02 May 2008

Time for CeaseFire

The local statistic is staggering: Puerto Rico has more murders per 100,000 residents than any State in the U.S. of part of A. 

Spanning the past 15 years, Puerto Rico's murder rate looks more like guerrilla warfare or a putative civil war than just a "crime statistic." The reason it hasn't galvanized a rush to action is because most of the dead are gang members related to the illegal drug trade. They come from the fringes of mainstream society and thus, illogically, their deaths are ignored.

The illogic stems from the incompatibility between the indifference to their deaths as opposed to the vivid reality of their "unperceived" existence. The correlation between illegal drugs and overall crime is beyond discussion and a short drive down any residential street in Puerto Rico shows the reality of that connection: Our houses look like cages. Metalwork all around a house, no matter how elaborate, makes cages.

Current efforts to reduce the murder rate are best described as "lip service," where the lips are frequently applied to some ass, whether it's Uncle Sam's, a Fool's or a media member. And yet, since 1995, the City of Chicago has implemented a successful program called CeaseFire that has dramatically reduced the murder rate amongst gang members. The overall benefits to the communities--and thus the City--are quite likely impossible to define, but are indisputably positive.

The five pillars of CeaseFire are: 

--Street-level outreach: Street-smart leaders, often ex-gang members, being vocal and visible leaders for options beyond gang life and death.

--Public education: Not just schools, but communities posting and conveying the messages of change, growth, responsibility and non-violence.

--Community mobilization: Not just the gang-ridden communities, but all communities, coming together to discover "their problem" is "My problem" and "their future" is "Our future."

--Faith leader involvement: Spiritual guidance can often teach what otherwise would never be learned. Churches have held a healing role throughout history, but must be proactive to make a program like CeaseFire work well.

--Police participation: The gang member's enemy is not the policeman, but the idea that a gang is the best way to thrive. It is the police force, as part of the justice system, that has first contact with gangs. It is through them that the first steps for change are made.

How difficult would it be to adapt the CeaseFire program platform to Puerto Rico? After all, there are plenty of Puerto Rican gang members and gangs in Chicago; it's not like We'd be importing more culture shock. And as a response to the cynics who say "You want Us to rely on Our police, Our schools, Our clergy and Our government to get this done?" I say "Of course. We don't need to change everything at once. One gang at a time can be managed by a few good people. And if you don't think We have at least a few good people in all these institutions, then you're no longer a cynic: You're defeated."

The rest of Us, are not defeated. But We have to put up a better effort.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

KW said...

I think it's beyond irony that political leaders call for The U.S. of A. to return our Puerto Rican soldiers from Iraq. They should be asking to take more of citizens and send to Iraq, at least they would be safer over there. This weekend is another perfect example, with 18 murders.

Of course, you are spot on why citizen and political leaders aren't more vocal about this problem. I've even heard family members express it out loud. It's sickening!