Perhaps even more painful than watching the unfolding scenes of burning and looting which took place in Baltimore on Monday night was the inevitable parade of commentators on cable news who immediately showed up, wringing their hands and asking what we should do about it. To be sure, there’s plenty of blame to go around. David French wrote a compelling piece yesterday about The Left’s Burning Cities, wherein he examined the history of arguably failed liberal policies which talk a good game but do very little to repair the torn social fabric in our urban centers. From a strictly pragmatic standpoint he’s correct: liberal social justice policies have utterly failed to deliver positive change in these environments for half a century or more.
But casting blame isn’t a solution. It’s still possible that the endemic problems of the inner cities can be addressed, but it’s not going to happen as a result of “fixing” relations between police and residents or dumping more money into innovative law enforcement programs and failing schools. It seems to me that there will never be an established “new normal” which involves prosperity and improvement without basic cultural change.
A true reformation of these urban communities will require a renaissance in the basic attitudes of the residents themselves which can spread from house to house and block to block, passing on to the generations to come. As daunting as the challenge may sound, the depression and decay of poverty must be replaced by a shared sense of hope and determination. There needs to be a communal rejection of crime, violence and gang activity which only hardens the established shell of poverty, crime and despair. Such reform must entail a social compact wherein each person and each family accepts the personal responsibility to clean up their tiny piece of the landscape, setting a higher standard and demanding that others live up to the same ideal.
That sort of change isn’t going to come from the outside. There is no charismatic leader out there who can organize a march on the National Mall and expect that to have a lasting effect on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant once the rally has ended. What this seemingly insurmountable task requires is a coalition of local leaders from each and every community who are willing to stand up against the entropy gripping our cities and organize the members of their own communities to establish a new, shared set of goals. Such leaders must be able to openly reject the all too common fear in too many minority communities of “looking too white” where “white” is somehow defined as doing too well in school, rejecting gang violence and succeeding in life under the rule of law.
Change such as this doesn’t begin with the construction of a huge new factory in Brownsville, New York which is ready to hire five thousand black workers on day one. An effort such as that is doomed to fail until the conditions on the ground have changed in sufficient measure to support and sustain such an endeavor over the long term. The type of change I refer to begins with a scrub brush, a bucket, and a tenant in an apartment building removing graffiti from the walls out on the street. It involves residents sprucing up their homes and being ready to roll out the welcome mat for their neighbors. It involves picking up trash and debris from public spaces. And with all that done, it then requires neighbors agreeing to keep an eye out for vandals, shaming them when they are seen defiling the streets.
But that sort of change can’t come via a mandate from Washington D.C. or the state capital or some social justice think tank. The sort of change we’re talking about here has to begin in the churches and the playgrounds and the schools. It has to start at home, with families who commit to not just ensuring their own survival, but that of their communities. It comes down to the parents and the pastors and the PTA meetings where real people are leading real lives. I have to believe that the vast majority would be hungry for positive change if it looked like it was within their grasp.
This can still happen, but it’s not going to be fixed by Al Sharpton holding another rally. It’s going to come from families who determine that enough is enough and they aren’t going to settle for the status quo any more.