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San Francisco perpetuates "dark ages" crime prejudices

Two statements-and some huge omissions-sum up the obsolete thinking that plagues development of a 21st century crime policy for San Francisco, an issue receiving more attention after new police reports show homicides have increased.

"Nothing that I have tried to resolve has been more frustrating and vexing than solving the issue of why a 14-year-old would take the life of a 15-year-old with a weapon of war," Mayor Gavin Newsom told the Chronicle on January 1. And unnamed community leaders were paraphrased in the same article as urging "teenagers and their parents to take more personal responsibility."

If there's one reform crucial to confronting modern crime, it's to move beyond politicians', cops', and and media's endless expressions of shock and blame toward youth, a demographic the FBI reports account for just one-tenth of violence and one-sixteenth of homicides-for crime.

The shocking "new" reality-new in the sense that it's been obvious in police reports for 20 years, which is why glacial-minded crime experts haven't noticed it yet-is that San Franciscans age 50-59 now commit more, and those age 40-49 now commit three times more, felonies than do youth under age 18.

That's right, 40- and 50-agers, the city's graying, wealthiest demographic, are more drugged-out criminals than kids and suffer arrests by the rising thousands. Meanwhile, grownups and youths involved in serious violence and homicide share very similar characteristics: overwhelmingly, they live in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

San Francisco's modern crime reality is that age is irrelevant. Homicide is a feature of zip code. Where neighborhood poverty levels rise above 20 percent, murder rates rise astronomically. The city's rampant gentrification has driven half the black population out, leaving behind destitute, depopulating neighborhoods mostly occupied by the poorest African Americans along with smaller numbers of Latinos, Asians, and whites who also suffer disproportionate violence.

Unless officials' end their silence and confront the burgeoning citywide drug abuse and crime eruption among older, mostly white San Franciscans, reducing gun violence in poorer districts heavily involved in drug dealing and gang conflict will remain elusive.

Nor is there any excuse for officials to continue to recite decades-old mantras that flooding poorer areas with more cops, programs, and more "responsibility" lectures will magically stop murder-a crime singularly immune to management. Rather, one of the wealthiest cities on earth must face the fact that, with or without incoming President Obama's help, tough, sustained efforts to reduce poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse represent 21st century anti-crime policy.

Keywords: local policy, Mike Males, racial disparities, San Francisco

Posted in Blog, Social Justice

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