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To Reduce Urban Violence, Let's Consider the Real Causes — Not Guns, Police or 'Low' Taxes

August 29, 2018

To solve a problem, one must first diagnose its cause. This rings true in all walks of life. Yet this fundamental principle seems to be ignored when the problems of inner-city crime and poverty are considered.

To solve a problem, one must first diagnose its cause. This rings true in all walks of life. Yet this fundamental principle seems to be ignored when the problems of inner-city crime and poverty are considered.

For decades, urban areas have been rife with pain and suffering due to violence. Chicago, Illinois is a prime example of this modern American tragedy. The city’s murder rate is among the highest in the nation. Shootings, drug-dealing, car-jacking, gang activity, and other categories of crime are at epidemic levels.

Almost the entire conversation about criminal activity and violence in the city, as well as across the United States, ignores the real causes for these deeply entrenched problems. Far too often, urban leaders and social justice warriors jump to the conclusion that increasing the power of government will reduce crime and poverty. They routinely call for government action, such as gun control, “affordable” housing mandates, and raising the minimum wage. What these well-intentioned but misguided do-gooders repeatedly fail to explain, however, is why the scourge of violence and poverty exists in these areas in the first place. Could it be that their calls for additional government programs have actually helped to contribute to these problems?

Consider this: In the early 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” and launched his Great Society initiatives, a massive government effort to provide housing, medical care, and other benefits to poverty-ridden areas, especially in urban centers. Trillions of dollars later, has poverty decreased since the Great Society reforms were passed? No.

Shortly after Johnson tried and failed to eradicate poverty, President Richard Nixon announced a “war on drugs,” and so began the government’s attempt to rein in the thriving urban illicit drug industry. Has drug use decreased since this proclaimed war on drugs? No.

In the early 1990s, President Bill Clinton declared a “war on gun violence” and then signed the Brady Bill and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which made firearms less accessible to millions of law-abiding citizens. Although the Federal Assault Weapons Ban is no longer in place, several states, including Illinois, have since passed strict gun control legislation in line with these policies’ goals. Has gun violence in urban areas such as Chicago decreased? Again, no.

Politicians from both parties have for decades been promising to improve inner-cities, but in numerous urban areas across the country, inner-city neighborhoods haven’t only failed to improve, they are worse off as a result of the unintended consequences associated with these and other gargantuan government programs. Welfare rolls have increased dramatically, inner-city schools are atrocious, drug use has skyrocketed, and shootings remain an everyday occurrence.

On Chicago’s South Side — ground zero for U.S. urban violence and poverty — left-wing community leaders are calling for mass protests to bring attention to the city’s problems. In July, Catholic priest and advocate of greater government power Michael Pfleger led thousands of protesters in shutting down the Dan Ryan Expressway. The shut-down was part of his crusade against crime, joblessness, and poverty. “We came out here to do one thing: to shut it down,” Pfleger said. “We came here to get their attention.”

Okay, you have everyone’s attention, now what?

A similar march recently place on Chicago’s North Side, where liberal protesters shut down Lake Shore Drive and marched to Wrigley Field. Rev. Gregory Livingston said his intention is to “redistribute the pain in Chicago.”

Instead of spending precious time and resources on disrupting thoroughfares and inconveniencing Chicago Cubs fans, these so-called community leaders (and many others) ought to focus more on introspectively thinking about the root causes of poverty and violence, including the breakdown of the family in many of these communities. Before pointing fingers at their usual targets — policemen, “lack of public funding,” systemic racism, etc. — it is about time these leftist leaders and residents consider that decades of failed big-government policies might be making the problems in their neighborhoods even worse.

The presence of far-reaching government programs has created a cascade of problems: dependency, victimhood, entitlement, etc. Big-government programs destroy and replace the urban family unit as well as individual responsibility and self-reliance, and it replaces these pillars of well-functioning communities with an army of disinterested government bureaucrats.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Dependence on Government, there was a rapid increase in Americans on government programs since their major inception in the early 1960s leading up to 2009. “Americans’ dependence on the government was 14 times greater in 2009 than it was in 1962,” the index states.

The authors of the index state, “When the federal government provides aid, that aid also binds the dependent person to the aid giver. This aid, however, is anything but mutual. No one expects the dependent person one day to give similar aid to the federal government. And government aid certainly does not strengthen communities and families: If Americans have learned anything about the federal welfare system, it is how effectively it undermines family structure and hollows out communities.”

Furthermore, “voters tend to support politicians and political parties that give them higher incomes or subsidies for the essentials of life; but no matter how well-meaning policymakers might have been when they created government aid programs like Medicare, unemployment insurance, and subsidized housing, these same programs quickly grow beyond their mission and turn into a mechanism that creates and sustains a never-ending cycle of dependence — and entitlement thinking.” As the data shows, more government programs means more dependence — and isn’t it time we ended that cycle?

The solution to the awful situation in inner-cities across the United States becomes quite clear when the cause is properly diagnosed. Remove the big government umbilical cord that absolves personal responsibility and breeds dependence. By doing so, individuals and local groups will be forced to finally confront the pressing issues that face their neighborhoods, instead of hoping the government does it for them.

[Originally Published at The Hill]

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Chris Talgo is editor for The Heartland Institute

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