After two 13-year-old girls were fatally shot in the head with a stolen gun outside a school, residents of a working-class Chicago neighborhood took the violence problem into their own hands, the Philadelphia Inquirer says. They met with community police officers, started a town watch, and petitioned liquor officials to shut down a tavern. They wiped out the gangs behind the killings.
Collective action like that has reduced violence across the nation, said St. Joseph’s University sociologist Patrick Carr.
Last week, a 10-year-old was critically wounded in a shootout outside a North Philadelphia elementary school. Police believe that the shooting was a gun battle between rival drug gangs. If so, it suggests that despite Mayor John Street’s Operation Safe Streets, organized street gangs still operate with impunity in some neighborhoods.
Local action against crime was described by Harvard University fellow Alexander von Hoffman in his book House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods. In the chapter “Boston and the Power of Collaboration,” he tells of how rank-and-file probation and police officers and a group of ministers helped the city reverse the downward spiral that was youth violence in the mid-1990s.
Residents in City Heights, a San Diego neighborhood, worked with police when they set out to turn around their community, where violent crime was more than double the citywide average. In Syracuse, N.Y., Eastside Neighbors in Partnership, a nonprofit founded 20 years ago by people pondering ways to better their block, is renovating a once-beautiful city park and trying to involve the drug pushers and gang members who had taken it over.
What works in one place might not in another, said John Hagedorn of the University of Illinois’ Great Cities Institute. “You’ve got to look at the contours and patterns in a city,” he said. In his study of why Chicago’s homicide rate hasn’t fallen the way New York’s has, Hagedorn cited Chicago’s failure to plan for residents displaced when high-rise public-housing complexes were demolished and when jobs were lost during the city’s transition from manufacturing to the new economy.