What to Do about Black Crime?

In today's sensitive times, "crime" is often interpreted as a code word for "black crime," and even raising the subject invites accusations of hurtful racism.  Nevertheless, rampant African-American criminality is not some racist fantasy, and it is getting worse.

The overall U.S. murder rate has been falling in recent years, but it is rising among blacks, and especially black males.  Blacks constitute 14% of the population but commit murder at 7 to 8 times the white rate.  In 1960, the rate of incarceration for black males per 100,000 was 1,313; by 2010, it had soared to 4,347 (see here).  And scarcely a day passes without some horrific incidents of young blacks shooting innocent black bystanders -- often children, even toddlers.

Can this horrific trend be reversed and, most critically, in a way that does not exacerbate already simmering racial tensions?  The answer is yes, and, at least in principle, it would not be all that difficult or expensive.  The solution requires energizing ordinary blacks to take more responsibility for personal safety -- not, as is almost always the case, demanding that "somebody else" solve the problem.  

Let me suggest that the most effective and politically viable solution is neighborhood watch -- armies of unarmed George Zimmermans.  This approach will far outshine the current response of theatrical rallies and marches, where ministers give their "stop the killing" harangues.  Hardly rocket science, too -- the National Sheriff Organization has a national registry of more than 22,000 Watch Groups since January 2002.

Does neighborhood watch reduce crime?  This question has been extensively studied, and the answer is mixed, though the overall conclusion is upbeat.  Much clearly depends on program administration -- for example, volunteer diligence.  But the bottom line is that when neighborhood watch programs are properly administered, crime drops.  Of particular importance, many of the studies of mixed results come from an era prior to such helpful and low-cost technologies as cell phones, handheld video cameras, social media like Facebook, and sophisticated surveillance cameras with face-recognition software.   

Moreover, a quick net search would uncover detailed recipes.  The Sacramento County Sheriff Office's formula includes easy-to-follow advice regarding  creating a corps of clearly identified citizen patrols, coordinating routes with law enforcement and establishing lines of communication with the police.  USAonWatch.com offers similar advice.  It is this visible presence coupled with a local familiarity with outsiders and home-grown trouble-makers, together with modern technology, that will (hopefully) deter criminal activity.

Note well, the sheriff's office suggests that volunteers carry no weapons and avoid Zimmerman-like confrontations.  With guidance from a law enforcement agency, the Watch trains its members in home security techniques, observation skills, and crime reporting -- eyes and ears of the police, so to speak.  Residents also learn about the types of crime that affect the area and may rely on everything from bicycles to cars to cover larger areas.  Also helpful are conspicuously posted signs announcing that the neighborhood is under citizen surveillance and that all suspicious activity will be reported immediately to law enforcement.  Individuals can even purchase decals (including bilingual ones) for their windows or apartment buildings.

But, all the upbeat possibilities acknowledge, inner-city, largely black neighborhood watch programs are not magic bullets.  Studies suggest that it is precisely these types of neighborhoods -- neighborhoods with low social trust and pre-existing high levels of crime -- that pose the greatest challenges in crime prevention.  Hardly surprising, given that countless minority communities have grown so dependent on top-down assistance, to the point where their capacity for self-organization has atrophied. 

Now what?  Let me suggest that if voluntary crime watches cannot succeed, local governments (or more likely, Washington) instead organize for-pay versions.  The beauty of this approach is that it is win-win across the political spectrum.  The police will appreciate the new-found citizen cooperation, and expenses would be trivial compared to attacking "root causes" or turning the inner-city into a garrison state (private foundation might also contribute).  Even radical groups will appreciate the local self-help element, and not even the ACLU will object.

Then add monetary incentives -- catch an assault in progress and get $500, perhaps a $1,000 if the perp is convicted, and the longer the incarceration, the larger the bonus.  Crime Stoppers USA has already paid over $99 million for tips nationwide.  Ironically, local gang-bangers might earn money alerting the police about rivals who invade their turf.  The advantage of an electronic record is that it reduces the likelihood of retribution via the misguided "stop the snitching" campaigns.  Payments can invisibly be added to an EBT card or given out via a debit card.

Hard to imagine a more powerful set of incentives than turning thousands of currently terrified residents into bounty hunters.  Posters of perpetrators can be plastered everywhere, including YouTube, and if a criminal is apprehended, the size of the reward will also be noted.  Conceivably, groups of local residents will organize posses and communicate via Facebook or Twitter to coordinate the tracking of well-known miscreants and split the bounties.  Fighting crime will become a "shovel ready" enterprise.

More is involved here than fighting crime.  Of greater significance, neighborhood watch projects might jump-start a more encompassing shift away from Washington-manufactured debilitating passivity.  Success with crime reduction might motivate other self-help enterprises -- stamping out public intoxication, littering, graffiti, aggressive panhandling, excessive noise, open gambling, prostitution, and similar pathologies that undermine civic quality of life so toxic to job-creating businesses.

But, all this being said, what if this "get-them-to-take-responsibility" effort, like similar past initiatives, fails?  Given all the failed or legally iffy solutions -- tough gun laws, more invasive policing, fixing broken families and creating make-work jobs -- the only viable option remaining would be a drift toward racial segregation.  Yes, the rhetoric of integration and equality is today's official dogma, but nobody -- black or white -- will risk venturing into crime-ridden violent neighborhoods.  Crime-infested areas will become no-go zones.  In fact, there is a website that helps people avoid high-crime black neighborhoods.  Put into historical perspective, crime may well achieve what the most ardent segregationists failed to accomplish -- create an America of two separate nations only superficially living side by side.