Monday, August 12, 2013

Everyone I know should read this book. I'm not sure how many books I can say that about.

Don't Shoot: One man, a street fellowship, and the end of violence in inner-city America
by David M. Kennedy

I spent a month living in Brooklyn. I learned a little bit about stop and frisk policing. Not much, mind you. But I read a little, watched a little. There were a lot of cops in New York. All over the place in the neighborhoods I was living in and walking through. Already obvious, they instantly became hyper-visible after the Trayvon Martin decision was announced. I thought about the black men in handcuffs I was passing in the subway stations and the street corners and the cops that were talking to my neighbors from inside of their squad car, calling people from their stoops over to the car. I wondered about the stories behind what I saw - what is going on here? I wondered what I was actually seeing. 
I listened and looked for what the neighbors it possible for me to see this another way ( Where Am I Going? Project ; PBS News Hour on Fruitvale Station film ) ?

I wondered if there was a role for me. Besides just looking.

I read this op-ed in the New York Times about stop and frisk, and a better way to do things. After all of the back and forth I had been reading, it had a tiny ray of hope. (Here's another, fresh off the presses today, but depending on your politics/world view, this may be just more of the back and forth for you. Granted, it is a reaction to a plan rather than a plan itself, but I hope that it shows that no matter what a plan's merits may be, if it doesn't have broad support, it isn't going to be sustainable. We must learn to talk to each other and come to agreements). Maybe you don't have to choose between racist police crackdowns or third-world crime ghettos. Maybe, just like everything else in life, like equitable education and effective management and successful political campaigns, it was all about relationships. And it led me to this book.

I really think you should read this book. Even if you aren't interested in criminal justice or urban policy or drug enforcement. Or race. Because what the reviews all seem to gloss over is that fully half of the text in this book is directly about race, the same kind of race work that we are trying (and failing) to do well in my school district. And the half that isn't about race directly is still dependent on understanding race. But this is not a racial diatribe. This is not a frothing editorial about what someone else should do. It is just practical advice about how to fix problems, explanations and details about real cases that have worked and failed and analysis of why. It is about how to take what we already have, right this second, with no extra money and no extra legislation and just start doing huge immediately noticeable things to fix grievous wrongs. 

It is not a wistful story about what we could do if we could just all get along and be Buddha. It is about what we can do right now, even if we continue to be pretty much exactly the same people, and only make a small change in how we listen to each other and perceive each other. It is not magic. And even though the change is actually small viewed from one side, it is extremely difficult to achieve without the group working through it together - which is why we all end up doing the same things again and again, because fighting against momentum is hard. Churning through identical relationships that fall apart for the same reasons as the one before, unable to figure out the lesson we are trying to teach ourselves. Having the same arguments at work until we give up and decide not to care anymore. But like a lot of the ideas that I have been figuring out lately in my own life, very small changes in your viewpoint can create very incredible differences in your experience. And the changes are not impossible at all - dozens of cities across the country have already been doing them. No magic, no extraordinary circumstances. And this book explains what happened next.

There is truth in this book. There are connections in this book. There is wisdom about relating to other people, and that is the kind of thing that makes me super crazy excited. I did not see any of this going in, I expected a totally different kind of book, and there have been several times as I was reading where I thought, "I'm not sure I'm ok with where he's going." But I think that means it is a book that actually taught me something new. Because growth kind of feels like that, uncomfortable. I would like to recommend that you read the first 24 pages, just the introduction, and see what you think. It's not actually a book about one man - the title is kind of dumb. Street fellowship is a weird choice of words, too, although I guess I can see that.  But mostly the title sounds like it was written by someone who hadn't read the book. So read the introduction, and tell me what you think. I'm going to give you some things that were meaningful to me from the book below, but you should read the intro yourself. And then talk to me. Because I really want to know what you think!

"This is not okay. People should not have to live like this. This is wrong." 

C-SPAN book discussion with author
From the C-SPAN discussion: "How do you get the white folks to care about dead black people?... You're not going to. It's wrong, it's outrageous, but so far it's true. So we better figure out a way to do this where we don't have to convert everybody...I've come to believe that this prescription that says 'we have to get everybody together before', is a disaster...So instead what you do is you find the folks that get it, you work with them. That's enough, as it turns out...If you wait to change everybody's mind first, you wait, and that's the end of it."

"Ordinarily those who believe in law and accountability and those who believe in help and social responsibility don't work with each other, don't respect each other, don't even like each other. The cops think the social workers are naive, the social workers think the cops are thugs. Everybody here was on one page..." p 55

"[F]ocused on groups and group dynamics, the absolute heart of the strategy...Are they focusing on groups, putting them on prior notice, cracking down on groups that kill, communicating back to the other groups? Backing it up with services and the community?" p.234

"America has four inextricably linked problems that converge in its most troubled communities. There's the violence that terrorizes many of its, especially, black and minority communities. There's the chaos that comes with, especially, public drug markets. There's the devastation being wrought on, especially, troubled black and minority communities by our criminal justice response to the first two problems. And there's the worsening racial divide that's causing. We can't deal with any of them without dealing with all of them. We deal with them, it's a different country." p 226

"Jim Summey (Baptist minister) says, 'This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. This is truth, the Word, in action. This one thing did more good than all the good works in all the churches I've ever been in." p 184

"It's not about crime."

"But we know enough to act, NOW. We do not have to live with the death, and the hatred, and the gunshot survivors who walk the streets with their canes and colostomy bags, and the young men who say matter-of-factly that they expect to be dead before they see twenty-five, and the warrior-priest cops who go through door after door after door and it never changes, and whole communities of black men going to prison, and whole communities that are unable to get anywhere on anything of substance because people are afraid to go outside, and poisoned relations between those who need each other the most. We do not have to go on like this...We can make our way to a place where we look back at 2.2 million Americans in prison and say, What were they thinking? They did that?" p. 15

"This stuff works, I say in conferences, congressional hearings, police departments, community meetings. There's a long track record now. This city, that city, these other cities. Here's the homicide graph from half a dozen places, look at it, it just falls into the basement. Here are the formal evaluations. It works. It's a fact. But watch, I say. Half an hour from now we're going to be talking about all the reasons it won't work, can't work. We're going to hit the "it works in practice but will it work in theory" part of the conversation." p 209

"Our thinking about crime is saturated with values: with people's convictions about right and wrong, how people should behave, why people behave the way they do, what will and won't get them to change, what they do and don't deserve, what their obligations are and aren't, what our obligations to them are and aren't." p 209

"Let's get through why the way we think about crime now almost guarantees failure. Let's get through why the way we think about preventing crime walls away the most powerful approach to prevention we have. Let's get through why this isn't even really about crime." p 210

"When we think about crime we are almost always thinking about something else, that it's all really about something else. It's about bad people with bad character, so we need to change their character, get them to turn their lives around. It's about how they got their bad character, so we need to change their families and communities. It's about racism, so we need to end racism. It's about lack of economic opportunity, so we need to do job development. It's about weak and inconsistent law enforcement, so we need stronger laws, more cops, tougher judges.
To do something about crime, our most central conviction is that we have to go through other things." p 210

"One of the core operating principles in my work is that, when taking on real issues, no statements of the form Somebody should do something about that are allowed...If we don't have a plan, if we don't have the means, if the plan with the means we have available doesn't deliver the results we want, if we won't get those results at a pace that we can live with, then we have nothing." p 211

"This commitment to going through other things turns out to be a major part of why what we usually try to do, the way we usually think, doesn't work. What we think we need to do is so hard, so expensive, and so inherently weak that our commitment to it virtually ensures failure." p 213

"The logic of the prevention analysis makes it effectively impossible to implement." p 216

"The deepest commitment to going upstream in ways that don't involve law enforcement comes from people who believe in what's come to be called prevention: working on root causes...It's a commitment with profound personal, professional, and moral salience. It separates social workers and public-health practitioners from cops and prosecutors, liberals from conservatives, those who believe in social accountability and root causes from those who believe in individual accountability and criminal justice." p 217

"The insistence that any move by law enforcement is "suppression" puts the new strategies out of bounds by definition." p 219

"Legitimacy turns out to rest on two key supports. One is that people feel that the law is touching them equitably, not as the product of bias or prejudice. One is the quality of that touch, that they're being handled with courtesy and respect. Outcomes turn out not to matter that much. People will accept a result they don't like, as long as they feel that they've been treated with fairness and decency." p 221

Drift: "people don't sit down and decide to become gang members" p 127

Pluralistic ignorance: "everybody in a group believing everybody else in the group believes something nobody in the group believes...Every single gang member may be thinking to himself, I hate this, nobody says anything, nobody knows. Nothing changes. Get them alone -- Killing's wrong -- and you hear what they really think. They never hear it from each other. If they do hear it from somebody brave enough, the group will shut him down, the group still thinks he's the only one, the mistake is reinforced still more.  Matza: Groups are different; behavior doesn't imply commitment." p 128

Fundamental attribution error: "We see somebody do something and we're inclined to say, He chose that, wanted it, it's an expression of who he is, his character." p 129

(As my sister says, just because you do something, or do something wrong, it doesn't mean it is a character flaw. Think about what your therapist tells you about the words always and never.)

" We tend to think high-crime neighborhoods don't care about, are more tolerant of crime...They're less tolerant....The notion that the hot neighborhoods don't mind the death and destruction is pretty close to a blood libel."129-30

"More than 1 in 100 American adults is locked up...Black men, twenty to thirty-four: one in nine...Estimates are that one in eight black men in the country has lost the franchise...One in nine black children has a parent in prison." p 147

"We have taken America's most vulnerable, most historically damaged, most economically deprived, most poorly educated, most stressed, most neglected, and most alienated neighborhoods and imposed on them an epidemic of imprisonment...It is the one thing that will prevent anything else from working, make meaningless all of our aspirations for better schools and economic development and community uplift. Nothing else will work until we fix this." p 148

"The cops don't understand the anger, see only excuses and victimhood. They get tangled up in the specifics...and miss the raging subtext...The community tells them what it thinks all the time, right out loud -- this is a racist plot, the government's bringing the drugs in -- but law enforcement can't hear it... They know it's not true, they know who they are, why they do what they do, can't get the distance to understand and find a way to respond. They never actually engage...They don't say, We know we can't keep the drugs out. We're doing our best, it's just not working. They don't say, We're as frustrated as you are...They don't say, We don't get up in the morning to put black men in prison. That's not why I signed up. We don't hate your sons. We're doing the only thing we know how.  And they don't dare say what they're really thinking: They're your sons, what are you doing about it?" p 152

"Of all the ways that all of this is deeply, horribly, monstrously destructive, this may in the end be the worst: It makes the community silent. When standing against guns and drugs and violence means standing with a race enemy, not many will stand." p 152

"Here is the perfect, awful, searing symmetry of it. Both sides look at the other and say, You want this. You are corrupt and hollow and beyond hope." p 154

"This isn't about racism, at least not very much. There's racism in law enforcement, no question, some conscious, more unconscious...Fixing it, if we could, would not fix this. This isn't being driven by racism. The cops have not, in their minds, turned on black people, written off black people. They've written off the neighborhoods, the communities. I've never heard a racist word spoken in all my years with cops -- never. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard, Everybody in the community is living off drug money, nobody cares, there's no community left. Part of why it's so hard to name and face the terrible things that are going on is that the most usual explanation is racism -- that's where everybody goes -- and the cops know they're not racist, and they are profoundly, deeply offended. It's the end of the conversation, every single time. It's why what many hoped would change these dynamics, having more black cops, hasn't. Black cops don't hate black people. This isn't about black and white. It's about the community of the cops and the community of the neighborhoods. The first has given up on the second.
But it's all soaked in race, simmering every day in our real, toxic history of racism, in the racism that remains. Similar things go on in other neighborhoods, especially Hispanic neighborhoods, and a lot of the dynamics are nearly the same. But the racist history, the long trauma of black America, makes relations between cops and black neighborhoods especially jagged, especially hurtful, especially explosive. It shapes them, gives them different meaning." p 154-55

"Fixing the strained, often poisoned relationship between law enforcement and America's most troubled communities -- fixing the crisis of legitimacy -- is the key to making those neighborhoods safe and undoing the damage we're doing now. It's the key to restoring our collective sanity." p. 230

National Network for Safe Communities: "It says, There is too much violence in America; the impact of overt drug markets is unacceptable; there are far too many people in prison; the tension between law enforcement and communities of color is intolerable. There are more than fifty jurisdictions that have signed up, that are committed to these ideas." p 268

"There aren't that many things, many crime problems, that will keep a community from being able to function. In the most troubled community it's a small number of people doing those things, and the core of many of the worst crime problems lie in various kinds of collectivities -- gangs, drug crews, drug markets -- rather than in individuals. Our official law enforcement response to both the individuals and the collectivities is inconsistent, incoherent, and, on the receiving end, often opaque. A lot of what we take as irrationality, bad character, even self-destructiveness, are in fact reasonable responses to that inconsistency and opacity. A lot more is the result of group dynamics that are both obscure and often unwelcome to the individuals involved. Still more is the unintended consequence of our official response. All sides -- the neighborhoods, the streets, law enforcement -- tell stories about each other that are at their heart deeply mistaken and deeply destructive. But all sides are in deep ways rational, whatever may be appearances to the contrary, and all sides are willing to shift to a new place, if they can see it and find their way there. Everybody, in a real way, is keeping everybody else going. Everybody can stop." p 269

"We sit down, we talk to each other, we say how it's going to be, and we do the work. It's not a miracle. It's work." p 283


  1. Nickerson Gardens today:

  2. Cincinnati, 2011