocate conflict resolution while providing the youths with role models. “One gun-violence researcher said the idea of putting citizens on patrol had the potential to show children that adults care.”

In the article, supporters of 10,000 Men discussed the pros of Johnson’s proposal. The executive director of the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania said, “a steady exposure to violence just creates this toxic environment for children.” Any concerned parent would want their child to play freely in the yard without having to worry about a stray bullet killing their kid. Understandably, children learn behaviors from their surroundings, and the plan will hopefully deter violence in future generations. 10,000 Men is an idealistic effort to provide violent youths with options beyond the gang-life or drug dealing, further promoting a peaceful community. Very rarely does policing power get handed down to the people, and this act serves as a symbol of empowerment for African-Americans in Philadelphia. A chorus of volunteers have emerged in Philadelphia, and this philanthropic spirit is praise-worthy, but not enough to help Philadelphia. On the surface, Johnson’s plan may temporarily help protect neighborhoods, however, in the long run, Philadelphia will need more than 10,000 men to keep the streets safe.

Overly ambitious, 10,000 Men is riddled with problems. Heather Derussy of the Guardian Angels comments on Johnson’s plan, skeptical of him getting “anywhere near that number [10,000].” Her program, Guardian Angels, parallels 10,000 Men’s goals, and her organization has only gathered support from 7 people within the past two years. This disheartening number may be the future of 10,000 Men, especially if the program is not revised to address the issue of volunteer safety.

What happens if and when one of these 10,000 men gets injured on the job? There’s an inherent danger a volunteer takes on, especially if their presence prevents a drug transaction from occurring. Volunteers will not be carrying weapons, and will have to rely on words to defend themselves in the face of a gun. Who is to say that one of the youths will not hesitate to open fire on a volunteer because of their interference with business? Also, if volunteers are patrolling their own neighborhoods, their family and friends could fall victim to intimidation and violence; drug dealers and gun toters could easily follow volunteers and threaten their families in order to stop the patrolling. The program may unintentionally increase the number of homicides, the exact problem Johnson’s proposal is supposed to prevent. For 10,000 men to be able to recruit a lot of members, there need to be more incentives than just the preservation of “the public good.”

10,000 Men is a romanticized, quick fix answer to a problem with deeper roots than just the absence of role-models. The plan’s attempt to reform youths is a positive move towards understanding the causes of gang life and but forgets to consider other factors that contribute to crime. Increases in violence often correlate with escalating poverty levels. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 22.9% of individuals in Philadelphia are below the poverty line. Since 2000, number of poor people in the city has undoubtedly risen. Unless the causes of violence are resolved, then 10,000 Men will only serve as a temporary solution for the crime in Philadelphia.

What happens when the 10,000 men leave their posts? Gang violence and drug selling do not just stop once there are more cops around; if anything, these actions will induce a brief respite from crime, followed by a new wave of crime. Once again, the police force will be, overwhelmed and understaffed. Philadelphia’s fate requires more permanent proposals implemented in such as stricter restrictions on gun sales, more governmental aid to families in need, and more after-school programs for kids.

The picture on the left is only a part of what the 10,000 Men will have to face. Each red dot indicates the location of one homicide in Philadelphia from January 1st to July 30th of this year. Only time will tell if Johnson’s plan is an effective tool in preventing crime, but the future looks grim for 10,000 Men.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear GZP,

This is a very interesting post! It is shocking to see the amount of crime, particularly homicides, which have occurred in Philadelphia. Even more shocking to me was that 159 of those 203 (or as I calculated, 78%) involved African-American victims. You also stated that the majority of the crimes involved young African-American males. This clearly shows that we cannot be blind to the role racial issues play in this rise in crime.
When I first started reading about the initiative to unite the city and find people who would be willing to volunteer, the first thing that came to my mind was “How in the world are they going to be able to get 10,000 people?” The reason for this is twofold. First, since many people are not directly affected by the crime in Philadelphia they would not be willing to give up so much of their time to being mentors. If they are not surrounded by the “problem” or “high-risk” children, who would they be mentors to? I think that the people who would have to volunteer would be those affected the most, and in this case, the African American community. The only problem I see with this is that many African American people will be reluctant to join this effort because they might be seen as being accomplices to the Police – an institution that is feared and sometimes seen as the “enemy”. So, instead of being seen as role-models to the community, they might see them as extensions of the police system roaming the streets.
You propose “more permanent proposals implemented in such as stricter restrictions on gun sales, more governmental aid to families in need, and more after-school programs for kids”. Although I can see the benefits that can arise from after-school programs for kids who will keep them occupied and out of the streets, I am left wondering what the current restrictions on gun sales are in Philadelphia? Are they so loose right now that stricter gun sales would actually make a difference in the crime rate? Or are the guns that are used in the crimes acquired illegally? I think you hit the mark in stating that “The plan’s attempt to reform youths is a positive move towards understanding the causes of gang life and but forgets to consider other factors that contribute to crime [like poverty]”. But will providing more government aid to those poor people really take them out of poverty? Maybe a better indirect approach to alleviating poverty can be taken, such as higher education – although I know this will be a long-term benefit and not be an immediate solution.
Thanks so much for an enlightening post! Hope to read more of your posts soon.


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