Sunday, October 14, 2007



It seems as if the murder rate in major cities as skyrocketed in the past few years. So far this year it seems as if in the city of brotherly love they have been averaging a murder a day. This is after a decade or so decline in the rates of violent crime across the country. Smaller communities are also not immune to this spike in violence. Law enforcement and the Justice Department seem at a loss at what’s driving this increase.

I however, have a few theories about it. The dropout and failure to graduate rates in major cities across the United States has been slowly increasing over the last decade, despite no child left behind and other legislations. In New York City, for example, the graduation rate is 43.5% in 2005. In San Antonio, TX the graduation rate was about 50% for the time period. In today’s society, it is virtually impossible to get a meaningful job without at least a high school diploma. Jobs in the inner city have been disappearing for years. Most of those who have dropped out of high school have no hope of starting a career that will pay them a living wage or benefits.

Why is there such a failure in our education system? Where is the disconnect? Part of the problem lies in school funding. Schools in the inner city are largely forgotten. The infrastructure is crumbling-the buildings are literally falling apart. Its not isolated in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles either. Schools in such diverse communities as St. Louis, Trenton and Miami are also suffering from a lack of building maintenance. Textbooks and other materials are hopelessly outdated and in short supply. Most inner city schools do not have computers, let alone high speed internet connections. In today’s digital world, a lack of computer skills means a dead end job. Teachers are mandated by No Child Left Behind to teach students how to pass the tests, rather than the critical thinking skills needed to learn. Many city school systems are overburdened and do not have the ability or funding to screen students for potential learning disabilities or other developmental delays. It is should be no surprise that the success stories are made into movies of the week and the day to day grind that these students deal with is largely forgotten.

It is not just a failure of our education system. Many of the social service programs put into place to help families in the margins have actually contributed to the destruction of the family unit. Women were told that they would receive more benefits if they remained unmarried, leading to a generation that were raised largely fatherless. The welfare to workfare programs in the 90’s were a great idea on paper, but in practice they helped add to the problems our cities are dealing with today. Most of the people who were thrown off the welfare rolls by this mandate were single parents, with little or no job skills for today’s marketplace. In order to work, someone would have to watch their children, but no daycare system was put into place. Children were left to fend for themselves in many instances, which created another level of problems. The lack of supervision has risen in direct proportion to a resurgence of gang activity. Adequate housing that is affordable is rare, and we have seen the demolotion of housing projects over the last 15 years. 81% of major cities were forced to turn away the homeless from emergency shelters due to a lack of room. Families line benches in the social services offices in New York City, where they wait for a cot in an emergency shelter. Some surveys have put the number of homeless families as high as 40% of the homeless population. These numbers will continue to grow as we deal with the disaster of the subprime housing market and the number of foreclosures.

Adding to these tensions is a lack of concern over health care and proper nutrition. Many families in the inner city lack access to a supermarket. Their shopping choices are bodegas or convenience stores or fast food (there is a higher concentration of fast food outlets based on a lower per capita income). Having a lack of options has increased health care crisis in these communities, places who can least afford it. In a January, 2004 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, research has shown that there is a correlation between the poorer a person is and how obese they are. Rising food prices are making it virtually impossible for a family to eat according to the USDA guidelines. The WIC program does not cover fresh produce, and in some cases families do not even access to fresh fruits and vegetables. By eating an unhealthy diet, families living in poverty are more likely to develop other health issues. Incidences of diabetes, stroke and heart disease are higher in the urban setting than in rural or suburban America. In addition to being at a higher risk for these health issues, many in the inner city do not have health insurance. The prohibitive cost of prescription medication (which may treat or even cure some of these problems) prevents many from treating illness at a curable stage, rather than waiting for some more severe complications. Additionally, many women lack vital prenatal care to prevent complications. Even something simple as prenatal vitamins may be out of reach for some. Many in the urban community rely on charity clinics for their routine medical care, failing that they turn to the emergency room. Most emergency rooms nationwide are overburdened, but this new level of subacute care may force those who serve the cities to close. This in turn, will cause another level of problems for those who live in the inner city.

It seems as if the only hope many in the urban environment is to turn to violent crime. The number of illegal guns on the streets have skyrocketed over the last decade. Gun control laws do not control the flow of illegal firearms on the city streets. For decades, guns have been run up and down the I-95 corridor. A decade ago, the New Jersey State Police attempted to crack down on these gun runners, with Christine Whitman in tow. What had started off as a publicity ploy ended up as a media disaster, with the State Police being rendered mute in attempting to stop the trafficking. The increase in gang activity, especially in cities like Trenton, has overwhelmed law enforcement not prepared to deal with it. Jails are overcrowded, the court system is overburdened, and unable to keep up with caseloads.

The crime rate seems to be growing exponentially, and unless something is done to address the root cause of problems, it will continue to grow. It seems as if a blind eye has been turned on those in most need of our attention. Marches can draw attention to the problem, but we need solutions.

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