In 2005, when our decision makers wanted desperately to stop young Americans from being killed in the streets, they knew they could do it by investing millions in the people that were doing the shooting and killing. But those streets were in Baghdad.
As the debate on “gun violence” (apparently the only type of violence worth stopping) carries on, we are stuck recycling the same solutions with the same dubious results. As I noted in my last piece, “Beyond Banning Bad Guns and Arming Good Guys, “ some measures, like background checks, may actually have an impact on violence. Others, like a much touted assault weapons ban, or the increased armed presence of…um…”resource officers” in schools very likely won’t. Even though everyone admits that horrible school shootings are “exceedingly rare” and current proposals probably wouldn’t stop them even if they weren’t, the race to respond to Newtown has made it abundantly clear that leaders of all parties lack the political will to stop the next wave of killings in New Haven, Newark or New Orleans.
To understand how bankrupt our solutions to the American culture of violence are, you only have to compare them to the decisive action taken in Iraq as American lives where being cut down by Iraqi insurgents. By the end of 2006, thousands of US service members had been killed. For General David Patraeus, the then-Commander of US forces In Iraq, it seemed clear that he had to “cut deals with the Sunni insurgents if he was going to succeed in reducing U.S. casualties.” Cutting deals back then meant putting at least a quarter of a billion dollars into the hands of former insurgents by creating Concerned Local Citizen (CLC) programs, which basically paid 70,000 or so Iraqis to stop shooting at US troops. According to the Department of Defense, the CLC’s “vastly improved security” for US soldiers in Iraq.
The CLC’s were far from a perfect policy, mostly because the perfect policy in Iraq would have been to not be there in the first place. But their existence gives us a hint of what lengths our leaders are willing to go to when they are serious about stopping the killing of young Americans. "Tell me what you need and I'll get it for you," one General was quoted as saying to an Iraqi CLC leader.
Meanwhile, even the most respected anti-violence programs in American cities such as LA’s Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program operated by Father Greg Boyle who believes that “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” have went through phases where they had to lay off the majority of their employees (many former gang members). These programs don’t help create “Concerned Citizen” councils in a country most Americans never wanted to be at war with. Instead they give young men and women walking away from gang life jobs, job training, gang tattoo removal and counseling.
There are literally thousands of other projects created by and for young men and women who no longer want to be participants in the culture of violence that struggle to stay afloat or never see a dime of funding. Many Americans coming home from incarceration, some collateral damage in the War on Drugs and others former participants in the culture of violence, come back with the intention of “giving back” to stop violence in their communities. This is despite facing extreme barriers- from their inability to get financial aid for college to their inability to vote or obtain gainful employment. Many can’t even capitalize on the famed work-out routines that they develop while incarcerated (something a defense lawyer had no problem doing). Even if “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” the opportunity to get jobs that help stop the bullets and gunfire are more uncommon than they should be.
With the renewed urgency to end violence coupled with the praise that General Petraeus received from Democrats and Republicans for saving American lives in Iraq (as an extramarital affair prematurely ended his career), you would think that our politicians would be willing to try anything to save lives. In the past few weeks, Senator Diane Feinstein proposed an assault weapons ban which meticulously names the weapons she seeks to ban (that gun owners probably now seek to buy in droves), President Obama unveiled a 22 page proposal to end gun violence that placates the NRA’s need for more “good guys with guns” and Senator Marco Rubio responded by insisting that Florida’s mandatory minimum policies, which put domestic violence survivor Marissa Alexander in prison for 20 years for firing a warning shot against an abusive spouse, are the real solution to violence. But few of our major political leaders who graced the studios of Meet the Press, MSNBC or Fox News even made a passing mention of funding anti-violence projects that invest in current and former participants in violence.
As the debate on violence in America rages on and all sides get angry at the lack of “real solutions,” the fact that the millions spent to save American lives in Baghdad are not worth spending to save lives in Baltimore should be what really makes Americans angry.
Don't forget to tune into our show every Wednesday at 7pm EST.