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Sarasota Thursday, May 5, 2011 8 years ago

OUR VIEW: Newtown needs fresh leaders


The despicable murders of two British tourists at a housing project in Newtown are international news because of the brutality, youth of the alleged killer and the endless string of questions as to why the men were there in the first place.

It’s a community black eye that Sarasota leaders have been trying feverishly to put mascara over to protect the important tourism industry. That effort will be successful, and Sarasota and her beaches, golf courses and snowbird industries will recover. Memories are often short.

The same cannot be said for Newtown. The response of the Newtown and community leaders, sadly, has been predictable and proven to be failed. Bold, new leadership needs to emerge in Newtown.

Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner, as doctrinaire a liberal as you will find, ran afoul of racial PC when he told the BBC that Sarasota is a tale of two cities and that while much of Sarasota is beautiful and cultural, “You have this historic black community that is the complete opposite … ”

You’re not supposed to state prima facie truth, mayor. You’re supposed to go along with the smiley-face script. Newtown is getting better! Social and economic improvement is occurring!

Sarasota NAACP President Trevor Harvey blamed the news media for making Newtown look bad while it is coming back, and Kirschner’s words were in that snare. His type of comments undermined the renewal going on in Newtown. But any such renewal beyond some rebuilt public housing is not evident and appears to be so marginal as to have no impact on daily life.

And then there is the media, which Harvey would like to demonize.

Our resident daily newspaper started off an editorial on the killings, blaming the justice system by saying “a troubled teenager’s life may be ruined.” Seriously? He is charged with killing two men after being charged with shooting at another a few days earlier, and he is “troubled?” Their brutal deaths at his hands are to be equated with his life being ruined?

This formula for blaming whites — which plays powerfully into white guilt — is maybe best explained by Shelby Steele, a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, who has been called America’s most discerning black writer. Steele writes, “We blacks always experience white guilt as an incentive, almost a command, to somehow exhibit racial woundedness and animus.” This results in “a political identity with no real purpose beyond the manipulation of white guilt.”

Steele says that one of many casualties of this is education: “We got remedies pitched at injustices rather than at black academic excellence — school busing, black role models as teachers, black history courses, ‘diverse’ reading lists, ‘Ebonics,’ multiculturalism, culturally ‘inclusive’ classes, standardized tests corrected for racial bias and so on.”

This, as Steele points out, epitomizes the white-guilt thinking and the abnormal fear of being labeled racist for speaking the truth. The Herald-Tribune editorial also said that “one of the challenges facing the local media has been to balance perspectives.” Or, the local media could just report facts. Because some cold, hard facts and not policy mollycoddling is what is needed.

In this respect, whites do indeed bear part of the blame for Newtown, just not in the way the race-players mean it.

To move beyond the blame game and happy-face veneer, here are the facts. From February 2008 to February 2010, 12 people were killed in Newtown by gunfire, a stunning amount for a small community. Police cracked down on the Second Line gang operating there and removed many criminals. Crime fell. But even that is only part of the story.

According to Sarasota Police Department crime statistics, Newtown remained at the top of violent crime in Sarasota in 2010 — after the gang activity was broken up. Taking the two districts covering Newtown — out of 10 districts total in the city — Newtown still had 67% of the murders, 46% of the aggravated assaults, 46% of the aggravated batteries, 43% of sexual batteries and 32% of the robberies. It represents less than 20% of the city’s police districts.

Even the police play the happy-face game. They put out stats showing that about 80% of the crimes in the Felony Crime Index happen outside of Newtown. But that is because of the large numbers of non-violent thefts and burglaries that happen elsewhere are included in the index.

These numbers also reveal that the vast majority of Newtown residents are law-abiding and just trying to live peaceably. It’s on display at Saturday morning cookouts and other times. But when it comes to violent crime in the city, the numbers are indisputable.

They explain Newtown’s image and its economic woes — not whites or police or the media.

Without attacking the crime problem at all levels, we can pave Dr. Martin Luther King Way with gold, and people still are not going to invest their life savings in a high-crime, high-drug area. It won’t happen. It is not a money problem first. It is a moral problem first. And those are words that leaders simply will not use.

So the blame and responsibility gets shifted again. Often the police — a vital part of the solution — are targeted as part of the problem. It is irrational. But it is ingrained, and “leadership” further ingrains it.

Let’s return to last year’s Police Advisory Panel that was set up after a Hispanic arrestee was beaten by a police officer, and it was captured on security cameras. The panel, which basically turned into one long gripe session against the cops, invited James Unnever, a radical criminology professor at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee to speak.

Unnever’s basic message was to take the blame-game further. He posits that young black men raping, robbing, assaulting and killing other blacks are merely reacting to the expectations of white people. Whites perceive them to be thugs, so they go ahead and become thugs.

It’s tortured and disgusting, but it continues the formula — black criminals in Newtown are not responsible for their actions. So Newtown is not responsible for its condition. The real fault, according to the formula, is white racism, police racism, media racism and sensationalism and so on.

Let’s just state what needs to be stated. Criminals of any color are responsible for their own actions. If you murder someone, you can’t blame your circumstances. If you buy a house you cannot afford, it is your fault. Things happen beyond our control, but our response is always in our control. Most all of us have the capacity to make rational choices.

And if criminals, including black ones, are responsible for their actions, then it follows that Newtown bears responsibility for its condition. Current leadership, from long-time City Commissioner Fredd Atkins to NACCP leaders and others, bear a heavy load for what Newtown is today.

What Newtown needs is strong, moral, self-reliant, color-blind leadership that can rise up and say, “Enough!”

Newtown desperately needs those leaders with a vision of what Newtown can be beyond hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped in and beyond the failed methods of the past 30 years.

If there are no Newtown and Sarasota leaders willing to stand up and say what is clearly right and wrong, to take a different direction from the one that has led to this situation, Newtown is doomed to stay a dangerous, poor community that provides scant hope for its children. That would be compounding tragedy.
Somebody: Carpe diem!

The reality to be faced is that Newtown has a crime problem that must be fixed before the community can turn itself around.

Crime   Newtown   City   Percentage
Murder 4   6   67%
Agg. assault 38   83   46%
Agg. battery 55   120   46%
Sexual battery 9   21   43%
Robbery 54   168   32%
Burglary 142   824   17%
Vehicle theft 19   133   14%
Grand theft 70   542   13%

Source: Sarasota Police Department

A new newtown vision
Here are some suggestions to get a radically new way of thinking started in Newtown:

• First, admit that Newtown has a serious problem and give up on responding by projecting it on the white community. Newtown leaders must say we have a problem, and we must change. Indeed, little changes until there is enough pain to force a change.

• Change the culture toward traditional morals. It is wrong to have children out of wedlock, wrong for men and women, wrong for boys and girls. It is destructive to the children and creates a higher chance of having to live off taxpayers, which is also wrong. The dependency cycle starts with a moral decline and then is fueled by a welfare system that does not create adequate accountability.

• Re-do the schools. The education system needs to dump the multiculturalism and self-esteem nonsense and get back to teaching reading and writing and math. Writer Shelby Steele points out that English in urban black communities is worse today than it was in 1950. That is a huge handicap. And there must be a slap down on the cultural construct that to use proper grammar and work hard in school equates to being an Oreo.

• Reject the welfare mentality that was meant for good but has only done harm by enabling the utter breakdown of the family and the sadistic cycle of dependency and hopelessness.

• Public policymakers in Sarasota and elsewhere need to stop building “projects” that lump the low-income and uneducated in one place where such lifestyles are accepted as the norm, and where criminal elements can and do proliferate. In fact, it would be best to eliminate public housing entirely and create an environment where homeownership is the rule and the goal. Human nature dictates that if we put no value on something — such as being given a place to live for free or subsidized — we do not value it. Habitat for Humanity gets this.

• At the least, limit the amount of time that can be spent in public housing, just like other welfare, and create paths to ownership. The truism is obvious at any public housing project. And then support the Sarasota Housing Authority’s plan to boot families from public housing if their children are truant from school. We simply cannot keep enabling bad behavior in the name of compassion.


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