In today's Baltimore Sun, I wrote about well-known criminologist David M. Kennedy making a comeback to Baltimore. His approach to violence reduction, often referred to as Ceasefire, was tried here in the late 1990s, and never really got off the ground. But it had worked before then, and has been embraced by leaders across the country with good results since. Baltimore and Kennedy both want to give it another try.
I spoke with Kennedy earlier this week about his views on inner city violence and Baltimore, much of which couldn't fit into today's article. Here are some additional excerpts from that conversation:
On whether Baltimore's neighborhoods need development and opportunity to see lasting change:
That's the traditional way of thinking. What I say to people who are drawn back to that is, 'How has that been working for you?' One of the reasons we've felt paralyzed around violence for so long is that we have thought that we had to fix everything, before we could get anywhere on the violence. That is now demonstrably not true. A lot of the thinking that has driven our work is that we are going about this backward - the idea that you can bring in new investment, new jobs into neighborhoods where people are afraid to go outside is absurd. Nobody is going to build a supermarket in the middle of an open air drug market, and there's nothing you can do to make them do it. What you can do is shut that drug market down. People will say, 'This is a place that I can think about investing.
On who is at risk:
It is an empirical fact, and we know it now, that the people in that neighborhood who are at any meaningful risk of hurting somebody, and at risk of getting hurt themselves, there are hardly any of them. The population at highest risk of killing or being killed, it's the drug crews. They are in every city but make up under half a percent of the city's population. Most of that half a percent will never hurt anybody. It ends up being 10 to 20 percent of that half. What looks like a lost neighborhood is for purposes of violence is a neighborhood with a handful of people whose names we can learn."
On eliminating "overt drug markets":
The history on this is that the neighborhoods that I'm committed to ... suffer from two - overwhelmingly more important than anything else - priority public safety issues: high levels of violence and overt drug markets. That refers to street markets where a stranger can come to, not knowing anybody, and buy drugs. Where you have overt markets, you have very high levels of not just violence but chaos and typically prostitution and loss of public space - trash, people from outside coming in and disrupting your neighborhood. When we first found that you can basically discipline that gangs and the drug crews away from violence. the next step was to use the same basic ideas to get rid of the overt markets. Nobody can get rid of the drugs, but you can get rid of drug selling in that public way
Those things are joined at the hip. The conviction that almost everybody has is that the violence is about money, and that 'drug-related' means 'drug business-related.' It doesn't. It's personal friction. It's group-on-group friction. It's respect, vendettas and beef. The bottom line is that it's fundamentally only the guys in the drug crews who will shoot you over some hard look or issue involving their second-last-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.
On current situation in Baltimore:
This is a very general pattern around criminal justice issues in Baltimore. The people who were running the key agencies just could not get along. That was really not any individuals' responsibility. It was a pattern in the city. The key criminal justice actors in this, and this [program] is not just about criminal justice, but you have to have this threshold commitment from law enforcement, in that you need the genuine enthusiastic, meaningful commitment of the Police Department, the state's attorney's office and United State's Attorney's Office. and for a long time in Baltimore, even though it was a shifting cast of characters at the top of those, the three were very rarely on the same page and in harmony together. That's changed. There's a fundamental shift in the interagency relationships.
On why it failed last time:
The approach had been tried in Boston. which is a medium sized city with a relatively moderate violent crime problem. It had been tried in Minneapolis. Then we moved to Baltimore, a medium sized city with an extraordinarily, intensive violence problem. The record at that time did not prove that this approach would work in a place like Baltimore. We were drawn to it, and I've been very public about this, because it was important to know and if possible to show that it would work in a place like Baltimore. But we didn't know it for sure. The city didn't know it, none of the criminal justice practitioners knew it. It was extremely plausible to think it wouldn't work and that there were other things that might well work better. So that has changed as well, because we now know that it will work in places like Baltimore. that it can be implemented on a citywide scale in a place like Baltimore, and that it will work better than any of the other available approaches.