Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Senseless, brutal beating

prompts community soul-searching

What to make of the brutal beating of Samuel McClain by a gang of young sociopaths on Milwaukee's north side?

More importantly, what to do about it?

I've been reading and listening as others have weighed in. This may sound like what we used to call a copout in bygone days, but I don't have an answer yet. This wasn't a subject I wanted to address in the heat of the moment, when it's easy to say something you'll come to regret for a long time. A week later, I still don't pretend to have even a slice of a solution.

What happened to McClain should never happen to anyone in a civilized society. We all can agree on that -- even if it turns out that McClain was in the neighborhood to buy crack, not just innocently driving through.

But there the opinions diverge. What can we do about it? How can we prevent it from happening again? What is wrong with society/Milwaukee/young people/the inner city/black people/poor people/ or noun of your choice?

Here is a sampling of opinion on the subject:

Owen Robinson calls the attackers animals. (Eric Von of WMCS talk radio says animals is too good a word. He calls them savages.) Writes Robinson:
Liberals are already talking about “root causes.” The root causes are always the same: poverty; hopelessness; not enough government programs; racism; etc...

In truth, the Left is correct to look at root causes. The perpetrators of this beating should be rounded up and severely punished, but that will do little to change the putrid culture that grows such rotten people.

Where the Left goes wrong is in identifying the solutions...

The first step is security of people... Milwaukee must put a strong police presence into the worst neighborhoods and show by responding quickly and forcefully to criminal activity that the good people can trust them. When people feel safe, they will venture into the neighborhood instead of searching for a way out of it.

The second step is security of property... When the property is secure, people will begin to invest in the inner city. They will build businesses, create jobs, and invest in their neighborhoods. This will help build a foundation for hope.

The third step is education. Milwaukee must improve the public schools through rigorous reform and strict accountability. It’s about the kids – not the teachers. It would be a leap in the right direction to immediately lift the cap on school vouchers so that kids can escape the worst schools. Educated people are more likely to get good jobs and abstain from criminal activity. [Xoff Note: Milwaukee public schools need improvement, but they are not a root cause of the problem. Thousands of students who actually attend school and study are successsful, and they are enrolled in the same school system as the savages. Quoting Eric Von again, MPS is not the problem. I agree.]

The fourth step is liberty. The culture in the inner city that tells kids that they are trapped and oppressed must be eradicated. Teaching young black kids that they are acting “white” and betraying their heritage if they are educated, articulate, and law abiding is destroying more young lives than Jim Crow ever did. This oppressive culture stifles kids’ potential and quashes their dreams. We must create a culture where kids feel free to succeed and reach their infinite promise. [Xoff asks: Easy to say. How do we do that?]
Scott Stearns correctly observes that having more laws in place would not have prevented McClain beating:
Such ideas are being driven by the politics of the moment, and may well be worthwhile. However, would they have prevented this terrible incident from taking place? I don't think so. Mobs like this one aren't driven by rational thought when they commit such heinous acts. The juveniles and young adults that did this obviously lack discipline and have little to no ability to resolve conflict outside of resorting to violence.

Passing stiffer penalties is all fine and good for dealing with the crime after it has occurred. What people need to spend more time on is how we prevent more people from becoming so very cold and cruel like these kids have. That is much tougher, and not as simple as passing a bill and signing it into law.
Brian Fraley talks tough for now, promises more analysis later:
For this particular case, it's important to also focus on the criminal justice system running its course. It appears the police are rounding up the thugs that beat this man. Now we wait to see if the DA and the judges will be firm or wimpy. I will be blogging a lot about Milwaukee's real problems and real attributes over the next few months. And I will delve into the 'root causes' argument as well. But as McClain lays in a Wauwatosa hospital recovering from his beating, I'm spending a few days rooting for the cops and the prosecutors.
Jessica McBride says:
It's about time that we start talking about the realities of homicide ... and violent crime in Milwaukee. Violent crime is concentrated in a small geographic area and it involves a core group of young men who make up the urban underclass in our community. Young African-American males are disproportionately victims and suspects. But too often we write and talk about the homicide problem through racially and gender neutral terms... We are losing a generation of young black males in Milwaukee (in 2002, for example, the homicide rate for black males was 40 times that for white males and the homicide rate for black males was off the charts compared to any other group). People are afraid to focus on this because they don't want to be called racist...

I am not a person who thinks systemic issues and historical problems don't play a role in crime. Of course they do. I believe the southern sharecropping culture mirrored social patterns that exist today in the modern ghetto. I believe the decline of the manufacturing base in Milwaukee played a role. I believe the crack epidemic did as well.

I also believe that, although we can, and should, try to identify the reasons that can lead to a criminal environment (and identify how some segments of society lost the rigid rules needed for order on Golding's island), we can not excuse the individual from the choices they've made. Let me be very clear about that. There comes a point where incarceration is the only option. You can't rehabiliate a Laron Ball. It's too late.

[Xoff notes: Laron Ball, a young man with a long rap sheet, was shot and killed when he went for a deputy's gun in a courtroom after being convicted of homicide. Some of his relatives apparently were involved in the McClain beating. The real question is at what point to give up on a young man, and what to do to prevent the next generation of Laron Balls. Are the 14-year-olds involved in the McClain beating beyond redemption? Perhaps.]
I am sad to report that James Widgerson, who commutes into Milwaukee for his job, is giving up on the city and predicts its doom:

Eventually, some businesses will die off. More people will flee to the suburbs. Milwaukee's mayor, whether it's Barrett or a successor, will get to preside over a city out of control. If they try to restore order using the police, they'll just be called racists (or Uncle Toms, depending on the politician's skin color). Michael McGee will eventually win and the Milwaukee Public Schools will be an even worse Hell filled with punks wearing "no snitching" t-shirts the kids won't be able to read.

It will be a liberal paradise, because the official policy of the city will be to fear the policeman with a gun more than the criminal with gun. (It's already official policy to fear the law abiding citizen with a gun more than the criminal.) Soon the police will be little more than parking enforcers and tavern ordnance enforcers, shaking down the law abiding for more cash for a dying city's coffers.

Eventually my job will move out to the suburbs, as well as all the jobs my company generates. Milwaukee will be left as a burned-out shell of a city, murdered in cold blood. But the blue bracelets they handed out to stop the violence will be a nice find in the junk heaps.

When my children are older I'll tell them what it was like to grow up in Milwaukee, even as my parents tell me about their first apartment on Atkinson. My children will think I was lucky to escape alive. Perhaps I was.
Renee Crawford admits to being "a bleeding heart liberal," but writes about what she saw in the summer of 2004 when the black community had more hope than despair:

I will continue to fight for the glimpse I saw that summer. A glimpse of what could be if anyone cared enough to make it be. For the friends and colleagues I have so much respect for in my community. The hard working masses who just need someone to give them a chance.

Nothing gets me more angry than when I see someone like Belling dismiss the entire community as a lost cause not worthy of his consideration. Or when someone calls my people lazy or unwilling to change their lives. Belling's racism and hatred disgust me.

I spent an entire summer going door to door throughout the entire black community of Milwaukee. Never once was I afraid. Never once did I feel threatened. They had hope that summer and hope trumps all. Mine eyes have seen the glory...

Oh, and the city's daily paper? a predictable editorial.


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