By Hollis Wormsby
In recent weeks and specifically in an interview with the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced that one component of his crime-fighting strategy will be to identify persons with a tendency to commit crimes and pay particular attention to them. It is said that activists in the community responded negatively to this proposed strategy saying they did not want to see law enforcement turned loose to hunt young Black men in the community.
There was a study done by the Mobile County School Board in 2002. This study found that out of 65,000 total students, the discipline problems in the schools could be traced to 1,500 students representing 1,200 distinct households. Which is to say that if you removed the 2.5 percent of the students responsible for most incidents you can change the environment almost overnight. It is also an important statistic if any remotely true because it does dictate that criminal intervention directed at a very small group could have a significant impact on the quality of life for all individuals.
But the back and forth between the Mayor and the Activist on this issue left me wondering exactly where do the average citizens stand on the issue of what kind of crime-fighting strategy do we want or are willing to endure? You already know how I feel about the media giving disproportionate coverage to so-called community activist while expending little energy seeking input from citizens with less extreme views. The Activist ran a candidate for Mayor, in this last election, he received around 500 votes. Their support may be slightly higher than that number but not much. Many of the Activist events covered by the media have fewer than twenty people in attendance, yet somehow story after story is written as if that group represents some distinct voter base in Birmingham. Well, the polls for the last and previous elections say differently. When the citizens have the chance to choose the kind of leadership they want in this City, I have yet to see an Activist candidate do well, or carry a large voter base to the polls. This tells me they do not represent as many common citizens as they claim to.
In one of the towns that I have worked with recently outside of the Birmingham area, the Police Chief told a gathered audience that he didn’t think they really wanted him to do what needed to be done to stop crime. He said too many of you are involved in activities that might not be completely legal, you have children and grandchildren that might be involved in something illegal, but you want the Police to catch the bad guys you don’t like and leave your folks alone.
Reducing crime in Birmingham will have to be a shared sacrifice. It will require looking into our education system, our social service systems, our economic development and job creation systems, as well as our criminal justice system and police. It will require a systematic effort led by folks willing to do the research and be accountable for the solutions they propose. At this point I have much more faith in Mayor Woodfin, who was elected by the people and is accountable for the office he holds, than I do in so-called Activists who make claims not supported by research and while criticizing the strategies proposed by those actually elected rarely have any offerings as to alternative ways to reduce crime that meet with their approval.
If in fact there is a correlation between crime and educational behavior, then we can assume that in Birmingham there is a distinct sub-group of families that are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the violent crime. If police can identify those families based on actual behaviors, as in a history of arrests that runs through the present, then I think targeting these individuals, looking at the conditions for bail for these individuals, and creating an atmosphere that it is more difficult for these individuals to continue to negatively impact others is an excellent crime-fighting strategy, that might actually make more of our community feel safer. Or at least that’s the way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 28 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)