David Kennedy – Stopping It
David Kennedy, the Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, discusses the crisis of guns, gangs and mass incarceration.
So there are facts here, there is some theory. I will prove the statement by the end, I hope, to your satisfaction, but if I left after this next statement I would have said just about everything important I need to say because all the rest of it is details. And the thing that I want you all to leave with is that on this issue of serious crime and violence in our most troubled and most desperate communities there is an answer. People don’t necessarily know it yet, they don’t necessarily understand it, they don’t necessarily believe it when they see it and those are all things that we can talk about but it is true. And I’m part of a kind of band of gypsies that is roaming the country and has been for a long time trying to get people to understand this because an awful lot of what we are dealing with as people desperately concerned about these issues, a lot of what people to whom we are or ought to be accountable who are living with these issues all the time we don’t have to do this anymore and I will now tell that story.
So Portland is a safe city, the country is much safer than it used to be, this is a national good luck story, good news story, everybody knows that. Violent crime nationally is down to levels not seen since the 1960s. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, a number of traditionally very high crime cities are dramatically safer than they used to be. That is all true and it’s real, nobody’s cooking those numbers, we’re good at counting bodies so the facts are real. And as good news as that is in at least one way it simply doesn’t matter because all of our cities still have places that are desperately dangerous. These are places where people are afraid to go outside, they’re afraid for their kids, they’re putting their babies to sleep in bathtubs because the stray gunshots don’t come through. I see some of you nodding out there, we know this is right. This is not the country in a very real way so I’m going to provide some information from my friend and colleague, John Klofas at the Rochester Institute of Technology in just a minute. But John captures this beautifully, he says “The national numbers are down, nobody lives in the nation, people live in neighborhoods, and these issues are not socially evenly distributed, they’re not geographically evenly distributed. Wait folks, don’t live like this.” That’s simply true, these are issues that affect almost entirely poor minority communities, they are worst in black and African-American neighborhoods, and they are appalling. So these are John’s numbers – John has been working in Rochester for years now – -these data are a couple of years old, we’ve reviewed them recently, they are still true. So at the time John ran these numbers for Rochester the National Homicide Rate was about eight per hundred thousand. It’s now down to between four and five per hundred thousand for the country. So each of these rows is a subset of the one above so nationally if you’re aged 15 to 19 your homicide risk just about triples, if you’re a black male – now we get the big jumps – almost 40 per hundred thousand, five times the base rate, if you’re a black male 150 per hundred thousand. Rochester is one of the more dangerous cities in New York State, the black young male homicide rate in Rochester is almost 300 per hundred thousand, and that’s not evenly distributed. There’s a set of neighborhoods around downtown, it’s an arc around the downtown, they call it the “Crescent.” If you’re a young black man in the Crescent in Rochester you’re dying at a rate of 520 per hundred thousand a year and if you do the simple long division that means one in 200 young men are being killed every year. And those of you who know either your criminology or your public health on this, this is almost exclusively death by gunshot and for every homicide there are 5 to 10 wounding, non-fatal woundings, which means statistically half the kids get shot every year. And it doesn’t work like that, it’s more concentrated, you see young men who get shot multiple times, again anybody who’s had an even near experience with this stuff knows all this, but the math is horrendous. And there are communities in nearly every American city that are dealing with this. It used to be just the big cities, it’s not anymore, it’s moving into the rural areas, moving into the small towns. The biggest increases in black male homicide this decade have been in small towns. So this is what we are here to talk about.
I’ll just let you read this. We are turning ourselves inside out as a country to protect against the next World Trade Center attack. We’re not doing much of anything about this. I’m working in New York City with a senior NYPD officer named Joan Jaffe. She runs the NYPD’s Housing Police. And early this year we were at a conference and she had a folder.
She’s working with young black men who live in New York City Public Housing and she showed me something I have seen many times before in various ways. You see this chalked on the sidewalks, you see it in the shrines in the hard hit neighborhoods. These were Facebook pages and they were Facebook pages of young black men with RIP written across them. And I said “Yes, yes, I know, I’ve seen this, I’ve been seeing it for years, I hate it but yes, I’ve seen that. It’s the survivor’s honoring their dead.” And she said “No, you don’t get it. These kids are alive. These are kids I’m working with right now and these are their current Facebook pages. They don’t think they’re going to live out the year and they’re getting their affairs in order.” So this is in New York City the nation’s signal crime reduction, crime control, crime decline success. Those of you who track these things will perhaps have seen that at the end of last year New York City had a small increase in homicide and that’s a reasonable claim, it was relatively small, and what everybody said about it, including me when we were asked to comment, was probably not a big deal, probably not a harbinger of doom, Armageddon’s not coming back in New York City, homicide’s been coming down in New York City since 1992, small base rates, small increase, not good but nothing to panic about. And once again I am ashamed of myself because it turns out that white homicide in New York when it was deconstructed went down by almost another full quarter. The entire increase was black men, all of it. Young black men make up 3% of New York City’s population and 30% of the homicide desk.
So this is the beginning of the facts that say we can do something about this which we can. These problems are driven by very small numbers of very active offenders so our research and that of many others looking into this shows that in the most dangerous neighborhoods, not citywide, but in the most dangerous neighborhoods, about 5% of the roughly 18 t0 25/25 year old men drive this. It is not everybody, it’s not all the at-risk kids, it’s not everybody who wears their pants low, it is in fact hardly anybody, even among the at-risk males in these neighborhoods who cross over into being the real engine of what’s going on here. It is not the neighborhood, almost everybody is desperate about what’s happening, and I’ll say in a minute in more detail even most of the 5% don’t like what’s going on. So when guys like me in pinstriped suits say gangster rap is the authentic voice of the community I want to shoot them in their authentic head because they are wrong, it’s a blood libel against the community, the idea that the community likes the death and the dying and the destruction is the worst kind of insult to the people who struggle against this kind of thing. You can sit down with community people and frontline police officers and figure out who these folks are because they stand out. And this was done years ago in Portland, we’ve done it all over the country. This piece is remarkably easy as it turns out. And then even among the 5% it’s maybe 5/10% of those who are really driving things, everybody else is more desperate than driven. We make a big mistake here normally which is saying these are illicit markets, these are people making their money on the underground economy, you get ripped off, you have a bad debt, you can’t go to the cops, you can’t call a lawyer, you take care of things yourself. So there’s all this violence and it’s about the drugs and the drug markets and hustling and everything’s right about that except the conclusion. Almost all the violence in most places has nothing to do with money.
It’s personal, it’s respect, it’s disrespect, it’s standing vendetta, it’s beef, it’s “he faced me and my friends are watching and if I don’t do something about it they’ll abandon me and their guy’s after me with guns and if I don’t go shoot that kid I’m toast.” And the rule of thumb on this ends up being it’s only the guys and the gangs and the drug crews who will shoot you over a beef with their ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Most of us won’t do that but that’s why they’re doing it. It’s not about the drug trade, it’s not about putting money on the table, it is an unwritten but universally understood street code and our focus on race and drugs and all those issues makes it really hard to see this and so I urge people to forget about all that. This is a country in which before the Civil War and probably for some time after young white men of privilege went into the woods at dawn and hacked at each other by pre-arrangement with big knives. That’s what dueling was. And they didn’t do it because they came from single parent households, they did it because their friends were watching and their social culture said if they didn’t do this idiotic thing everybody would turn their backs on them and they did it because they were young men with their friends watching and there is no stupider organism on the planet than a young man with his friends watching, right? We know that. But this is what’s really going on out there which means – and we’ll get to all of this – we can forget about the economics for all practical purposes, we do not have to fix the economy, we do not have to get rid of crack, we do not have to eliminate drug markets because that’s not what’s driving this.
So here’s what this looks like in practice. This is research out of the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio. These are the gangs and the sets and the drug crews identified through working with frontline police officers. This is Robin Angle and John Ekid, many people in this room will know these folks, and this is not geographic, this is social network analysis. So each of the nodes is a gang or a group or a set, the red lines mean they’re beefing, the green lines mean they’re allied, the blue lines means it’s volatile so it could go either way. And in one way or another every single city looks like this, the details can be different. So you get different kinds of gang clusters in Chicago and on the West Coast, you get more, you get less, they’re more or less beefy, but this is the way the streets work and this is absolutely central to what’s going on. So Robin and her people ran criminal histories on about half the guys they identified. What this means is that of group members a third have 10 or more felony priors, et cetera, et cetera. These are shockingly active offenders. This crew averages 35 prior charges a piece. So these are not even your routine bad guys in these neighborhoods and again lots of people in this room know this, this is classic gang presentation, this is what Matt Klein calls “cafeteria style offending.” You take something from every steam plate and pile your plate high. These are not specialists, it’s drugs and guns and drink and domestic violence and a little bit of everything. But this also turns out to be universally true. And here’s where things get really interesting – so this is unfortunately the routine in these neighborhoods, these are black male gunshot victims. We know that we do not usually know this so when you look at hundreds of homicides – they did a year’s work in Cincinnati but we do this all over the country – you always get these basic results. Of all the homicide victims in Cincinnati almost half were members of one of these street groups, over 60% of the offenders were members of one of the street groups, and for all killings in Cincinnati – street, chicken baby, domestic, elder abuse, everything – three-quarters of all homicides were connected to the groups’ victim, offender, or both.
This is the American homicide problem and this is just another way of showing how shockingly concentrated this is. Sixty one groups, about 1500 individuals, that’s under three-tenths of a per cent of the population of Cincinnati and it’s three-quarters of the killings. You can’t find anything more concentrated than this.
This is West Garfield Park in Chicago. This is Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhood or it was until August of last year and I will tell that story. This is the work of Andrew Papchristos who is at the University of Massachusetts and right now at Harvard and this is the social network analysis from hell. If this were on your Amazon page it would come with a notation saying “People who run with people just like you died just like him.” So this begins with killings in West Garfield Park going back five years, those are the red spots, and the connections are to people with whom they were arrested or field interrogated by the Chicago Police Department. This network has 1500 people in it, all criminal offenders. It contains 80% of the homicide and the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago going back five years. The homicide rate in this network is 3000 per hundred thousand, you are dying at astronomical rates if you run with this crowd. And what Andrew and his colleagues are beginning to find out is that your place in these networks actually to a very high degree predicts your risk and you can just see it here, they’ve got the math on this but you can just see it. It’s the people who connect to the groups that turn out to be the most vulnerable. These are the guys who float between, they’re the connects, they’re the brokers. Exactly what these mechanisms are we’re still figuring out but it’s true and you can just see it — it’s this guy, it’s this guy, it’s this guy — and this is infinitely more predictive than the way we usually think about this which is neighborhood or risk factor or prior exposure to or any of this kind of thing. This is actually really pretty good, it’s saying what’s going on. But then one step out from that it’s the network, it’s the network that’s driving this stuff, and when you take this network out of West Garfield Park, the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago, it reverts back to being pretty close to as safe as the rest of Chicago. It’s not the neighborhood, right? It’s these guys and their dynamics.
Here’s the other way this stuff gets produced. This is the most dangerous neighborhood in High Point, North Carolina and again this is convenient, we could do this for any other city. High Point’s about 100,000 right next to Greensboro, it actually feels like kind of one big municipal area. It has some extremely bad neighborhoods. This is one of the worst. This is the worst, was the worst at the time. My friend Jim Summey ran the English Road Baptist Church right about here and Sunday mornings his parishioners couldn’t get into the church parking lot because there were so many Johns curb crawling for hookers that they literally couldn’t cross the street and get their cars into the parking lot. Each of these crosses is a crack house so that’s the engine for what was going on in the West End and for those of you criminologists this is really interesting. We get told to do hotspot work a lot, this is the hotspot. The crack houses aren’t in the hotspot and we see this a lot too – that the worst crime is in a kind of catchment zone produced by the drug corners and the drug houses but when we go do our hotspot policing and stop everybody in those hotspots they’re not the problem and I’m going to be talking about this a lot. Mostly we police the wrong people. But it’s these networks and the drug zones that tear these neighborhoods apart.
So in these neighborhoods people are dying, they are scared, this is normal for civic life. In Boston there were so any street crimes at one point that the city considered regulating them as impediments to progress on the public way – this was the best they could come up with. My friend Loretta Scott who is Commissioner of Parks and Recreation in Rochester and also a black grandmother speaks about dressing up to go to a funeral for a neighborhood elder, this was a guy in his eighties who had died, and her five-year-old black granddaughter said to her “Grandmother, who killed him?” not “What did he die of?” which is the right question for the death of one of our elders but “Who killed him?” because that was her normal experience, that was a very reasonable question for her. And what you find with even the guys we write off as the bad guys that almost all of them you get them alone and they hate this. They’re scared, they’ve gotten hurt, they’ve all got friends who’ve been killed, they love their mothers, they love their little brothers and sisters, they don’t see any way out of this. But do they like it? They do not. Again the idea that even street hustlers like the prospect of dying at the rate of 2000 per hundred thousand – we have to be nuts to believe that’s true and we are kind of nuts because most of the time we do believe that it’s true but it’s not true.
So we have these neighborhoods, they are historically oppressed, they are currently neglected, they have no jobs and terrible schools and inadequate healthcare, their families are stressed, they’re dying, they’re getting hurt, they’re terrified. And what do we do? We arrest everybody. This is our national response to this problem and some, maybe many, of the people in this room know what generally the public does not know. We have been increasing American incarceration at a fantastic rate since the mid-1970s. We reached the following point in the most advanced economy in the world. Over one in a hundred Americans are locked up right now, this is the result of the latest [inaudible] work on this and you will at this point be shocked to discover that this is not equal between races. So white men over 18 one in 106, black men over 18 one if 15, black men in their middle adulthood one in nine, one in three black men in that age group right now in America is under judicial supervision, they are in prison, in jail, on parole, or on probation. And the projections as we stand right now say that a black man born right about now stands a one in three chance of serving a felony prison sentence. This is American crime policy. This didn’t come down from the heavens. We have decided to do this. And we are destroying these neighborhoods. So when we talk about the root cause ills in these neighborhoods we talk about things like the economy in schools and racism and bad healthcare and historical neglect and all that kind of thing and all of that is real. We have added something voluntary to it because the impact on these neighborhoods or our incarceration policies is tearing them apart. People’s parents are going to lock up one in nine – you can see this, right – but one in nine black kids has a parent in prison. It affects their school performance, it affects their education, it affects their likelihood to commit crimes and go to prison themselves. We’re tearing black men out of the franchise, they can’t vote, and once again of course all of this is concentrated in our already most vulnerable communities. And no matter what else we do so were we able to wave a magic wand and eradicate racism and do job development and fix the hospitals and fix the schools it wouldn’t matter anymore because if we don’t fix this none of the rest of it’s going to work.
The idea that you can do economic development and family support in a neighborhood when we are doing this to the neighborhood doesn’t make sense anymore. We have to fix this. And they don’t like it, right? So I spend half my time in these neighborhoods and half my time with law enforcement and the neighborhoods could say to law enforcement “We really appreciate what you’re doing on our behalf. It’s not working very well but we really think you’re trying hard and we appreciate your efforts.” Uh-uh, that’s not what happens. The dominant public narratives in these neighborhoods, and it’s not the only one at all, but the dominant public narrative is this is a continuation of what we have always experienced, the history of black America is one in which we have been deliberately oppressed under color of law, three-fifths of a person, slaves shall be treated as property no matter where they go, you find them in Massachusetts, you’ve got to send them back to their owners, slave catchers, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, the dogs and the fire hoses sent on Civil Rights marchers, we finally got Civil Rights in 1968 and white America had to come up with something else to oppress us and what they came up with was drug enforcement. It is a seamless and coherent and rational narrative in my view. It is supported by the way these neighborhoods are often policed — people are stopped, people’s doors are kicked in, ministers and grandmothers are pulled over on pretext traffic stops, you live next to a crack house which means you get arrested for drinking a beer on your porch because this is zero tolerance and hotspot policing and all that kind of stuff that we do – and the community says all the time “You don’t treat white neighborhoods like this” and they’re right. And this is so profoundly alienating that it is driving stop snitching. Again most of us from the outside look at stop snitching and we see it as witness intimidation, we see it as fear. There is some of that and that is mostly not what it is, it is mostly a principled disengagement from an oppressive outside force. And the mainstream social norm in many of these neighborhood has become “good people don’t talk to the cops” and it is reaching, as this little story goes, extreme proportions.
So one of my black friends said “If you want to destroy civilization lock it up” and he’s right and that’s what we’re doing. Again many of the people in this room will know the growing literature on legitimacy in law enforcement. In a nutshell it says “Law enforcement must be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the police or it won’t work.” Law enforcement is not seen as legitimate which means that the meaning of law in these places is an oppressive racialized outside force and for those of you know your political philosophy this is literally the difference between civil society and the state of nature. Civil society is the surrender of the use of coercive force to the state in the name of ending vendetta and honor codes and all that come from that. These neighborhoods are rejecting civil society, they are rejecting law, they are rejecting authority and what we’re seeing all over the country is the reemergence of vendetta and beef as a way of solving serious crime problems. There is nothing more important in crime prevention and control than community, family, peer standards. This is what academics call informal social control. It’s what my mother thinks, it’s what my neighbor thinks, it’s what the girls I might want to go out with think about what I’m doing because what they think matters a whole lot more to me than what the cops think.
So let me do a little experiment here. So those of you who grew up really afraid of the cops please raise your hand. And that’s typical, you’ve got a couple, thank you. Those of you grew up really afraid of your mother please raise your hand. Everything you will ever need to know about informal social control. But this is real, it’s the mothers and the grandmothers and the elders aren’t saying “Put your guns down.” If the only people saying it are the cops we loose and in healthy neighborhoods the community standards do most of the work and the cops play cleanup when they need to. We are leading with law enforcement in these neighborhoods and we’re doing it in considerable part because we have so alienated the neighborhoods that saying “Stop it” means you’re standing with law enforcement and they won’t do it.
So we need to fix this. And the core move on this is turning out to go through a process of truth telling and reconciliation on what we have just been talking about. The cops need to go the neighborhoods and say “It’s not working. We were well intentioned but we see the damage we’re doing. We want to work with you on a different way. We need to police your neighborhoods differently. We understand the way in which we’re playing into the worst of our history. In my police department the chief needs to say he’s not a racist police department conspiring with the CIA to destroy your young men. I understand why that makes sense but it’s not right and we would like to work with you so that we can change what we’re doing.” And the community needs to take ownership for the fact that it is not setting standards. If the community isn’t saying “Put your guns down and don’t stand on the corner and sell crack to drive through buyers” the outside can’t fix that. And it needs to understand something that is particularly ugly which is that by doing so it is playing into the outsiders’ worst racial stereotypes, in playing to the story that nobody cares and that eveybody’s living off drug money which is not true but looks pretty reasonable from a distance. So we are doing this, this process of truth telling is happening all over the country, and it turns out actually to be remarkably easy on these issues. And it reveals something that ought to be obvious and isn’t. We are so alienated, we are so polarized that we can’t see the places where there is really almost complete agreement. So if you look at the main constituents this year they are law enforcement. What we usually mean when we say the community by which we mean the good people in the community and the community of the streets, the gang members, the drug dealers. And all three of those groups agree on all this, almost everybody, even the thugs want to be safe, they’re the ones who are getting killed the most, they don’t like it. They’re afraid of a few of their own, these are the 5% of the 5%. They’re crazy, they’re dangerous, everybody wants them controlled somehow. Even the cops want to arrest and imprison as few people s they can, it’s a means to an end, it’s not an end in itself. The hardest bitten cop would rather see some corner guy become a middle class taxpayer than put him in federal prison. He may not think that’s going to happen but is that what he wants? Yes, that’s what he wants. Everybody would rather the community norms play in the fore and law enforcement play in the back. And what’s maybe the most interesting about finally being able to see all this stuff is that it shatters the normal exchange on this which is mostly us looking across this divide and saying to somebody else “You change, you’re the problem.”
The cops are racist, the community is inactive, the street guys are psychopaths, it’s always over there somewhere, and what this says is we’ve all produced this, nobody is completely righteous here, and we need to move collectively to a new place which turns out to be pretty simple and this we’ve known for a long time, the origins of this work go back to the Boston Gun Project and the so-called Boston Miracle in the mid-1990s. We could see then the impact of what happened and I’ll show you that in a second. It’s taken us this long to figure out what was going on and the peace that we have been dumbest about and the slowest to see is the reality of these racialized narratives and the kind of coming together that undoing those can quite readily create. But this has to be workable work, it has to be something that people can do, when you go in on Monday morning and you know what your jobs are, and it is. So you put together a partnership of law enforcement so cops, prosecutors, US Attorney, FBI, DEA, all those people. You put together voices from the community and the question is “In the small population driving this who are the people that they will listen to?” not “Who do we care about?” “Who do they care about?” And they care about their mothers and their grandmothers and the mothers of the murdered kids and the older wiser ex-offenders and the elder on the block and the right kind of ministers but every community is full of people who have standing on the streets. And you put together social services, you focus in on the small group that’s driving things and you start talking to them. So back in Boston this seemed like the weirdest piece of all, telling cops that the way to control the behavior of the most dangerous people in the city was to sit down and talk to them and it turns out as an objective matter that that’s what you do. Nobody has figured out a way to deal with this without having a relationship with the street so you set up a relationship with the streets. And you say something really, really basic. So my mother tells me frequently that I learned all of this from her and the more I think about it the more I think she’s basically right, this stuff in a lot of way is it gets simpler and simpler and simpler. And so you say a couple of true things, you say this is tearing the community apart and it’s got to stop, you say we’d really like to help you, and we say this is not a negotiation, this is over, no more, and then you stick with it.
So the communication part is interesting, it’s just talking, and there are lots of ways to talk, but there are some mechanisms that have evolved. So once again it’s easy, relatively speaking anyway, to identify this population. The old Boston technique was you identify the groups, the groups turn out to have people on probation and parole, you get probation and parole to bring them to a meeting and you sit down and you talk to them. That means that they hear what we have to say, they go back to their groups, they pass it along, and basically you’ve talked to the whole city all at once. You can use probation and parole to have other kinds of meetings. I’m going to show some slides from Chicago and in some neighborhoods in Chicago they set these meetings up as a routine part of release from prison. If you come back into the hot neighborhoods from state or federal lockup a condition of your release is that you go to one of these meetings. You can go to people and talk with them at home. You can go to the corners where they hang out and talk to them. And recent and even to me kind of amazing development and further evidence that this is simpler than we think – you can just ask people.
It turns out again as a matter of fact that you can approach the most dangerous people in a neighborhood in the right way and say “We would like to talk to you” and almost everybody will say “Okay.” Who would have thought it?
So there are three basic pieces to this intervention. So you’ve got the partnership together, you’ve figured out who you want to talk to, you’ve figured out a way to talk to them. First piece is what we call the moral voice of the community. I think it’s the most important piece. This is not criminal justice, this is not social service programs, this is mothers and grandmothers and older wiser [inaudible] and the right elders saying to the people who need to hear it the most “We love you and we need this to stop. You are breaking our hearts, you are hurting people you care about.” My kid thought that he wasn’t afraid of dying and it got him killed. And let me tell you now what it has meant to me, his mother, and his dad and his younger brothers and sisters and all of his cousins and all of his relatives and the block where he lived on that he got himself killed. We will never be the same and I don’t think you want your mother standing here telling this story. And I’ve seen meetings where 40 of the scariest guys in a big city sat there listening to this with tears streaming down their faces. They are not psychopaths, we just don’t treat them as if they’re rational. You can challenge the street code, you can say “I got thug love, I had thug love, I love my street family, I knew they had my back right up until the time they trampled me on the way to the US Attorney to give me up because they were going to jail. And that’s why I just came out from 15 years in lockup and some other man raised my kids and the entire time I was there not a single one of them wrote me, visited me, or paid my mother’s electric bill. And it’s true, they know it’s true, and nobody ever says it out loud.” I had a DEA agent in North Carolina say to a room full of these guys “When you get locked up how long do you think before one of your boys sleeps with your girlfriend?” and this kid raised his hand and said “Two days and it was my cousin.” They all know it but nobody ever says the emperor has no clothes. They don’t like what’s going on, they don’t know that all the rest of the guys they run with don’t like what’s going on. And so you say to them “So this little girl got blown off for [inaudible] a drive-by last week. Who here has kids?” and everybody’s got kids. And you say “Okay, who thinks this was okay?” and none of them think it’s okay. So you can have this moral engagement, it’s really simple, you sit these guys down and you say all this stuff and they listen. It’s not all right, we’d love to help you, if you make us we’re going to stop you, the ideas you’re living by are wrong and toxic and destructive. And we’re in this dance, all of us – the neighborhoods, the streets, the cops – nobody likes it, this isn’t working for anybody so let’s just knock it off. It’s focused. So this is usually a crime conversation. This really isn’t about crime, the stuff that’s going on it’s criminal, that’s right, but this is about a couple of things that will destroy a community and most crime won’t. It doesn’t mean it’s okay but it doesn’t mean we have to fix the world in order to stop this stuff. And when I was still at Harvard and teaching graduate students a favorite day of my year was when I set my students up about drug markets and I would give them readings about street corners and drive by’s and youth violence and all that stuff and then I would come in for a seminar and I would close the door and I would say to them “So let’s talk about drug markets. Who can buy drugs in the building?” and there would be this shocked silence and then two-thirds of my students would raise their hand. That’s not what they thought they were going to talk about.
We don’t have to get rid of drugs, we need to get rid of the kind of craziness that’s going on in these neighborhoods now. It’s driving the violence, it’s driving the disorder, it’s pulling the cops in, it’s driving incarceration, it’s about that. And you can say to these guys on the corner “Yes, we want you to turn your life around” that’s what everybody wants. “If you don’t turn your life around, if you keep hustling just put your guns down, take it underground, and let the rest of us live which is what you really want too.” And so lots of people hate this – it’s surrender, it’s negotiation, it’s all kinds of bad things – to which I say “What is a place where there’s lots of criminality where you can’t notice it very much?’ We call those the suburbs. And I don’t see any reason why black America can’t have what white America takes for granted. And if we think this isn’t good enough and we want to chase the dope indoors let’s do it in the white high schools. We could arrest half those kids, we could follow them home, we could wiretap their phones, we could kick their doors in, we could put one in three white men in prison but we’re not doing it.
So this is what happens when you do this stuff. This is the first time back in Boston. So this is each one of these peaks and valleys is the body count for those aged 24 and under, month by month going back to early 1991. We had one meeting with gang members here, we had one meeting with gang members here. Two meetings, two gang crackdowns, and that’s what happened to the killing in Boston. This is what they ended up calling the Boston Miracle, it wasn’t a miracle, it was this stuff we had been talking about. It kept on coming down as long as the city did what we called Operation Ceasefire. In 1999 from a historical mean of about 100 killings in Boston a year it was down to 31 and then the police department dismantled Operation Ceasefire, it came right back up, they’re putting it back in place again and it’s coming right back down. This is Chicago, this is the work of Tracey Meares and Andrew Papachristos and US Attorney Pat Fitzgerald and their team in Chicago. The top line is the two most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. This is this parole meeting. This is people with gun and gang priors coming back into the neighborhoods, they sit through a one-hour meeting. They are told about the federal gun laws, that a felons they face severe mandatory minimums if they get caught with a gun, they are offered brokering to social services, they hear from an older wiser ex-offender. One meeting one hour – there’s no enforcement follow up, there’s no social service follow up, there’s no community follow up – and here’s what happens. If you are a gang member and you don’t go to one of these meetings five years after you’re out of prison basically every single one of you is locked up again. If you are a gang member and you go to the meeting five years out a third of you are still on the street. If all you are is a gun offender and you go to one of these meetings don’t go to one of the meetings. If you don’t go to the PSN meeting five years out half of you are back in prison. If you are only a gun offender and you go to a meeting five years out 90% of you are still on the street. There are no other intervention frameworks that work this well. It’s astonishing. It’s so powerful, it’s really hard to believe. But these are the kinds of results that are now routinely being realized from these kinds of interventions. They’re not all this good, some of them are better, there’s a range.
The range is turning out to be that at the low end of impact the worst results we’re getting is about 35% reduction in gang homicide, the high end is about 50% reduction in all homicides citywide and because that’s concentrated by age and demographic – these are particular populations and particular neighborhoods – we’re seeing things like 70% reduction in the killings of young black men in the hot neighborhoods. This is now off the shelf stuff. So this is why you’re all here I suspect. This is Portland. Portland has been having a gun violence problem. Peter and I talk from time to time, I’ve been tracking this long distance, so I know this has been a conversation in Portland. So will this work in Portland? It already did. Portland is one of the places that did this. In the late 1990s under a justice department project called the Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative for which one Peter Rosan was the project coordinator we did this and this is what happened – so these are the results as tracked by the Portland research partner Steve Capps from Reid – and it was one of the better replications of this basic stuff. And as I have talked with people in Portland about this because you’re having a gun violence problem nobody even remembers it happened. And because being polite about this stuff is getting people killed I will say that I have also been tracking the things that are being talked about as responses to the current gun violence problem in Portland and I will tell you with authority that none of it’s going to work and we ought to be honest about this – people do the kinds of things that are being proposed here all over the country, they’ve been doing them for decades, it’s as if every time somebody sees this problem they start from scratch and invent something that makes sense to them, it won’t work. And what does work is lying right in front of us and people act like it never happened. So we’re layering the group strategy onto these original neighborhoods in Chicago and we had our first meeting last year. And one of the gang members who was invited to that meeting was interviewed by the press after and asked what he thought of the meeting which got a lot of controversial press in Chicago. This is a senior traditional Chicago gang guy and his response was “Oh yes” and what we know about this guy is that after he was in the meeting he went out to his factions as they call them, the subsets on the street in Chicago, talked to all the younger guys and said “Calm down, they mean it, they’re not playing.” And homicide in again still the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago, two meetings down over 40% and we’re only just getting started. So you do this so you can do the rest of it. You cannot bring business in and do economic development and fix the schools and support the families when this is going on. This is the beginning but this is what we promised our people, this is domestic tranquility. They don’t have it, we’re not giving it to them, that’s our job. And I’ll end here where I started which is this is now within reach and we don’t act like it shame on us. You want to know more? We put everything we can about this at this website – the descriptions, the how-to guides, the press accounts, the research, innovations. We’re here to help you, let’s get to work.