Take aim at root causes of crime

Just days after law enforcement officials in Mahoning County had warned of possible gang violence at the Southern Park Mall, members of a faith-based grassroots organization met with reporters to talk about reclaiming the city of Youngstown from the criminals.

The Rev. Dr. Lewis Macklin II, senior pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, and others in ACTION — Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods — were reacting to the killing of 20-year-old Pako Lacey and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Juanetta Franklin. They had been shot to death in a home on Youngstown’s South Side.

“That is just unconscionable,” said Rev. Macklin, commenting on the fact that no one in the neighborhood claimed to have heard the gunshots. “We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and act like these things do not happen.”

But it was the Rev. Joseph Fata, pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church in Boardman, who put the issue of crime in its proper perspective with the following comment:

“Just being upset and screaming and yelling is not going to address the problem. We have to back up and see how these young people ended up in that position.”

But even Father Fata seemed unwilling to acknowledge the elephant in the room: black males are committing a majority of the homicides (and other crimes) in Youngstown, and a majority of the homicide victims are black males.

Black-on-black crime

While it is risky to raise the issue of race, ignoring it is even worse. That’s because not talking about black-on-black crime allows policy makers and others to avoid addressing the root causes of the problem: the absence of a stable home life in which young black girls and boys are taught right from wrong at an early age and have responsible adults to keep them on the straight and narrow.

About the time local law enforcement officials were issuing warnings of a possible shoot out at the Southern Park Mall carnival in retaliation for the killing of Lacey and Franklin, there was an email distributed nationally concerning gangs of juveniles causing mayhem in Baltimore, Md.

Because the gang members were black and the victims were white, a Baltimore County elected official, Pat McDonough, a conservative radio talk show host, called on the governor to send in the Maryland State Police to control “roving mobs of black youths” in the Inner Harbor area.

McDonough also wanted the Harbor to be declared a “no-travel zone” until safety could be ensured.

Not surprisingly, his comments ignited a fire storm of criticism, with a group of activists demanding an apology.

According to the Baltimore Sun, McDonough declined to apologize, saying to do so would be “political correctness on steroids.”

The Maryland elected official did not say anything that most law-abiding residents of any city in America haven’t said in the privacy of their homes when considering the crime epidemic that has swept the nation’s urban areas.

But there is a reluctance to publicly state the obvious, and that must end.

Black children in Youngstown are growing up in homes that are dysfunctional — an unacceptably high number of residences are drug infested — which means they are starting life with none of the advantages enjoyed by suburban children being raised in stable environments.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

An old story

Five years ago, a column in this space headlined “Youngstown’s homicide rate puts city among the most deadly” offered the following observation:

“The city’s extraordinarily high homicide rate implies that there is a subculture of [primarily] men — from late teens to 30-somethings — who are armed and dangerous. ... They’ve come from broken homes, attended broken schools, grown up without role models and are now on the streets, making their own rules. … the city’s black community should be particularly alarmed because 90 percent of the victims and 90 percent of the perpetrators were black.”

While the willingness of ACTION to talk about the crime epidemic in Youngstown is praiseworthy, the members of the clergy must recognize that only they have the ability to get directly involved in homes that are danger zones for children.

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