1-28-2006 Control

“We never had to lock our doors. We always played until dark. Now my children have to play inside or on the porches. The police as well as you are aware of this…

I yanked those comments forwarded by a local woman from a letter published in today’s Times Leader. She wrote her letter to the editors in response to Mayor Tom Leighton’s ‘It’s not as bad out there as people think.’ comment regarding the crime situation in Wilkes-Barre.

There is absolutely nothing that any of us could take issue with as things pertain to her comments. We never locked our doors when we lived in Direnzio Hills, Derby, Connecticut circa 1968. Then again, we lived miles and miles from the nearest public housing project.

Here’s another blurb from our letter writer: “You and the police department should be making more of an effort to clean up the Sherman Hills complex and making the Diamond Patch a safer place for my family, as it was when I grew up.

So, we lived in a bucolic setting where locks were not necessary. Three short years later, we were living in a public housing project in good ole’ Wilkes-Barre, PA, and had to take us a refresher course on how to properly operate those aforementioned locks. My intention is not to demean public housing, or the occupants trapped therein. My point is that the “projects” are the urban version of the rural communities’ trailer parks. Call me a mangy coon dog if you must, but that’s the way it is. Been there, done that.

With that having been said, consider that an elderly Kingston woman was recently stabbed with an ice pick for daring to open her door to a stranger in what was always considered to be a very safe neighborhood. An elderly man from Edwardsville was duct-taped and beaten to death in his own garage. And in the bucolic Back Mountain, an area where crime is normally measured in quarter-ounces to Wilkes-Barre’s pounds, Hugo Selenski opened his own cemetery without a municipal permit. The thing is, no matter where you live and no matter how many precautions you take, violent crime can still find it’s way into your life. It’s not limited to Wilkes-Barre. It’s a serious growth industry these days.

If you want to live lock-free, stay away from those housing projects. And if you want to go to bed at night content in the knowledge that your expensive, imported gazing ball will still be glaring away on the front lawn in the morning, stay away from those trailer parks. I spent a few of my formative years in one of those projects and I couldn’t wait to make my escape. Living in such a place can easily retard a kid’s self-esteem. It can kill your confidence. It can put a massive chip on your shoulder. And it can get you to lashing out at folks. And it’s not a place normally associated with being springboards to higher education, or climbing any ladders, corporate, or otherwise. Broken marriages, a lack of education, a lack of formal job training and marginal speaking skills do not make for upper-crust sophisticates.

And when you’re dirt poor, you know it, all too often the people you meet know it, and many of them go out of their way to make sure you know that they know you are poor. Over time that breeds contempt for those who are not poor. And it also breeds contempt for the law and those who choose to enforce it.

But when the more well-heeled folks start demanding selective enforcement of the laws on the books, that opens a whole other painful can of worms for those who may be far less than what you’d call smart, but certainly not stupid.

For example: When the white kids got caught tapping a half in the woods, the cops rounded them up, cursed them up and down, through the barrel into the trunk of the police cruiser, cursed some more and told the sorry lot of them to get to their skinny white asses home--LIKE RIGHT NOW! (You’d swear I’d been there, no?) Oh, but when the Rodrigo brothers, formerly of New York City, got caught sipping from two quarts of beer in the very same spot, they were hauled down to headquarters. Their crying Mom who barely spoke English had to walk all the way down to headquarters after finding a baby-sitter for her daughter. The cops released the boys to their near hysterical Mom. And they also made her aware of the painful fact that she was now on the hook for under-aged drinking fines she was ill-prepared to pay. Welfare checks didn’t go very far in those days.

So, instead of the Oscar Mayer hoddogs, they had to settle for the sub-standard Econo-slop hoddogs that your dog wouldn’t eat. No bus fare that month. If they wanted to go stand in line for those government surplus five pound blocks of cheese, they were walking all the way and all the way back. No extras for their brown-bagged school lunches. More bologna and mayonnaise , boys. You brought it all on yourselves. You see, some of us would rather have been born mutated pygmies than admit we qualified for free federal lunches. For poor folks in those days, damn near everything had a social stigma attached to it. Screw that! Bring on the bologna.

Before very long, the Latino boys got to remarking about how the white kids got off and they didn’t. Right then and there they learned to mistrust most of the folks around them. The white folks skate. The brown folks don’t. The cops are not to be trusted. And they started blaming at least some of their problems on others. You know the thought process. The cops selectively enforce the laws. What’s good for the white goose is not good for non-white gander. The white folks are keeping us down. Were they wrong to start going down that destructive road? They got shafted.

But with the state of race relations as we currently find them, consider those same incidents today. If a cop busts those white kids tapping the barrel, he’s going to have to face the wrath of a helluva lot of angry white parents. Don’t you have criminals to arrest? Why are you wasting your time chasing my wonderful, perfect child around? He wasn‘t hurting anyone! Ah, the victimless crime. The whites cling to that defense like stench on the homeless.

With things as they are, if the cop busts the Latino boys, then cries of “racial profiling” ring out, and somebody like Ron Felton makes their yearly appearance on WNEP. Don’t you have some whites that need arresting? Why you always gotta pick on us? He wasn‘t hurting anyone! Ah, the victimless crime. The non-whites cling to that defense like body oils do to the bottom of the shower.

Plus, the whites have absolutely no tolerance for any of them non-whites getting what may be perceived as a slap on the wrist coming from law enforcement. It’s got to culminate in an arrest no matter what. To many, many whites, all non-whites are “suspicious persons.” And we already know that all too many non-whites feel like they’re getting picked on by law enforcement. And why shouldn’t they? The professional millionaire race-baiters tell them as much every chance they get. To many, many non-whites, the police are regularly viewed to be “suspicious persons.

So what’s a cop to do while stuck in the middle of this societal morass? Well, it seems to me sometimes that they ought to get back to cursing a lot, threatening to beat the snot out of those caught again, and then chasing everyone home. It worked when we were kids. But then again, they weren’t fighting to maintain control of our streets when we toted BB guns and slingshots throughout the city. Things are bit more callous and dangerous today. This nation has slipped quite a few noticeable notches since I last took a clay brick to a tin-friction car.

If a given neighborhood is slipping beyond the control of the police department, saturation patrols are clearly called for. And in some respects, saturation patrols are just a notch above martial law. When that comes about, everybody needs to be busted for everything. You sell drugs, you get busted. You crack of quart of beer and you’re gone. Loud music, loitering, cursing, spitting and sporting the wrong NASCAR jacket could earn you a trip to the hoosegow right quick. When regaining control is the ultimate objective, tolerance is not going to be a part of the program. And tolerance can be seen as proof of preferential treatment depending on your racial perspective.

If we’re losing our neighborhoods, routine patrols won’t regain control. In this city, patrolling is kind of like the police department’s maintenance program. They jump from call to call fixing things rather than patrolling the streets to any great degree. Your marriage is broken and you get to threatening to slap the pregnant wench around? A cop will be there to try to fix it short of an arrest. Your kid drove the quad into the neighbor’s fence? Mr. Fix-it will be there soon enough. You mistake some weird looking goings-on for Code 18 activity? There’s another unit tied up. You make like me with the stereo trying to damage your neighbor’s foundation? There’s one less patrol car doing any patrolling. Stealing a bicycle is preferable to paying for one? One less patrol unit patrolling. Your kid has cigarette burns on her forearm? On and on it goes. In fact, it never does stop. What I like to call, “idiot calls.“

In theory, we should have 8, or 10, maybe even twelve police cars going around in circles to prevent crimes from happening. But, too many of us can’t behave ourselves. We carry on like boobs on most days and occupy the attention of our somewhat limited police resources, while the violent folks are creeping around somewhere with a concealed weapon and a drug score to settle.

And if we continue to act like boobs, but at the same time demand that crime be eliminated in the very near future, I fail to see how we’re ever going to take back our neighborhoods. If you want more cops out on patrol, then settle down already. Instead of punching the wife when you get drunk, punch the front of the refrigerator. Not only is it fun, it’ll free up one of our patrol cars to do what we need them doing the most--patrolling the city. And if you can’t settle down, then maybe we’ll just have to raise the taxes and buy us even more cops. This is dizzying, is it not?


Damn straight it is, which strongly suggests that just barking out “You and the police department should be making more of an effort to clean up the Sherman Hills complex…” comes from someone who cannot conceive of the dynamics and such that play into all of this policing stuff. Fact is, if re-gentrification was so damned easy, every city across Amerika would be doing it. We hired ten new cops, and we’ve got ourselves an experienced and dedicated law enforcement professional leading them into battle. A man who was recently inducted into the PA Police Hall of Fame. That sounds like quite the accomplishment to me. Why is it that neither of our two newspapers bothered to splash that news across their front pages? That’s right. It wouldn’t fit into that Wilkes-Barre-is-the-most-dangerous-city-this-side-of-Beirut template of theirs. Never mind.

And what of Sherman Hills anyway? I happen to know the guy who manages that place. They thoroughly screen prospective tenants. And they pay off-duty Wilkes-Barre police officers to camp out there all the time. They should be “making more of an effort?” Okay, tell us how? Strip-searches. Unannounced raid/searches of the tenants apartments? Road blocks? What more should be done? How about video cameras? Whoa there!!! Sorry. Very many of you out there started squealing like stuck pigs at the thought of surveillance cameras being included in Wilkes-Barre’s mix. Why not burn down all of the public housing complexes and give those folks twenty-four hours to get out of town? Why? Because we’ve got Section 8 properties scattered throughout all of our neighborhoods, that’s why? We’re always going to have neighbors that are much, much poorer than us, which reverts back to the aforementioned broken marriages, a lack of education, a lack of formal job training and marginal speaking skills.

We’ll never stamp out violent crime completely. And it’s hard to imagine our being able to significantly reduce it by executive fiat, or because of any well-meaning rants coming from the frustrated populace. And in my opinion, neither Tom Leighton, nor Chief Dessoye will ever be able to deliver to us that which we need the most. We need our most at-risk--our most vulnerable--children to be properly educated in our public schools. We need to provide to those children under a certain economic threshold a free ticket to the closest available community college. I would gladly pay for that which was previously provided to me. In my mind, that’s an investment not only in our local communities, but in the nation as a whole.

A lack of any meaningful job skills breeds poverty. Poverty then breeds contempt. Contempt breeds criminals. And criminals know that the quickest way to make the big, big bucks is by securing a lucrative position in the illegal narcotics industry.

Yeah, the old neighborhood is gone. It certainly isn’t what it used to be.

And I think the issue at hand is not what the current crop of elected folks are doing about it. It’s not necessarily that we need more cops, because, in my mind, that’s a Band-Aid being applied to that which most ails our neighborhoods and can only get worse over time. We can’t hire ten new cops every year. The issue is not tougher punishment. The issue is not how we can get rid of the non-whites, while pretending not to be, at least, part-time racists.

No, the issue here is control. How can we regain control of our meaner streets and our slipping neighborhoods?

I say we do it by empowering people. And it’d take time and plenty of patience in a country known for it’s legendary lack of patience. You can’t demand that folks with only marginal capabilities succeed in life and make nice like. You can’t expect those with the debilitating chips on their shoulders to get with the “make nice like” program. It’s not going to happen no matter who’s in charge.

You want control?

Then see to it that real opportunities are provided to those who are the least capable of providing them for themselves. A welfare check is not a safety net.

An education is.

Sez me.

I dunno.