With the end of this summer, we must double down on solutions that are already making our communities safer.
The Labor Day holiday brought with it the unofficial end to a summer that saw its share of violence in cities across the country, including here in Brooklyn. Over the holiday there were three shootings, each one a loss despite crime being down in the city and Brooklyn overall. As the summer draws to a close, we have to ask: what will it take to make our streets – and our summers – safe?
After the Old Timers Day shooting, the community of Brownsville turned out to decry the violence. They demanded that instead of the city sending more police that they receive funding for community-based programming. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but what members of the Brownsville community know is that addressing violence does not start with increased policing or incarceration. Addressing violence begins with understanding why violence happens in the first place; it is not just about individuals; it is always also a symptom of other social ills that can only be prevented when we address the sources.
Communities that have experienced violence understand that the current system of mass incarceration does little to repair and heal trauma after a violent act has occurred. In response to this, several communities have mobilized solutions that address the reasons why violence happens in the first place.
Up to this point, violent acts and those who commit them have been met with a very narrow solution: being funneled through the criminal justice system that ends with incarceration. There are many fundamental flaws with this approach, but most relevant to the understanding of how violence manifests is that incarceration treats violence itself as something inherent in "dangerous" people, and asserts that by removing these people you can prevent further violence in a community. This system has become the default way we think of addressing violence, but still, violence persists. So if this approach isn't stifling violence and making us safer, what is?
Understanding why violence happens is not answered by a philosophical question about the human condition. It is answered by understanding how our society creates barriers for the most vulnerable and perpetuates a cycle that gives way for violence to happen. Poverty, inequity, lack of opportunity, and exposure to violence are known to drive more violence. What many communities in Brooklyn are doing now is proactively addressing those drivers through local interventions, rather than reacting with increased punishment. The city has already started to reap the benefits of these alternative responses to violence with the rate of violent crime steadily declining.
As we reflect on a summer that saw the lives of too many lost to violence, we can't fall back on tactics that continue to fail us. The more we build solutions that work, addressing the root causes of violence, the more we can make our communities safer for next summer and beyond.