Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Human Dignity in Newark

I happened to be reading a completely off-topic long-form article on education in Newark, New Jersey by Dale Russakoff over at The New Yorker. I promise this post isn't about education reform, but if you're even remotely interested in that sort of thing, the New Yorker piece is well worth your time.

No, what caught my eye - what is relevant to this blog - was an example in the article underscoring how life outside the school - life in the home, in the neighborhood - often more profoundly affects a child's performance and aspiration than what takes place in the school. So we're talking fundamental security needs here in re Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - everything from family employment to the integrity of family shelter to confidence that one won't be killed the next day.

Check this quote out [emphasis mine]:
"The biggest concern was children’s safety, particularly in the South Ward, where murders had risen by seventy per cent in the past four years. Jacqueline Edward and Denise Perry-Miller, who have children at Hawthorne, knew the dangers well. Gangs had tried to take over their homes, tearing out pipes, sinks, and boilers, and stealing their belongings, forcing both families temporarily into homeless shelters."
Wait, say WHAT? To describe this as a "gang-problem" is too dismissive to bear. This is a community that is unable to provide for the collective security of its members. Therefore, it's debatable whether the 'government' in this area is the city or the gangs. Who has the monopoly on the use of violence? That would be your definitive answer.

For protection, the South Ward community has been told to rely exclusively on the Newark police services. Cut to another anecdote:
"One night. . . a security camera captured images of nine young men apparently mauling another.When Jackson and Belcher arrived the next morning, they found bloody handprints on the wall and blood on the [school] walkway. His and Belcher’s calls to police and e-mails to the superintendent’s staff went unanswered."
From a vendor management perspective, we'd call this a "service shortfall". Not only does the city have a tin ear to the problem, there's no tangible threat of resistance or consequence for the violence the gangs employ. Unfortunately, you can't just "fire" your government and swap in a new one, much as our American mythos encourages that belief. See where I'm going now?

What can a community do when the government offers them no protection? The only recourse against crime short of moving out is to resist as a community and as an individual. Gun control advocates (see video to left) believe everyone can just leave a bad neighborhood, or was "asking for it" by being there in the first place. But we also know life's not that simple. Sometimes the bad neighborhood comes to you. Sometimes your ties are such that you can't leave without sacrificing a lot. And why the hell should you move anyway?

This gets us into the human dignity domain. Gun control is premised on three demonstrably wrong and dangerous assumptions - that police will protect you, that only a select few are responsible enough to protect themselves, and that you can (or should?!) simply migrate like a nomad when the criminals start raiding. This is a dissonant mix of a very idealized view of society and a very cynical view of mankind.

New Jersey, and Newark specifically, have worked very hard to disarm their law-abiding. They offered rewards for turning in gun-owning neighbors and most recently, were bolstered by the 3rd Circuit decision upholding their "May Issue" stance on concealed carry. "May Issue" means "Will Not Issue" if you happen to be less than wealthy and connected.

Let's get back to that family terrorized out of their house. If these same gangs went into a government facility to steal sinks, boilers and pipes at gunpoint, they'd be shot forthwith. The standard is different for the New Jersey government - and those connected to it - than it is for those in most need of of self defense (it's the urban poor who are more likely to be victims of crime). It is in part through criticism of this double-standard that gun rights are civil rights.

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