In Living Commentary

It's a vicious circle, perhaps.

Does crime cause poverty or does poverty cause crime?

My friend and colleague Eugene Kane, who is as passionate and precise as any writer I know, wrote early this week about the shameful statistics regarding the rate that Wisconsin puts black men in prison.

We are No. 1 in the nation. And it's not even close with Oklahoma, which is No. 2.

The numbers are disgusting and everyone who lives here, no matter your color, ought to be asking difficult questions about this kind of statistic.

Kane's column and the study that spawned it has created a predictable response:

"Do the crime, do the time."

"Maybe we should put more whites in prison so it balances out."

We don't need to even pay attention to any of those responses.

But there is one overriding question that we should try to answer.

Nobody is born a criminal. There is no inevitability to a kid becoming a criminal. There is something else at work here, and that leads us to the big question.

Does crime cause poverty or does poverty cause crime?

The two are obviously linked. Poor neighborhoods have more crime and and give birth to more crime than do more affluent neighborhoods. There is one school of thought, however, that claims a neighborhood is poor for more reasons than just the fact that there are no jobs.

The easy and most common theory is that if a neighborhood is poor the only way for people to survive is to become criminals. When you don't have money for food, or diapers for kids or transportation or any of the other for stuff you need, you will turn to crime to get those things.

People who live outside these pockets of crime have a hard time understanding what happens in those neighborhoods that are rife with anti-social behavior. There is a dynamic.

People use need as the stimulus for crime. People need stuff so they go and steal it.

There is another theory, one that requires thinking outside the box and makes all of us pause to get our arms around it. This theory is one that was actively articulated by our former mayor, John Norquist.

Norquist, and others, argue that it is crime that causes poverty. They argue that a high crime rate destabilizes neighborhoods. It drives businesses out. It drives homeowners away looking for a safer place to live. Crime creates a climate that frightens everyone and dissuades any meaningful attempts at turning around a neighborhood.

I agree with Norquist mainly because, as I said, I don't think people are born to be criminals. There is a lot of research that shows people turn to crime for a wide variety of reasons: greed, disregard for law or order, fun and adventure (believe it or not), drug use.

So where do we put our efforts as a community trying to turn things around? I think we need to deal with the issue of crime. Not with a hammer or a daily onslaught by police. But rather, by activating those measures what will help create a safer area where business can thrive and people can live without fear.

We need help from the people who are there with active, serious block watch programs. We need police to respond quickly to complaints. We need to focus on those quality of life issues. And we need to stop throwing so many black men in jail. Nobody benefits from that. And maybe if we try to so something else, we can move down from No. 1.

Talkbacks

ShareefJackson | April 26, 2013 at 9:49 p.m. (report)

First of all, it should be that excessive crime causes poverty. Crime does not only exist in poor areas - it exists everywhere, especially white collar crime. Otherwise, I agree with the author's assessment. It's all about perception, and crime is a part of that (even though it's usually grossly exaggerated) I grew up in a poor area that has had to live with the stigma of "not being safe" for decades. This all started with white flight in the 60s and because of that, businesses are still slow to invest in the area. And when it comes down to it, when there's no businesses providing money and jobs, an area can quickly go downhill.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

emills81 | April 26, 2013 at 11:31 a.m. (report)

If you would like to cut crime in the inner city by 75% there are 2 major things that need to be done. First is legalize marijuana. This will free up 60% of the local police budget that then can be focused on eradicating the real drugs that are tearing apart the inner city such as crack and heroin. The second thing done should be year round tri-semester schools. Eliminating a 3 month summer break will drastically cut the chances of young kids falling in to gangs during the long unsupervised laps in learning. I would take this one step further and set up a MPS boarding school for the kids that have a very unstable home. We cannot mandate 2 family parents but we can try to fill the gap that is missing in these kids lives. The problem is it is easier to sell drugs then find a job. Theres no point in going to school if they are not teaching you anything you see to be useful. Take away the easy black market of marijuana sales that is the gateway to crime in the inner city, and replace it with interactive education that is challenging and relevant to these kids lives and we will see a 75% drop in youth crime. By preventing future criminals we can then focus all the needed resources on the current ones.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

TheyThink | April 26, 2013 at 8:56 a.m. (report)

I find it curious that Mr. Begel demands faster response times from police but has previously slammed Sheriff Clarke for stating a fact that 911 response times are not getting quicker. I find it very doubtful that people turn to crime to pay for diapers (as Mr. Begel alludes to). Considering the amount of single mothers in the central city, I can't recall the last time a woman held up a store for money (or Huggies a la H.I. McDunnough). People turn to crime because it's easier than completing school and getting a job. And no, there aren't many jobs for high school and grade school dropouts. It doesn't help if a child grows up in a home where education and hard work are not deemed important and that crime is a better option.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

AndrewJ | April 26, 2013 at 8:10 a.m. (report)

Whaaaat?? My legal advice didn't make the cut? Alright... I'll offer it up again then: http://youtu.be/rVnplh7gnlU "People use need as the stimulus for crime." Correction... people use "want" as the stimulus for crime. If "need" was the driving factor, we'd have a prison system full of single mothers who robbed WalMart for milk and diapers. That's not the case. People rob for money, guns, electronics, and jewelry. In general. The stolen money is not going to buy cribs, onesies, or childrens formula, items I think we'd all classify as "needs". It goes to buy the same most popular stolen items, as well as drugs and alcohol. That said, I'm certainly glad you aren't a circuit judge or our DA. "I shoved a gun in that ladies face because I NEEDED her iphone 5" would be a popular defense with you up there on the bench.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

mikeb | April 25, 2013 at 9:07 p.m. (report)

Most people tend to emulate their role models in life. I grew up as one of 5 kids and remember seeing that we were below the "poverty" line. Yet, none of the 5 kids have seen the inside of a jail cell and have turned out pretty well. Why? Well, we had two parents who believed in Education and who believed in discipline and hard work. Not surprisingly the kids bought into that way of thinking. I think we are lacking that in the inner city. Too many kids who are having kids. Too many kids that grow up without Dads in the picture. Too many people making excuses for poor behavior. We can't even seem to get all that worked up about all the co-sleeping deaths that occur. We know most of the staff at OnMilwaukee are hardcore liberals and some of them have kids. I'm sure some of them will wonder at some point why their kids turned out to be ok. They'll probably chalk it up to white privilege or something like that, but ultimately it will be because they were good parents who held themselves and their children to some standards.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
5 comments about this article.
Post a comment / write a review.

Facebook Comments

Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.