MURDER was the Case

Blame it on the election of Donald Trump. Blame it on turf wars among underground distributors of illicit substances. Blame it on people beefing about mythical concepts like respect.

Whatever the case, November is becoming another month of murder in Jacksonville, with a half-dozen murders starting the weekend after the election and hopefully stopping by the time you read this.

Most of those November murders were in Northwest Jacksonville. The one that was the most heartbreaking was a shooting on Cleveland Road that gunned down an 11-month-old baby (Tedashii Williams), her mother, and another adult.

Judging from the surveillance video, the gunman (or gunmen) were using the spray and pray technique. People were running for their lives. But it’s hard to run when you’re a mother caring for an infant.

Last week, the politicians and the preachers made their cases at press events. They all made solemn promises to check this tide of violence.

Mayor Lenny Curry said he was “mad as hell,” projecting a resolve similar to what he projected in January after the drive-by shooting of toddler Aiden McClendon. The 16-year-old gunman was later apprehended.

However, there are plenty of people with time on their hands and guns in their waistbands, who are working as the creators of the next Aiden McClendon/Tedashii Williams situation.

Also speaking on this case was Sheriff Mike Williams.

Williams noted that times have changed on the streets since he entered law enforcement in 1991. The kinds of beefs that used to be solved with fights in an alley are now solved via bullets from a gun.

A group called the Baptist Ministers Alliance made its points last Tuesday across from the Cleveland Arms apartment complex. They offered their churches as “safe spaces” for informants, and intoned against the violence.

Left unsaid was that most of the people involved in gunplay in Jacksonville – which has seen 106 homicides and many other near-misses in 2016 – aren’t in church on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings.

Also left unsaid was that the pastors, wearing suits and being ferried to the parking lot of the Lil’ Albert convenience store, have about as much to do with the day-to-day reality in NW Jacksonville as I do.

Also on Tuesday a phalanx of Jacksonville City Council members showed up in that same parking lot for their own presser.

Predictably, they too projected resolve in the face of the street violence.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri said, correctly, that gun violence extends far beyond the area around Cleveland Arms.

Councilman Reggie Brown, who represents the district, had his own questions.

He wondered, among other things, why illegal guns are so easily accessible on Jacksonville streets. And why they are so cheap – as inexpensive as $100.

He also had counsel for those in the area – that they should take more “responsibility” for their actions, and that they need to get beyond the “stop snitching” code of the streets.

These are all valid questions. Council members also have some proposals. One is to bring ShotSpotter technology to more high-crime areas; the technology will allow easier identification of where gunshots are coming from.

Another proposal – yet to be codified into a bill – the use of “ambassadors” in Council Districts 7, 8, 9, and 10. 

These ambassadors, paid for out of a fund that has yet to be determined, would provide what Councilman Reggie Gaffney called “door-to-door outreach” to discern the issues that really plague these communities.

These are all well-intended, yet topical, treatments to a larger problem; namely, the utter failure of the mass incarceration/zero tolerance approach to law enforcement.

While that approach has given jobs and pensions to police and prison staff, it hasn’t abated the conditions that lead to crazed gunmen shooting infants in the street.

Mass incarceration, which seemed like a great idea to Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, had the real effect of reinforcing Jim Crow disparities and removing men from these communities – the men who would have raised the kids, coached the football teams, worked meaningful jobs, had they not been fed into the profitable prison pipeline that has rendered millions of people into commodities for the carceral state.

We look at an issue like cannabis prohibition: Jacksonville, the murder capital of the state, is also locked into Reefer Madness modalities. Daytona, Orlando, Tampa, Miami – all have decriminalized personal possession. Not in Jacksonville, where the pretext to stop, frisk, and search apparently must be preserved. Black men can get searched in this city for little more than walking along a sidewalk. No matter how much enforcement like that happens, the murder rate doesn’t abate.

Jacksonville politicians will not take a hard look at the generational pressures that drive violent crime. People aren’t born to become the kind of men who shoot babies. That kind of malformed spirit is a measure of social engineering, a cynical shell game driven by profit, aided and abetted by politicians on both sides of the aisle who don’t want to acknowledge that toxic reality.

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