Category: violence

The American vigilante myth

By Alan Bean

In an illuminating weekend piece, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday addresses America’s love affair with the lone wolf vigilante.  “Of the countless stories we tell ourselves,” she writes, “the American myth of the solitary enforcer of justice may be the most tenacious, beloved and — as the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin has so grievously demonstrated — distorting.”

In the movies, the vigilante takes the law into his (occasionally her)  own hands because “the system” has dropped the ball.  If they can’t get me some justice, the vigilante thinks, I’ll make my own.  This stark sentiment drives the narrative arc of dozens of blockbuster Hollywood films every year.  “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Dirty Harry asked forty years ago, and thousands of films are resolved in similar fashion.

For every lone wolf hero there must be a corresponding villain, a punk, a thug, a gang of thugs, or the favorite of prime time television dramas, the pathological serial killer.  In this sense, Hornaday writes,  “the fatal encounter” in a gated community in Florida, “played out like an all-too-real clash of iconographies: Zimmerman’s idea of the property-defending hero Standing His Ground vs. the hoodie-wearing youth who has symbolized menace and urban violence in everything from “The Wire” to last year’s comic teen-thugs-battle-aliens satire “Attack the Block.”

The racial dynamics shift from plot to plot, but the man who takes the law into his own hands is normally white and middle class while the punks and thugs, regardless of race, are heartless incarnations of evil.   We can’t know if Zimmerman’s pursuit of Martin was racially motivated, Hornaday says, but he clearly saw himself as a stand your ground vigilante protecting his neighborhood from the forces of evil.

The American gun culture is inspired by a similar iconography.  Charlton Heston’s “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” applause line worked because his audience identified with the man-against-the-world hero trapped between human evil and an unresponsive and bureaucratic system.  This may explain why Zimmerman ignored the request to remain in his vehicle.  “If you want the job done right . . .”

But, as Hornaday points out, the real world never adapts to the cathartic demands of a Hollywood script:

It’s easy to understand the enduring appeal of the vigilante archetype, whose hard-charging moral certainty jibes perfectly with this country’s sense of exceptionalism, not to mention the narrative constraints of a 90-minute action movie. It’s far more difficult to reconcile complicated reality with the simplistic, comforting fictions we crave.

Here’s the big problem.  American’s on both sides of the black-white color line are traumatized.  A sober reading of American racial history does little to enhance the self-esteem of white people, and this is particularly true of the civil rights narrative.  White Americans can face the simple facts of our national history, or we can feel good about ourselves.  There’s no third alternative. 

Maybe that’s why Hollywood has a hard time telling civil rights stories that don’t involve white protagonists.  White people want to feel good about themselves, but history keeps getting in the way.

At the same time, it’s hard for black Americans to reckon with history and come away feeling good about their country.  Whether we’re talking about the era of slavery or the Jim Crow period, the same question arises: Do I want to be part of this country?  An affirmative answer is possible, but only with conditions attached.  At the very least, the truth of the historical record must be acknowledged. 

So here’s the problem.  Black America has a therapeutic need to tell a story that white America needs to ignore.  That was then, white folks say.  “That is now,” black Americans reply.

Which explains why the Trayvon Martin case divides public opinion along racial lines.

Hollywood’s vigilante myth gives white Americans (the majority of movie goers) a therapeutic myth they can live with.   If we can’t talk about us, let’s talk about me.  How we explain the dramatic spike in gun sales following the election of Barack Obama.  Why did a black man who avoids the race issue whenever possible stir such profound emotion in so many white people?  “I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure,” our black president says, “that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.”  What could possibly be threatening about that?

America is a nation with two foundational dreams.  There is the Manifest Destiny dream of steadily expanding white hegemony, and there is the Nation of Immigrants and Opportunity dream of radical inclusion.   From the beginning, these two conflicting narratives have been fighting for the upper hand.  The Civil War was simply the most bloody encounter in an ongoing war. 

Even when the president talks about American greatness, everybody knows he’s evoking the Nation of Immigrants narrative.  Obama doesn’t denigrate the myth of white hegemony; he doesn’t have to.  His mere existence constitutes a ringing denial of an old, old story that dare not speak its name.

We are drawn to the Americam vigilante myth because we can’t talk about who we are as a nation.

The demands of the 90-minute movie plot and the therapeutic needs of the majority of movie fans combine to give us a narrative that celebrates radical individualism.  We can’t talk about who we are as a people without making everybody uncomfortable.  So Dirty Harry singlehandedly rids Los Angeles of punks and Mr. Heston dares the government to pry his firearm from his cold, dead hands.

George Zimmerman is the product and the victim of the American vigilante myth.  We can’t escape his fate unless we decide what makes America exceptional.  Is it the ability of white patriots to enforce their will on inferior races; or is it our ability to move from apartheid to radical inclusion?  So long as we avoid the “us” question, the lone wolf vigilante will fill the void.

Western: we can cut crime and prisons at the same time

chart

Crime and Punishment

Public Safety Doesn’t Require More Inmates

By Bruce Western

This article orginally appeared in the Boston Review.

By the end of the 1990s, policymakers and police were celebrating the great American crime decline. Rates of murder, robbery, and rape had fallen across cities and suburbs, among rich and poor.

Less appreciated perhaps is the continuing decline in crime in the 2000s. In every state fewer incidences of serious violence and property crime were reported to police in 2010 than in 2000. The murder rate is now the lowest it has been since the early 1960s.

Research on the 1990s traces the crime drop to better policing; to a subsiding crack trade, which, at its height in the late 1980s, unleashed a wave of murderous violence; and to increasing prison populations.

However, some researchers find the apparently large effect of imprisonment controversial. Driven by tough-on-crime policy and intensified drug enforcement, prison populations grew unchecked from the early 1970s until the last decade, but crime rates fluctuated without any clear trend. By the early 2000s incarceration rates had grown to extraordinary levels in poor communities. Whole generations of young, mostly minority and poorly educated men were being locked up, leading to the United States’s current status as the world’s largest jailer, in both absolute and relative terms.

Prisons may have reduced crime a little in the short run, but at the current scale the negative effects of incarceration are likely to outweigh the positive. Commonplace incarceration among poor young men fuels cynicism about the legal system, destabilizes families, and reduces economic opportunities.

Over the last few years, the rate of prison population growth in the states finally began to slow. (The growth in federal prisons has continued unabated.) As the political salience of crime declined and the cost of prisons ballooned, policymakers and the courts turned to alternatives to incarceration.

Twelve states reduced imprisonment in the last decade. These states diverted more drug offenders to probation and community programs, and parolees were less likely to return to the penitentiary.

All the states that reduced imprisonment also recorded reductions in crime. For instance, between 2000 and 2010, New York cut imprisonment by about a fifth, and the crime rate fell by about 25 percent.

States that raised their imprisonment rates averaged similar reductions in crime, though the declines show a lot of variation. Where prisons grew by more than 20 percent, crime fell by a little less than the national average. And in some places—such as Maine, Arkansas, and West Virginia—crime barely fell at all.

It seems clear, then, that ever-increasing rates of incarceration are not necessary to reduce crime. Although it’s difficult to say precisely how much the growing scale of punishment reduced crime in the 1990s, the crime decline has been sustained even as imprisonment fell in many states through the 2000s.

These data are good news for governors who want to cut prison budgets. But cuts alone may not work. Policymakers should study cases such as New York and New Jersey. These states cut imprisonment while building new strategies for sentencing, parole and after-prison programs.

The era of mass incarceration is not over, but there are signs of reversal. Given the social costs of incarceration—concentrated in poor neighborhoods—these are heartening trends. The last decade shows that public safety can flourish, even as punishment is curtailed.

Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, is author of Punishment and Inequality in America.

Juan Williams changes the subject

By Alan Bean

Some stories get too big to be ignored.  So imagine that you are an editor for the Wall Street Journal, the voice of sensible capitalism, the vast majority of your readers are white and conservative, in that classy, New York sort of way, and you are compelled to address the furor over the Trayvon Martin case?  You go to the bullpen and call Juan Williams to the mound.  Williams is the black guy that makes white guys feel good.  If a white editor opined that we should be giving less attention to Trayvon Martin while concentrating on black-on-black crime (the real problem) you might be facing a token backlash.  Your readers would applaud this sentiment, but a few outsiders might take exception.  But Mr. Williams is black, so he can’t be a racist.

Here’s the heart of William’s argument:

The race-baiters argue this case deserves special attention because it fits the mold of white-on-black violence that fills the history books. Some have drawn a comparison to the murder of Emmett Till, a black boy who was killed in 1955 by white racists for whistling at a white woman.

This is a magnificent misreading of the outrage.  When people compare Trayvon and Emmett, they aren’t saying the two cases are identical, or even that they are about the same kind of injustice.  The Till case sparked the civil rights movement.  Rosa Parks had Emmett Till on her mind when she refused to relinquish her seat to a white man.  Some are hoping the Trayvon Martin story sparks a similar revolution.  This time (contra Williams) the emphasis won’t be on white-on-black crime; the focus will be on racial profiling and the easy association between black skin and danger.

Hence the iconic emphasis on the hoodie. (more…)

Beyond the New Jim Crow?

By Alan Bean

When a book about the criminal justice system sells 175,000 books, something is afoot.  Something big.  As this article in the New York Times observes, the initial hardcover release of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness was only 3,000 copies.  That’s a realistic sales target for this kind of book. 

Nobody who has read the book is surprised to find it on the best-seller list.  Many of the facts professor Alexander cited were familiar to criminal justice reform advocates, but she writes better than most academics and her argument transcended the normal drug war critique.  This clip from the article says it best:

Today, Professor Alexander writes, nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison at some point, only to find themselves falling into permanent second-class citizenship after they get out. That is a familiar argument made by many critics of the criminal justice system, but Professor Alexander’s book goes further, asserting that the crackdown was less a response to the actual explosion of violent crime than a deliberate effort to push back the gains of the civil rights movement.

Was the drug war a response to crime (as folks like Bill Stuntz and David Kennedy argue) or was the real goal to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement?

Yes.

In a journal article called “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow“, professor James Forman Jr., son of the famed civil rights leader, makes two primary points.  First, Ms. Alexander doesn’t say enough about the relationship between urban crime and support for the drug war, and second, The New Jim Crow ignores the fact that civil rights leaders initially endorsed the idea of ramping up the drug war because drugs, and drug-related violence, was having a disastrous impact in poor black neighborhoods.

Forman makes some powerful arguments.  The war on drugs has always been a bipartisan disaster.  As Bill Stuntz suggested in his excellent The Decline of American Criminal Justice, liberal politicians had three choices when conservatives like Richard Nixon started demagoguing the drug war.  They could offer a progressive drug policy alternative, they could cede the drug issue to the conservatives, or they could out-tough the tough guys.  Democrats like Bill Clinton chose option number three and the drug war was transformed into a bipartisan bidding war. (more…)

Did the Religious Right enable Guatemalan genocide?

Pat Robertson

In January, former Guatemalan military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was ordered to stand trial for his role in almost 2,000 deaths and 1,400 human rights abuses that occurred during his rule as de-facto president from 1982-1983. Montt, according to the New York Times, faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war which resulted in the deaths of nearly 200,000 people.

According to Bill Berkowitz of Talk2Action.org, televangelist Pat Robertson enabled the Guatemalan genocide.

Montt was a favorite among conservative evangelicals, including Robertson who “praised Montt for his ‘enlightened leadership.'” Berkowitz argues that the Religious Right played a large role in U.S.-Central American relations during the 1980s. In an attempt to end communism and expand evangelical Protestantism in Central America, the Religious Right supported military dictators and policies that were “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Take a moment to read Berkowitz’s enlightening essay posted below. MWN

Guatemala’s Former Leader Charged with Genocide. Pat Robertson Enabled It.

by Bill Berkowitz

Nearly thirty years ago, Guatemala’s ruthless dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt and televangelist Pat Robertson were practically tied at the hip. Now, Guatemala’s judicial system is debating how to handle charges of genocide against the former military dictator, while Robertson, who had praised Ríos Montt for his `enlightened leadership,’ appears to have turned his back on his old friend.

In the early 1980s, José Efraín Ríos Montt, a military general was a favorite of the Reagan Administration and U.S. Christian conservative evangelical leaders – particularly televangelist Pat Robertson — and organizations. Ríos Montt was one of a series of military dictators that masterminded the murders of perhaps as many as 200,000 Guatemalans — including tens of thousands of Mayan people — as well as the destruction of a numerous Mayan villages. (more…)

Star of “The Wire” hooked by the streets of Baltimore

David Simon (R) and Ed Burns (L) on the set of The Wire

By Alan Bean

I learned about The Wire from former homicide detective Ed Burns.  He was sitting next to me at a convening of people concerned about the abuse of snitch testimony. “What do you do?” I asked.  When he told me he co-produced The Wire I said, “what’s the wire?”

Burns took my gnorance in stride.  “It’s an HBO drama about the war on drugs,” he replied.  I suspect I wasn’t the first person Burns had met who hadn’t heard of The Wire, a production widely regarded as the best dramatic series in the history of television.  The show had a rabidly loyal following, but it never rivalled HBO productions like The Sopranos.  The subject matter was gritty, intense, profane and troubling.  But from the moment we popped in the first rented DVD, my wife and I were hooked.

Sonja Sohn working with Baltimore street kids

Sonja Sohn played Detective Shakima “Kima” Greggs on The Wire, a role she initially struggled with.  Like the “corner boys” of Baltimore featured in The Wire, Sohn grew up in a world marked by deprivation, street hustling, violence and fear.  According to this Washington Post article, playing a cop was hard for Sohn; in the world she was raised in, law enforcement was the enemy.

The Wire played for five critically acclaimed seasons before Ed Burns and co-producer David Simon moved on to other things.  Sohn couldn’t move on.  The streets of Baltimore were wrapped around her soul.  This feature article in the Post is worthy of your time, and your reflection. 

After ‘The Wire’ ended, actress Sonja Sohn couldn’t leave Baltimore’s troubled streets behind

By Phil Zabriskie, Published: January 27

Sonja Sohn stood in front of her audience, confident about the performance she was about to give. This wasn’t surprising, considering her history as an actress who was just coming off a five-year run as Det. Shakima “Kima” Greggs on HBO’s “The Wire,” one of the most critically acclaimed shows in television history. To project professionalism, she had pulled her hair back and was wearing pressed slacks and a collared shirt. Her motivation was clear, her research was done, and after many months of preparation, she was ready. (more…)

America’s enemies: the experts weigh in

“Can someone explain to me if there is supposed to be a scandal that someone pees on the corpse of a Taliban fighter — someone who as part of an organization murdered over 3,000 Americans?  I’d drop trou and do it too. That’s me, though…Come on people this is a war.” CNN contributor Dana Loesch

 “A dead body is just, you know a f—— body that’s dead and it just doesn’t bother me.”  It all depends on “what the people they were pissing on did.  If they were real Taliban, if they were people who burned down girls’ schools, and, you know, do honor rapes and throw acid in people’s faces, I’m not that upset about pissing on them.” HBO comedian Bill Maher

“When you’re in war — and history kind of backs up. There’s a picture of General Patton doing basically the same thing in the Rhine river. Although there’s not a picture, Churchill did the same thing on the Siegfried line . . . Going after them as a criminal act, I think [is] really a bad message.” Texas governor Rick Perry 

“Andrew Jackson had a clear cut idea about Americas enemies…kill them!” Newt Gingrich

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Jesus, Matthew 5:43-45

Has mass incarceration given us safe streets?

By Alan Bean

Charles Lane is excited.  Crime rates have been falling across America and, if present trends continue, the safe streets we enjoyed in the 1950s will soon return. 

Lane sees mass incarceration as a curious paradox.  It’s too bad we had to lock up 2.3 million people to “take a bite out of crime”, he seems to say, but that’s the way the corn bread crumbles.

You get the impression that Lane, like most moderate liberals, has formed his conclusions about crime and punishment after reading a single book, in Lane’s case Franklin Zimring’s The City That Became Safe.  How did America solve its crime problem?  We rolled up our sleaves and fixed it, Zimring says.

Fine, but how did we solve the crime problem?  What sort of tough, decisive political decisions did our leaders make?  There can be only one answer: we locked up millions of poor black males.

If Zimring and Lane think that’s a viable solution they need to read Michelle Alexander’s description of the post-prison experience in The New Jim Crow.  Have we solved the crime problem by creating (intentionally or by accident) a new racial caste? 

Lane’s self-congratulatory column explains why William Stuntz finished The Collapse of American Justice on a somber note:

The disaster that is contemporary American criminal justice does not look so disastrous in most places, which is why there has been no sustained political demand for large-scale reform of the justice system. Major changes in the system’s structure . . . require a critical mass of voters (also legislators and appellate judges) to support a program that carries little benefit for them.

Why should Charles Lane worry about problems that are largely invisible from the gentrified and suburban neighborhoods of Washington DC or New York City?  If the streets of the Big Apple are safe again, what’s the problem? (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)

“Don’t Shoot”: Ending violence in inner city America

David M. Kennedy is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, and professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
David M. Kennedy is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, and professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

“There’s a profit and a loss side on the public safety balance sheet,” he says. “And what we see in many places is that while you can bring crime down by occupying the neighborhood and stopping everybody, what you do in the process is lose that neighborhood. … You fuel the idea that the police are an occupying, inimical force in the neighborhood. You play into these real and toxic racial memories about what came before civil rights. And you can make it work in many places, but you can’t stop. You can’t ever say, ‘We’ve won. Things are good. Things are stable,’ because you have driven them into hiding.”

This story appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air November 1st.  David Kennedy is one of a growing cadre of reform advocates willing to tell the truth about violent crime without drawing the usual conclusions.  Please listen to the entire program.  A good summary appears below.

Interrupting Violence With The Message ‘Don’t Shoot’

In 1985, David M. Kennedy visited Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles. It was the beginning of the crack epidemic, and Nickerson Gardens was located in what was then one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

“It was like watching time-lapse photography of the end of the world,” he says. “There were drug crews on the corner, there were crack monsters and heroin addicts wandering around. … It was fantastically, almost-impossibly-to-take-in awful.”

Kennedy, a self-taught criminologist, had a visceral reaction to Nickerson Gardens. In his memoir Don’t Shoot, he writes that he thought: “This is not OK. People should not have to live like this. This is wrong. Somebody needs to do something.”

Kennedy has devoted his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence. He started going to drug markets all over the United States, met with police officials and attorney generals, and developed a program — first piloted in Boston — that dramatically reduced youth homicide rates by as much as 66 percent. That program, nicknamed the “Boston Miracle,” has been implemented in more than 70 cities nationwide.

Today, Kennedy directs the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, but he still regularly goes out into the field. The drug world he works in now, he says, is a little better than the one in which he worked in 1985 — but not by much.

“Still, it’s almost inconceivably awful in almost all of its dimensions,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “And no one likes to say this stuff out loud, because it’s impolitic, but the facts are the facts. You get this kind of drug activity and violence only in historically distressed, minority neighborhoods. And it is far worse in poor, distressed African-American neighborhoods.”

Those neighborhoods are also more likely to be deadly for African-American men — and they’re getting worse, says Kennedy, citing grim statistics: Between 2000 and 2007, the gun homicide rate for black men between the ages of 14-17 increased by 40 percent. The rate for men over the age of 25 increased by 27 percent. In some neighborhoods, 1 in 200 black men are murdered every year.

“This is where the worst open-air drug markets are all concentrated,” he says. “And quite naturally, law enforcement pays an awful lot of attention to those neighborhoods. … And the shorthand that you get from cops when you look at these communities is that they look at you and say, ‘There is no community left.’ ”

But there are plenty of law-abiding residents in these neighborhoods that have been overtaken by drugs, says Kennedy. They outnumber the gang members and drug dealers by significant percentages.

“What matters is that these offenders are in the communities in groups,” he says. “They are in gangs, they are in drug crews, they are in chaotic groups. And those groups drive the action to a shocking degree.”

In Cincinnati, for example, there are about 60 defined gang groups with about 1,500 members.

“[The people] representing less than half a percentage point of the city’s population are associated with 75 percent of all of Cincinnati’s killings,” he says. “And no matter where you go, that’s the fact.”

The national homicide rate is now about 4 per 100,000, but the homicide rate for members of gangs and neighborhood turf groups is dramatically higher: as many as 3,000 per 100,000 a year.

“It is incredibly dangerous,” says Kennedy. “If you talk to these guys, what they say is, ‘I’m terrified … I got shot … My brother’s dead … I’ve been shot at … And they are trying to shoot me …’ That [is] their everyday world.”

Kennedy’s homicide-reduction program, called Operation Ceasefire, brought gang members into meetings with community members they respected, social services representatives who could help them, and law enforcement officials who told them that they didn’t want to make arrests — they wanted the gang members to stay alive, and that they planned to aggressively target people who retaliated. The interventions worked to reduce the homicide rates.

“In city after city, what we see is you may have to do it once or twice, but as soon as the streets believe that that’s what’s going to happen, they change,” says Kennedy. “In the summer of 1996, just a few months after we implemented this, the streets had quieted down dramatically, and they kept getting better.”

A variation of Operation Ceasefire was also implemented to shut down open-air drug markets. Instead of arresting drug dealers, the police officers and Kennedy set up meetings with drug dealers — and their mothers.

“We said, ‘Your son is at a turning point. He could be arrested right this minute, but we don’t want to do that. We understand how much that damages him and his community. There’s going to be a meeting in a week. Please come with your son to the meeting,'” he says.

Nearly everybody came. In the meeting, the police reiterated what they had said in previous meetings with gang members: that they wanted the drug dealers to stay alive and out of jail. They also warned that the consequences of not shutting down the drug markets would be severe. In High Point, N.C., where the program was piloted, the open-air drug market disappeared.

“You do one of these meetings … [and] you can break the cycle in these neighborhoods literally overnight,” he says. “All that craziness is gone.”

Programs that target specific geographic areas through car and pedestrian stops may also stop crime, but they come at a cost, says Kennedy.

“There’s a profit and a loss side on the public safety balance sheet,” he says. “And what we see in many places is that while you can bring crime down by occupying the neighborhood and stopping everybody, what you do in the process is lose that neighborhood. … You fuel the idea that the police are an occupying, inimical force in the neighborhood. You play into these real and toxic racial memories about what came before civil rights. And you can make it work in many places, but you can’t stop. You can’t ever say, ‘We’ve won. Things are good. Things are stable,’ because you have driven them into hiding.”

But in High Point, N.C., where Kennedy piloted his cease-fire program, talking directly to drug dealers appears to be working. He recalls a conversation he overheard, shortly after the open-air markets were shut down.

“You hear one kid say to the other, ‘Are you getting a ride home?’ and the other kid said, ‘No, I’m walking. Mom says it’s OK now.’ “