2 BIG IDEAS: ADULTS AND KIDS; Reclaiming Streets

The Florida Times Union, February 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

2 BIG IDEAS: ADULTS AND KIDS; Reclaiming Streets


Two weeks ago, we proposed that Jacksonville needs a big idea to attack the root causes of its high rates of murder, infant mortality and dropouts.

Readers responded with many thoughtful proposals. We printed many of the best on the letters section here. And we have collected many of them on our Web site at www.jacksonville.com, keyword reader mall.

Our initial proposal was based on the need to provide jobs in the high poverty areas of Jacksonville. The idea was to concentrate education and job training services in one area in Northwest Jacksonville.

It would serve as a symbolic structure of hope in an area that dearly needs it.

Meanwhile, Michael Hallett, chairman of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department at the University of North Florida, suggested that law enforcement cannot be the sole answer, that social programs that work need more funding.

Hallett suggested the book Code of the Street by Elijah Anderson, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

And Anderson, who has studied the life of inner-city Philadelphia, basically made the same suggestion in his book published in 1999.

Anderson writes that an oppositional culture has developed in low-income communities due to a dearth of legitimate jobs.

The industrial jobs that once provided living wages for the working class have disappeared.

A CULTURE WAR

"The inclination to violence springs from the circumstances of life among the ghetto poor," Anderson writes.

"The lack of jobs that pay a living wage, limited basic public services, the stigma of race, the fallout from rampant drug use and drug trafficking, and the resulting alienation and absence of hope for the future."

The oppositional culture dominates if the mainstream culture provides no hope.

Many readers called for a return of more vocational education.

"It is extremely important, in particular, to give maturing girls and boys job training and education in the practicalities of operating in the world of work," Anderson wrote. "This training must then be rewarded with real work job opportunities."

"Whereas low-wage jobs - especially unskilled and low-skill factory jobs - used to exist simultaneously with poverty and there was hope for the future, now jobs simply do not exist," Anderson wrote.

"Residents of these communities ... need enlightened employers who understand their predicament and are willing to give them a chance."

The new reality, however, does not mean less education. Most trades require extensive math and science.

Anderson describes a vicious cycle.

"The hopelessness many inner-city black men and women feel, largely as a result of endemic joblessness and alienation, fuels the violence they engage in. This violence then serves to confirm the negative feelings many whites and some middle-class blacks harbor toward the ghetto poor ..."

What is left is an underground economy based on drugs and violence. …

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