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Winburn, Smitherman Grandstand on Serious Issue

By Kevin Osborne · April 25th, 2012 · Porkopolis
Many people think the mention of religion, politics or sex are the topics that are most likely to cause frowns, anxious looks or angry stares if they’re brought up during conversation in mixed company.

I humbly submit, however, that they’re wrong.

The topic most likely to cause consternation, at least in the United States, is the subject of race. As theologian and author Jim Wallis has said, “racism is America’s original sin and we’ve yet to repent of that sin.”

Wallis, a white man who characterizes himself as a progressive evangelical Christian and is a spiritual adviser to President Obama, has written extensively on the topics of race and racism in modern U.S. society.

“Prejudice may be a universal human sin, but racism is more than an inevitable consequence of human nature or social accident. Rather, racism is a system of oppression for a social purpose,” Wallis wrote.

He added, “The heart of racism was and is economic, though its roots and results are also deeply cultural, psychological, sexual, even religious, and, of course, political. Due to 200 years of brutal slavery and 100 more of legal segregation and discrimination, no area of the relationship between black and white people in the United States is free from the legacy of racism.”

His words burned through my mind as I listened to remarks during a special session of Cincinnati City Council that convened on April 23 to discuss black on black crime.

The meeting was called by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an independent, in response to a rash of shootings in recent weeks. Most of the incidents involved victims and suspects who were African-American and occurred in poorer neighborhoods like Avondale and Evanston.

Winburn and Smitherman are black, and both men have chided their City Council colleagues for not doing enough to deal with the problem. Smitherman, by the way, also is president of the NAACP’s local chapter.

“City Hall has no comprehensive plan to address the gun violence in African-American neighborhoods,” Smitherman wrote in a NAACP press release earlier this month. “With five African-American members on council, a comprehensive plan to address violent crime with significant financial resources can be passed. (The) Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) alone is not a comprehensive plan.”

Smitherman’s right about one thing: For the first time ever, a majority of the nine-member City Council is African-American.

Besides the men who convened the meeting, there are also Democrats Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young and Charterite Yvette Simpson.

But it would be simplistic and absurd to assume they automatically agree on the best way to broach the problem. Human beings are distinguished by many characteristics aside from race, and the members’ disparate political backgrounds and personal experiences affect how they see the situation.

For example, Thomas — who retired after serving 27 years on the Cincinnati Police Department — has said council should reaffirm its commitment to the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Founded in 2007, the program involves a crime-fighting strategy based on a plan that helped curb gang violence and shootings in Boston.

Devised by David Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, the program involves identifying the individuals in a community who are most prone to either be a victim or perpetrator of violent crimes. The group is counseled by a team of hands-on street advocates — usually ex-offenders or someone else they respect — that puts them in touch with resources and agencies that can help them, ranging from job training to substance abuse treatment.

Similar programs have been used in Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and the Queens borough of New York, among others.

Locally, about 73 percent of Cincinnati’s homicides are committed by 0.3 percent of the population, which amounts to about 1,000-1,500 people out of the city’s roughly 300,000 residents. Targeting intensified efforts on those people is the most effective way to reduce violence, say CIRV supporters like Thomas.

At its height, CIRV provided counseling to about 300 people.

But after operating for four years, CIRV lost most of its funding amid widespread budget cuts approved by City Council in January 2011.

City Council cut CIRV’s budget from $861,000 in 2010 to $290,000 for 2011, which reduced the number of street advocates from 16 to four.

Worried about the recent uptick in violence, however, City Council restored $150,000 to CIRV late last year. That enabled the program to hire six more street advocates.

During his long police career, Thomas served in various roles within the department including on its narcotics unit and on the  homicide task force. As such, I’m inclined to trust his opinion more than a preacher’s (Winburn) or a financial planner’s (Smitherman).

Winburn and Smitherman’s big idea to quell the violence is to give another $300,000 to CrimeStoppers. The money would be used to give larger cash rewards — up to $15,000 each from the current $1,000 — for tips that lead to the arrest and prosecution of murder suspects.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Mirroring a trend nationally, the violent crime rate in Cincinnati is dropping. There were 66 homicides in the Queen City during 2011, compared to 72 homicides the previous year.

Still, the vast majority of homicide victims are black males.

Speaking at the council meeting, Police Chief James Craig said one of the factors driving the violence is the lack of parental involvement in their children’s lives. The lack of love and concern can instill hopelessness into people, which can spark reckless actions.

In my view, that’s a societal trend that’s developed over decades due to complicated reasons including poverty and segregation. No amount of CrimeStoppers money is going to solve it.

Although Craig didn’t agree that increasing the cash rewards for all tips would work, he did indicate increasing rewards for specific cases might be warranted.

“When you have a 4-year-old shot and we can’t get information, something is wrong with that picture,” the chief said.

So, what is the solution? I’m not sure. And judging from their comments, neither are Winburn or Smitherman, which raises the question of why the meeting was called at all.



04.26.2012 at 04:08 Reply

What an odd, disjointed article.  The first six or seven paragraphs are spent going through the whole history of black-white relations in this country with full-bore liberal hand-wringing.  All in prelude to examining a rather straight-forward practical question: if city dollars are more effectively spent fighting black-on-black violence through CrimeStoppers or the new hot thing, CIRV.  (Is it codified law in liberal circles that whenever a practical governance question arises that may not show blacks in the most favorable light, you absolutely must include this liberal self-flagellation?)

Also, if supposedly racism (or tribalism) is the topic that is far and away the least amenable to full, open democratic discourse (as this article suggests and with which I generally agree), then wouldn't the wisest course for a democracy to follow be to try to keep to a bare minimum the amount of possible future democratically unamenable tribalism by establishing a sane immigration policy that doesn't take for granted the country's ability to fully assimilate tens of millions of third world immigrants?


04.26.2012 at 09:24 Reply

Trey, the first few paragraphs attempted to put the issue in context. Also, it shows that I agree that racism is a problem in this nation, although not necessarily in this particular issue.

Further, bringing up immigration in this context is what is disjointed and seems unconnected. Your comment to a past Porkpolis column seemed to defend "tribalism" or suggest that the primitive impulse couldn't be overcome. I disagree on both of those counts, but please explain your stance on tribalism sometime.


04.27.2012 at 05:03

"the first few paragraphs attempted to put the issue in context. Also, it shows that I agree that racism is a problem in this nation, although not necessarily in this particular issue."

Huh?  You basically just admitted the charge I made against you.

Also, it probably matters little what public statements people make about a controversial subject like the power of tribalism since everyone consciously knows its a controversial topic and thus just says stuff to avoid controversy or for a few, court it.  What matters is the data.  And its been nearly 50 years since the major Civil Rights legislation have passed and the data shows blacks nationwide continue to vote as a 90 bloc for the Democratic redistributionists (even though there are many individual welll-off blacks voting Dem who would probably be better economically served voting GOP), Southern whites who live in polities more evenly divided between white/black continuing to vote overwhelmingly GOP (despite many poor whites who would probably be better economically served voting Dem), etc. etc.   ....And this is all despite the major full-court press that everyone is exposed to from academia and the media how backward this is.  Southern whites are nearly openly reviled for their political beliefs by many of the more respected forums of discourse in this country and they still don't give a flip. There going to vote how they want (which is basically tribalistic).  Blacks are harshly criticised for their politics in the new underground forums of the internet (which I'm sure they see) and they don't give a flip.  There still going to vote tribalistic too.  When exactly is this new higher, non-tribalistic politics supposed to kick in?  We've been waiting.  .....  But now the left has decided we may as well add some more tribes to the mix anyways and see what happens. My guess:  more tribalism.  And instead of overwhelming white tribalism (which seems to be the left's goal), it will lead to an even fiercer political entrenchment by whites which I think will lead to either a near-complete shutdown of national politics if the left doesn't press hard against the natural conservatism of the Constitution or probably a civil war if they do.