LR’s PR prob­lem

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Dana D. Kel­ley Dana D. Kel­ley is a free­lance writer from Jones­boro.

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.

Warn­ing la­bel

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.

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