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COLUMN

City Council heard the truth about violent crime, if anybody will listen

But what can we do about dysfunctional families, even if we want to?

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 11:08 am

Unless they simply wish to grandstand (always a possibility where politicians gather), elected officials who respond to crises by holding hearings should be expected to do something tangible with the information they receive.

Unfortunately, the most accurate and warmly received assessment of Fort Wayne's violent street-crime problem offered at Tuesday's special City Council meeting gives members little room for meaningful action – unless they want to spend some of the city's $75 million “Legacy” fund on birth control.

In a welcome departure from the familiar socioeconomic excuses that punctuated the session, Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said something everyone knows is true, but few are willing to criticize for fear of being called names.

Any of the problems afflicting the city's southeast side, Crawford said, can be attributed at least in part to the disintegration of the black family and the fact that more than 70 percent of black children are now born to unmarried (and usually poor) women.

Such talk is often condemned as “blaming the victim,” but the applause that greeted Crawford's observation gives reason to hope that there is a growing understanding of what causes pregnancy – and that it almost always represents a conscious choice, not victimization.

As I wrote last May, Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan is also concerned about the problems associated with single motherhood, which she called the “single biggest predictor of poverty” in the United States. And that's not judgmental, but factual: Single-parent families comprise one-third of all families with children but account for 71 percent of families living in poverty.

Among black married couples, the poverty rate is 7 percent (3.2 percent among whites) compared to 35.6 percent among black non-married families.

And yet the proposals brought to council Tuesday focused on almost anything else, as if economics or other issues could be separated from what Crawford – a physician – correctly diagnosed as the chief source of the problem.

It is both wrong and paternalistic to suggest – as many do – that poverty causes crime. If that were true, all poor people would be crooks and all rich people would be saints. And even if poverty made crime inevitable, that might explain stealing food.

It does not explain – or justify – the carnage on Fort Wayne's streets.

It is true that many well-paying jobs – at International Harvester and elsewhere -- have left the southeast side over the past several decades. But such jobs are scarce everywhere, and applicants must possess the education and work ethic needed to compete for them. But single motherhood also increases the risk of failure in school.

And the insistence that the city should work to bring more business to the southeast side is ironic, given the recently announced closure of the Kmart on South Anthony Boulevard, which apparently found it difficult to compete with the government-subsidized Menard's and Wal-Mart across the street.

The fact is that violent crime is a choice: a choice that reflects a lack of morality, empathy and conscience. It is those very things that fathers help provide, just as the lack of a father significantly predicts delinquency and incarceration.

The church also has a role to play in that regard. But in Fort Wayne, ironically, the black church may be part of the problem, at least where jobs are concerned. As I wrote in June, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance was paid $386,000 by the owners of the now-closed Adams Center Landfill in 2007, supposedly to promote economic development on the southeast side.

Where that money is or how it has been spent remains unclear, and some black leaders – including at least one at Tuesday's meeting – have expressed concerns but have told me they don't want to publicly question use of the funds for fear of undermining the black church.

But if people are serious about improving the southeast side, they must demand the church speak out about indiscriminate sex, pregnancy and the poisonous hip-hop culture. And its ministers must do their jobs with transparency and integrity. Progress also requires acknowledging the link between the growth of the welfare state and the growth of single-parent households and the need for a more-forceful police presence (something council could influence but strangely chose not to address Tuesday).

But above all, society – for the good of its most vulnerable citizens – should stop apologizing for what works. The truth is that people who do things in the right order – get an education, find a job, get married, have children only after you're emotionally and financially prepared – are far more likely to succeed than those who don't.

All the social workers and politicians in the world can't really change that, and any insistence to the contrary is, well, just grandstanding.

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.