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Blood in the Streets
By Lagan Sebert

CROWD: What do we want? Safe streets! When do we want it? Now!

RESIDENT: Our brothers, they’re young. I mean, they can’t even come outside no more. They can’t even come outside when it’s past eight o’clock, and this is summertime. In the last two months, they’ve done, like, fifteen killings, sixteen killings. That’s people dying; there’s no telling how many people just got shot.

VOICEOVER: It’s been a long, hot summer for many living in American cities. The teen unemployment rate is at its highest point in 60 years, and violent crime is rising in mid-sized cities across the country—Memphis, Orlando, Charlotte, and New Orleans are just a few. While presidential campaigns grab headlines by sniping at each other—


VOICEOVER: —the widespread hopelessness rarely makes national headlines. Just four miles from the Senate office buildings in Washington, DC, a single neighborhood has lost 22 people to street violence this summer.

CHIEF CATHY LANIER, DC POLICE DEPARTMENT: To shoot two 13-year-old children in the back or shoot them as they’re trying to get away is the most cowardice act I have seen in 18 years.

REPORTER: In the early hours yesterday, one person was stabbed and seven people were shot, one of them a 13-year-old boy, who later died.

RESIDENT: Yeah, man. Everybody keep on crying about people who’s killing. Yeah. Tell these gun people, man, stop killing and stuff.

RESIDENT: My cousin got shot a couple of months ago, back in April. My best friend got shot just last year, my nigger Ryan.

RESIDENT: If you kill my man, I’m going to kill you. You know what I’m saying? Basically like that. So it ain’t going to never stop, ’cause everybody going to keep killing each other.

RESIDENT: And people should, like, let things go, ’cause somebody could have got hurt in this crew, and this person got hurt in this crew. So somebody could be like, “I’m not letting it go. I’m not letting it go. No, he hurt my man,” or, “No, he stabbed me,” or something like that. It could be anything.

VOICEOVER: Youth gangs, or neighborhood crews, as they’re called in DC, have been linked to much of the violence in DC this summer. Teenagers drive the streets of rival neighborhoods shooting indiscriminately. The violence is so out of control, DC police have resorted to extreme measures, at times setting up roadblocks to block off the entire neighborhood from outsiders. And DC is not alone. Other cities, like Chicago, have also suffered flareups of violence this summer. Congressman Danny Davis, who represents many of Chicago’s troubled neighborhoods, says the thousands of men leaving prisons with few prospects for work are a key factor.

DANNY DAVIS, CONGRESSMAN (R-IL): There has been so much violence and so much crime. We are the most incarcerated nation on the face of the earth. We continue to spend enormous sums of money caring for individuals who could care for themselves if we were to put more emphasis on prevention and more emphasis on rehabilitation.

JOHN ROMAN, URBAN INSTITUTE, SENIOR RESEARCHER: You can’t just take these kids, bring them in, you know, tell them, you know, “Don’t go mug anybody anymore,” and think anything’s going to happen. And that’s what the system’s been doing. They need intensive services; they need long-term services. These are kids with big deficits educationally, emotionally, socially, and they need a lot of assets to be able to sort of turn their lives around. Once you put a kid in the adult system, they’re gone for good.

WHILAMINA LAWSON, TRINIDAD COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: We’re all the way over in Iraq. Don’t we have a war here? Is there a war going on here? These kids could go take $40 and go buy a Chinese-made gun. Something’s wrong with that. How come you can’t stop that? But yet we can go to Iraq and try to, because we heard that he had weapons. We know they have weapons here, and we went over there and did all of that and forgot about us here. Till we can get people back to work, we’re going to have violence.

RESIDENT: If people don’t got jobs or money, they’re going to do dumb things to get the money. People always selling drugs, killing, that’s what’s most of it for: money. Like me, if they gave him a job, he won’t tell me. There’s going to be a chain reaction, a chain reaction, a chain reaction. You know. When people want to go to a party, everybody tell where the party at. So why nobody can’t tell me, “Okay, there’s a job. They’re hiring”? Okay?

LAWSON: (I love you all. I want you all to succeed, okay?) These kids want to work. They want a life. And it’s a shame that our leaders aren’t focusing on they—(How you doing, baby?)—aren’t focusing on these young people like they should. It’s sad. I mean, it angers me.

VOICEOVER: Recent studies support Whilamina Lawson’s connection between jobs and violence. Johns Hopkins found that while, overall, violence has gone down in the last decade, the number of homicides involving guns was going up 31 percent among young black males. Another study estimates 72 percent of black, male, high school dropouts were without jobs, even before the economy hit the skids.

HARRY HOLZER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, PROFESSOR OF LABOR ECONOMICS: We do have a labor market downturn, and when that happens, all else equal, young people, and especially teenagers, are often the hardest hit, because they are the most marginal workers in the economy. They are the last ones to be hired, the first ones to be let go. Young people and disadvantaged young people are facing big challenges in our labor market. Some of them are short-term. The next few years will not be a good time for these people, and we need to do a better job as a society of increasing their opportunities and their options. And then it would be fair for us to demand that they take responsibility and keep themselves out of trouble.


DAVIS: The economy is so bad and there’s so much of a lack of direction for improving it, what do you expect these individuals to do? Obviously, many of them are standing on the corners every day, hollering, “Crack and blow, pills and thrills.” And, of course, they end up being a part of that large number of individuals who are indeed incarcerated and who will live in one way, shape, form, or fashion off of society for the rest of their lives. And so, if we don’t pay with investment in early childhood education on the front end, then we pay for prison. So we pay one way or we pay another.

INTERVIEWER: Is there a commitment in Congress right now to do something about this, do you think?

DAVIS: Not enough. Not nearly enough.


CROWD: What do we want? Safe streets! When do we want it? Now!


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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