Are Buffalo police and prosecutors doing a worse job than a year ago?
Have teddy bears, flowers and prayer vigils lost their potency?
Are Buffalo’s community groups more ineffectual?
It’s worth asking only because a year ago at this time, when the city was celebrating a dramatic drop in homicides, all of the above were credited.
But with murders up by 39 percent – to 50 – in 2012, it’s obvious that creating more joint police strike forces, praying harder and holding more street corner news conferences are not the answer.
All can help, and no one argues against law enforcement’s effort to rescue neighborhoods that deserve help.
But such efforts are mere fingers in the dike if hopelessness breeds others ready to step into the vacuum that good police work creates.
What can work? In a word: jobs.
Arlee Daniels, a former gang member who now mediates gang disputes and steers members into training, said that a lot of the murders result when convicts get out of prison, can’t find work and then try to reassert themselves on the street.
More prison training programs that offer certification in plumbing, electrical work and other trades would help ex-cons make a living and curb such conflicts, said Daniels, Stop the Violence Coalition program coordinator.
The notion that young people don’t want to work is “just an excuse” for doing little to help them, Daniels said.
“I talk to them all the time,” he said. “A great many of them do want to work.”
“In order for them to put down what they’re doing, we have to have a mechanism in place to put something in its place. And it’s jobs,” agreed the Rev. Charles Walker of Mount Hope Community Church on Broadway.
Walker hung out on the streets as a youth before becoming a mentor with various organizations, only to then get snared in a drug conspiracy case he still insists led to a wrongful conviction. After doing time, he returned to his anti-violence work and recently hosted one of the aforementioned vigils, complete with a balloon release.
But he knows that it takes more than symbolism. He wants business and government to cooperate in offering subsidized jobs to get young men off the streets until they’ve acquired the skills to earn market wages.
“They really want to work,” Walker said. But they’re not going to give up $500 a week selling weed to make $100 a week, he said. You have to show them a better way to support themselves.
That means we need a multi-agency task force focused on jobs, not just on crime, and vigils outside job-development agencies instead of murder sites.
Antoine Thompson, new executive director of the Buffalo Employment and Training Center, is on target. The former state senator wants to use center dollars to subsidize wages, start monthly job-placement meetings with employers and hold job fairs in neighborhoods. But it will take more than one agency. And, no doubt, such investment in young men who failed to get much out of the public schools we already invest in will rankle some people.
But what’s the alternative? We can put them to work, or spend $30,000 a year to put them in prison.
Either way, the answer is jobs. Keep doing only what we did in 2012, and police and prosecutors will have a job. Ministers and activists will have a job.
And undertakers will have a job.