2
Assumptions and Objectives

Just as each of the five task forces approached their charge in an individually distinct manner, in real life cities will approach the problems of violence very differently. Despite these variations, all of the task forces either explicitly or implicitly based their recommendations on four assumptions.

1. Reducing violence is a national priority not only because violence injures and kills, but also because it imposes other high costs on American society.

As documented in Understanding and Preventing Violence, violent injuries and deaths impose huge costs on society: an estimated $54,000 per rape, $19,000 per robbery, and $16,500 per assault, including such costs as loss of life, pain and suffering, emergency and long-term medical treatment and rehabilitation, and psychological treatment of victims' posttraumatic stress. Other recent estimates place the total national cost of violence at more than $450 billion a year, including both direct costs and such indirect costs as the loss of economic activity in high-crime areas. Fear and other consequences of violence also damage society in many ways. For example, violence in homes, on streets, and in schools produces psychological trauma and fear that impede the social and educational development of children.

Other consequences of violence not only raise its social costs, but also contribute to an escalating cycle that increases future levels of violence. If



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 5
Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference 2 Assumptions and Objectives Just as each of the five task forces approached their charge in an individually distinct manner, in real life cities will approach the problems of violence very differently. Despite these variations, all of the task forces either explicitly or implicitly based their recommendations on four assumptions. 1. Reducing violence is a national priority not only because violence injures and kills, but also because it imposes other high costs on American society. As documented in Understanding and Preventing Violence, violent injuries and deaths impose huge costs on society: an estimated $54,000 per rape, $19,000 per robbery, and $16,500 per assault, including such costs as loss of life, pain and suffering, emergency and long-term medical treatment and rehabilitation, and psychological treatment of victims' posttraumatic stress. Other recent estimates place the total national cost of violence at more than $450 billion a year, including both direct costs and such indirect costs as the loss of economic activity in high-crime areas. Fear and other consequences of violence also damage society in many ways. For example, violence in homes, on streets, and in schools produces psychological trauma and fear that impede the social and educational development of children. Other consequences of violence not only raise its social costs, but also contribute to an escalating cycle that increases future levels of violence. If

OCR for page 5
Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference frightened citizens remain locked in their homes instead of enjoying public spaces, there is a loss of public and community life, as well as of "social capital"—the family and neighborhood channels that transmit positive social values from one generation to the next. As violence becomes associated with particular neighborhoods, people and businesses move away, reducing property values and removing role models and economic opportunities. And as people in particular racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic categories are stereotyped as violence-prone, they are systematically excluded from the social networks that lead to legitimate economic opportunities. This exclusion further deepens social divisions and weakens commitments to traditional social institutions. Some members of the excluded groups then become involved in high-violence, illegal markets. 2. Responding effectively to violence requires recognizing and also responding to the anger, fear, and despair it produces. Conversations about violence in Cornet City suggested that anger and fear are aggravated when violence goes "out of control" by crossing some widely accepted social limit, for example, by killing an unprecedented number of victims in a short time, touching an unusually young or innocent victim, or violating a school, convent, tourist attraction or other place that had been considered safe. If, over time, responsible authorities appear impotent in responding to out-of-control violence, fear and anger may give way to more pervasive despair that "nothing can be done." Controlling violence effectively requires defusing or redirecting those emotions of despair and impotence; otherwise, community residents may contribute to the actual violence problem and limit effective responses. Fearful residents may not cooperate with police, may remain immobilized in abusive home situations, or may acquire guns that are stolen and transported into criminal hands. Despair over violence discourages community efforts to reclaim public spaces and financial investments that might expand economic opportunities in neighborhoods that need them. Public anger sometimes precludes reasoned public debate over proposed violence control strategies that, politicians fear, will be scorned as "not tough enough." In the extreme, anger and despair may provoke violent vigilantism. Properly understood and channeled, however, citizens' anger over violence can be a welcome resource to beleaguered officials seeking to cope in their communities. 3. Violence control initiatives must be as varied as the contexts from which violence arises, and they must exploit the strengths and address the needs that citizens recognize in their own communities and families.

OCR for page 5
Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference Conference participants donated their time because of their concern over the nation's violence problem. However, it soon became clear that their cities were actually experiencing different violence problems than those in Cornet City, and than each other's cities, that those problems require different responses, that the afflicted neighborhoods have different resources for mounting those responses, and that community leaders have quite different philosophies about ethically permissible responses. This diversity suggests the futility of any attempt to design a "one-size-fits-all" national response to local violence. Indeed, participants recounted strong shared experiences of federally devised solutions that do more harm than good when implemented at the local level. Instead, what participants wanted from the federal government in the short term was improved management of federal law enforcement programs and information about a portfolio of promising interventions that might be tried at the local level. The time-honored plea for delivery of financial and other assistance that maintains accountability without sacrificing local flexibility was voiced by virtually all participants. In the longer term, participants wanted federal actions to address underlying problems in the economy and society that foster the conditions in which violence thrives. The diversity of violence was illustrated in several ways. For example, youth violence in Phoenix and other western cities emerges from traditional of- organized, along ethnic lines, and concerned with turf protection; in contrast, youth violence in Washington, D.C., erupts around loose, temporary groups that lack the organizational discipline to negotiate truces. In some cities, murder rates soar during crack epidemics; in other cities, they fall during epidemics. And sadly, while police-community cooperation in the real-life model for the Southwood neighborhood of Cornet City eradicated "home-grown" violence surrounding a local drug market, it could not prevent the murder of the neighborhood convenience store proprietor by "outsiders"—a gang that specialized in robbing Korean-owned shops throughout the entire city. These examples underscore the need to remember that violence erupting from different causes will need different responses. The conference also illustrated the diversity of community resources for responding to violence. For example, members of a Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Chicago reclaimed some public "turf" by setting up lemonade stands next to open-air drug markets. A Phoenix CDC led by former gang members provides varied social services such as residential drug treatment, school-based preventive drug education, shelters for battered women and their children, a recreation and therapy center for gang members, and congregate housing for the elderly. A coalition in Washington, D.C.—largely the creation of one committed man—has launched more than 260 neighborhood groups that follow a safe but effective patrolling model for drying up local drug markets. Two cities represented at the

OCR for page 5
Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference conference had legacies of successful interagency problem-solving to prevent deaths—from fires in Milwaukee and from drug overdoses in Washington, D.C. And when local leaders of Operation Weed and Seed in Richmond, Virginia, came to fear a cutoff of federal support, they organized a private-public nonprofit corporation to continue and expand the program. While every neighborhood plagued by violence has some resources—human, organizational, or financial—plans for successful responses to violence must consider and respect the specific resources available in each particular place. Finally, discussions about Cornet City revealed important differences in values that seem likely to arise in planning responses to violence in real cities. One source of difference was the "triage question": whether resources should be allocated primarily or even exclusively to the neighborhoods in greatest need, reserved for high-need neighborhoods that retained enough social and human capital to use the resources effectively, or used for pilot projects in both troubled and strong neighborhoods. The discussions touched on accountability and efficiency, on the morality of "writing off" any neighborhood, and on the practical value to troubled neighborhoods of having strong, politically ''well-connected" allies to demand the continuation of successful pilot projects after attention to violence wanes and new demands on resources arise. Other differences arose over resources for criminal justice agencies. No one argued against a fair and effective criminal justice response to violence, but several task forces had vigorous discussions over the priority that such responses should receive. (This issue is discussed more fully in Part 4.) Another basic difference concerned the ages at which costly interventions with children should occur. Evaluations suggest that interventions work more effectively with younger children (under 10) than with older ones (teenagers). This knowledge provoked uneasy searches for fiscally and ethically defensible paths between writing off part of a generation of teenagers and young adults and "wasting" scarce resources that might be more effectively applied to prevention during preschool and early childhood years. No attempt was made to resolve differences and create consensus on these and other value-laden questions. Yet one consensus did emerge: that genuine local differences in values, capacities, and needs make local planning of responses to urban violence a substantive necessity, not just a rhetorical claim. The dilemma for federal planners then becomes how to facilitate such planning without giving up necessary accountability. 4. Because there are few antiviolence interventions that have proven consistently effective in reducing violence, prudent public officials must respond to violence more like medical researchers following promising

OCR for page 5
Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference leads in a search for a cure than like physicians confidently prescribing a proven therapy. A widespread public perception that local violence is out of control is a call to abandon "business as usual." Governmental accountability demands that public officials respond to the public's anger and fear: inaction leads not only to the risk of being voted out of office, but also, more importantly, to aggravating the violence-promoting effects of the perception that violence is out of control. Unfortunately, conference discussions made clear that social science currently offers only limited guidance about effective responses. Rigorous evaluations have found many plausible interventions to be ineffective or effective only under certain conditions. They have certified very few as effective according to the standard of "scientific certainty" (customarily, a statistical test of 95 percent confidence). And careful social scientists are likely to caution that even a "proven" intervention may not work in a different ethnic, socioeconomic, or cultural setting from the one in which it was tested. However, the urgency of a city's violence problem may create opportunities for innovative public officials to strengthen government institutions, to strengthen partnerships between public and private institutions, and to collaborate with social scientists in the search for more effective solutions. The need for action under uncertainty is not unusual for public officials. But the discussions raised several themes about strategy development that seem especially important in the context of urban violence. First, violence will not be prevented or reduced without political risk. For example, some plausible and popular governmental programs or approaches do not work, but the political cost of not using them is high. In addition, news reports may distort some actions into reinforcements of negative stereotypes, thereby damaging nascent leadership in communities and feeding "us versus them" hostility played out on racial, ethnic, age, or geographic lines. Second, grass roots participation in development of responses to violence is essential. Participation not only helps to "sell" a particular action to the public, it also brings to the effort far greater community resources than the government has by itself. In particular, community anger over violence can be mobilized in helping to apprehend criminals, in changing a community's culture, in taking back public spaces from perpetrators of violence, and in sharing child-rearing responsibilities. Third, a political leader who effectively communicates the urgency of responding to violence and the important roles community residents can and must play may be able to use a local violence crisis to achieve broad improvements in city services. A well-managed crisis can be a catalyst for

OCR for page 5
Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference making public agencies more effective and responsive, for strengthening families and social institutions, and for creating public-private partnerships. Fourth, when public officials understand the uses of program evaluation and collaborate with social scientists, it is possible to respond to calls for action while building the knowledge needed to make future antiviolence programs more effective. With the implicit or explicit foundation of these four assumptions, the task forces considered ways to carry them out. Their discussions resulted in a general conclusion and a set of objectives. A plausibly effective response to violence requires a mix of immediate, short-term, and long-term efforts to achieve seven objectives: promote a more effective criminal justice response to violence; mobilize neighborhoods to cooperate with police in violence prevention; reduce violence hazards in communities; strengthen supports for children and their families; reduce violence in the home, which is both a problem in itself and contributes to violence on the streets; rebuild human and financial capital in communities weakened by violence; and promote a prosocial, less violent vulture. As noted above, the conference was not intended to produce consensus about responses to urban violence. Nevertheless, the tactics recommended by the five task forces clustered around these seven objectives, and they form the structure in Part 3 for presenting the task forces' recommendations.