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Violent Crime Created by Desperation and Poverty

By Richard P. Burton, Sr.

American leaders need to signal a 'code blue' as they ponder poverty and its side effects. If America improves the economy, crime will become more manageable for law enforcement. By leaving the economy in the gutter, it doesn't matter how many drug dealers you take out, more will take their places.

Drugs are the boogy-man that politicians avoid having to address, further concealing the real issues such as terrible schools and a failing economy. Crack dealers are a problem, but they are not the cause of violent crime in general. That is just what some politicians, law enforcement officials and criminal justice leaders want you to think.

Gangs, drugs and violence within many African American and other minority communities translate into freshly spray-painted, red gang-graffiti on apartment buildings and other structures -- and often seen after street killings of a young person. Usually, kids are off limits to gangs and violence; however, children as young as three are caught in cross-fires and killed.

I often visit communities of run-down homes, apartment buildings and ugly neighborhoods, often less than a square mile from downtown government buildings and beautiful landscapes.

Recently, I visited an area in Pompano Beach, Florida known as Ugly Corner, and felt like I might be in a third world country. It didn't take long for the locals to recognize me from past visits and begin sharing stories on the conditions and their long struggles to shake the Corner's violent image.

Some indicated that drug dealers are responsible for many shootings and robberies over the years. Though residents agree that the violence is mostly related to drugs and poverty, some say the culture of hostility has reinforced an undercurrent of racial tension because of the lack of jobs, fears of local political leaders and their interests in filling prisons and jails in Florida.

Florida's Department of Corrections has a $2.5 billion budget. Governor Charlie Crist's recommended budget calls for a cut from Education of about $182 million. When the legislative session opened in early March, the budget committees recommended even more -- $357 million or close to 1.5%.

While the governor has no problem slashing school accounts, his same budget proposal asks for $330 million in new funding for prisons and corrections -- almost twice the amount that he wants to take from the schools.

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. At no time do we condone wrongness on either side of the wall.

Burton's writing appeared in Project R.E.A.C.H., Inc. Weekly, August 14, 2008

Contact: Richard P. Burton, Sr., Director, PROJECT R.E.A.C.H., INC., P.O Box 440248, Jacksonville, FL 32244, Phone: 904-786-7883.

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