Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Don't Shoot by David Kennedy
White men, over 18: one in 106.
Black men, over 18: one in 15.
Black men, 20-34: one in nine.
Randy reviewed this book a couple of months ago and did a great job recapping Kennedy's methods and successes, so I direct you to his post for a more thorough description. In short, Kennedy (and, I assume, others, though he sort of humble brags his way through the book and aww-shucksingly gives himself a lot of credit) saw that bitter animosity and lack of communication between communities (usually African-American communities) and law enforcement did nothing to prevent violence and only made bad situations worse, so he embarked on numerous projects in various cities (including High Point, NC) to basically get gang members, social workers and law enforcement in a room and get everyone to realize that no one likes the status quo and that everyone will benefit from working together. Wonderfully, Kennedy found that this strategy was very successful and could quickly and dramatically reduce gun violence, open drug markets, etc., though its sustained success depended on the commitment from government and law enforcement, which often was not forthcoming.
As comes across in Randy's review, the book is fascinating. Some of the stories are shocking, depressing, and maddening, while others are inspiring, overwhelming and full of hope. In the end, the work that Kennedy and his colleagues have done is amazing and their model should be used everywhere. However, I do have some criticisms. First of all, Kennedy comes across as a caricature of an academic, even as he tries to make himself sound like a grizzled guy who's seen some real shit. He must have been so obnoxious for the cops, social workers and other veterans of these communities to work with sometimes. My favorite parts would be when he'd talk about some huge breakthrough the research team had or some amazing discovery they made when a cop would just straight up tell them something that was totally obvious to anyone who had actually lived or worked in these inner-city communities. It reminded me of European explorers "discovering" lands already inhabited for thousands of years. Also, he makes all of the people in the book come across as fools several times when he emphasizes how long it takes them to realize the significance of certain facts. For example, he said it took them 15 years to realize how significant it was that gang members they hadn't identified as the most prominent would want to be involved in their call-ins and programs. Fifteen years!? Really, Kennedy? I wasn't there, but it seemed like he was explaining some relatively obvious concepts (just because you're black and in a gang doesn't mean you're not a rational human being). Maybe given their prior experience the concepts would take some pondering, but not fifteen years worth.
Another question I had was about the role of race in Kennedy's experiences. He bends over backward to say that the people in law enforcement who he worked with aren't racist. While I believe him and don't think that police departments are just full of racists, I do wonder how he explains stats like the one quoted above. A couple of times he gets into the disparity between arrests/police presence in black neighborhoods and that presence in white neighborhoods, but doesn't really explain where this comes from or how there's not a racist element at work.
Overall it was a very interesting book and its lessons, that preconceived notions and ideologies are useless in the face of practical, successful methods, can be applied to many areas beyond law enforcement.
Posted by billy at 5:35 PM