LR’s PR problem
Our state’s capital city has a black eye. A current theme in the recent public discussions about what the governor called an escalating violent-crime situation is that the specter of being a dangerous city can be harmful to Little Rock. While that is true, it’s hardly new. Little Rock’s rate of violence has kept it ranked high in lists of “most dangerous” cities.
For the past two years, 2015 and 2016, it was named No. 1 on Law Street Media’s annual list of top 10 most dangerous small cities in America. The reported murder rate two years ago was more than five times the national rate.
Unless things change drastically over the next six months, a three-peat on that list is probably a slam dunk.
What that means is that Little Rock doesn’t have a perception problem. It has a reality problem. And has had for some time.
Now that the dirty laundry of a very violent but pretty small subset of criminals has escaped the confines of their local neighborhoods, people are finally talking about “doing something.”
We’ve got commentary discussing tipping points. Business and civic leaders are opining ominously about economic development implications. The buzz is humming among policy wonks, social analysts, city officials, community advocates.
All of which is good.
It is a time for action, and we should commend everyone who is mobilizing resources and manpower and energy to “take back the streets.” Times of distress can be unifying, and the hope is that will be a byproduct in this instance.
But let’s set a definition of success a little higher than masking an urban black eye with makeup. Let’s not get so caught up in restoring the beauty of our forest as seen from afar that we lose sight of all the ailing trees, especially those least among us.
It’s easy to view crime as a faceless “issue.” But if we’re not careful, discussions about rates and causes and strategies all can dehumanize the true nature of violent crime, which occurs as a harrowing personal experience for one victim at a time.
Every crime is an individual choice, in a single moment, to harm another individual or individuals. Every victim has an individual story.
Sure, sometimes criminals shoot and assault other criminals. But nowhere near all times is that the case.
Most of the innocent victims of violent crime—those who are hurt or maimed or tortured or terrorized or killed—don’t dwell where prosperous businesses serve customers and where tourists spend money.
They try to live ordinary lives in neighborhoods ravaged by extraordinary lawlessness. They are often victims of poverty, illiteracy, family disintegration and more before they become victims of crime. Their children are robbed of innocence at early ages. They bury loved ones at young ages far too frequently. They experience fear for their property and person at a level and constancy that would traumatize suburbanites and small-town dwellers.
Who knows how many of them have simply given up? And who among the rest of us can even comprehend being resigned to a life that daily brushes up against gangs, shootings and brazen brutality?
Here in the land of opportunity, that alone should be a tipping point for us as a civilized society.
When the rate of suffering among crime victims in our poorest city neighborhoods reaches top 10 levels in the nation, that alone should warrant a task force and justify drastic action.
While solutions are being sought with renewed fervor, here’s a sidewalk-level suggestion: Convene a series of town-hall-type meetings among residents in the highest-crime neighborhoods. The local churches would be prime venues, a gesture back toward the colonial gatherings that formed our country’s roots.
These folks are the foot soldiers in the war on crime, on the front line day in and day out. They know their streets, and the thugs that roam them, at a level more authentic and intimate than any official task-force designee can ever hope for.
They have knowledge, and they will have opinions. They’re not running for office or paid to promote an agenda, so they’ll speak from their hearts and souls and personal experiences, and their truths will be self-evident.
Their perspective and their answers might surprise and enlighten us, might even challenge us and our conventions.
But their voices should be heard. And their advice on solutions for what’s going on in their own backyards at least considered. It wouldn’t cost much, yet the insights could be priceless.
Bottom line, they deserve a forum. They’ve been bearing black eyes, and far worse, in the city shadows for too long now.
We’ve known from the beginning that mobile phones and water don’t mix. Moisture damage typically voids a device warranty, so the admonition has traditionally been, “don’t get your phone wet.”
Then came the terribly tragic news of a 14-year-old girl in New Mexico who apparently was electrocuted in a bathtub while using her cell phone.
Please remember and remind: When plugged in, mobile phones should be treated like hair dryers or curling irons. Contact with water can be lethal.