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COLUMN

Civil rights-era tactics won't work on people without consciences

Anti-crime marches are like taking a knife to a gun fight

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 9:52 am

Generals who insist on fighting the last war inevitably get their soldiers killed unnecessarily.

So it was perhaps fitting that the latest fatal shooting in southeast Fort Wayne occurred the same day a local civil-rights leader led about 75 people in the community's latest march to end violence – a march NAACP President the Rev. Saharra Bledsoe consciously compared to the civil-rights marches of the 1960s.

“Just as Rev. Martin Luther King marched for us years ago, we are here today to pick up that (mantle) and . . . save our young people's souls,” she said.

But the similarity of tactics cannot mask the profound differences in the two struggles – differences that doom the current effort to failure. Or worse.

When King stood at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 and spoke of an America in which people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, his words resonated – and were eventually enshrined in law – precisely because he so eloquently reminded the country of its own hypocrisy:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' ” And because most Americans knew he was right, landmark civil-rights legislation passed the following year.

But imagine if King – or Ghandi or Mandela, for that matter – had led marches in totalitarian nations much less tolerant of dissent than the admittedly flawed nations they eventually reformed, at great personal sacrifice?

That's hard to do, because it seldom if ever happens: When you're dealing with cold-blooded, amoral thugs willing to kill anybody who challenges their authority, it will take much more than a few marches sprinkled with anachronistic slogans and signs to effect meaningful change.

And who is responsible for the mayhem on the city's streets if not cold-blooded, amoral thugs? Indiana NAACP President Barbara Bolling may “want them to lay down the guns,” but the punks aren't going to voluntarily trade violence for virtue any more than Hitler did.

The short-term strategy – more-forceful policing – should be obvious. Such an approach been condemned in the past, but the mounting body count may at last force would-be leaders to place prevention above politics. Police Chief Rusty York, in fact, has indicated that local and federal officials may soon crack down on the gangs believed to be responsible for much of the problem.

The longer-term strategy is much more difficult, however, because denial is still blinding far too many people to the real problem.

A 19-year-old man died at the hands of police Saturday, not some gang-banger. But his death nevertheless illustrates the depth of the challenge the community faces.

Even though a gun was reportedly found near the man who was shot after fleeing following a traffic stop, his older brother offered a now-familiar refrain to a Journal Gazette reporter.

“He just tried to live right. He was a sweet guy,” the brother explained. “He wanted to be in his kids' life. He wanted to be a better role model for his kids.”

I mean no disrespect to the dead man or his grieving family. But a man with a gun fleeing police is not the kind of role model needed by the kids he fathered with a woman who had accused him of invasion of privacy – just one of the warrants or charges he had faced over the years.

Violence on the streets is not, as some contend, the inevitable result of poverty. When I recently asked former gang member Rod Parker whether his successors would behave if jobs were more plentiful, he laughed and uttered an expletive I can't put in the paper. They choose to do what they do, he said.

And that means the violence problem in this supposed City of Churches is primarily moral in nature.

When people justify, ignore or even excuse bad behavior, they implicitly encourage it. When people are told they are “entitled” to a certain lifestyle, it should be no surprise when they act accordingly.

About 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. That's important, because numerous studies show a connection among fatherless homes, poverty and crime. So instead of leading marches, perhaps church and civil-rights leaders would better serve the community by promoting hard work, self-denial, respect for the law and responsible parenting within marriage.

I suppose you could argue that the NAACP's “pick up a book, not a gun” slogan at least represents an attempt to promote academics. Hopefully some responsible adult will see it and read to a kid, because if the punks aren't looking at books or being deterred by the possibility of imprisonment or violent death, they'll probably just laugh at posters.

Or use them for target practice.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.