Everything’s OK in Here, Bob: The D.A., the Police Chief, and Atlanta Gang Story

I am still trying to puzzle out why District Attorney Paul Howard and Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington keep insisting that they do not need more resources to fight crime and prosecute criminals, while they also keep holding press conferences to warn the public that today’s criminals are more numerous, dangerous and better organized:

“We don’t have one person breaking into a store,” Howard said. “We now have eight people.”

I would add that, in addition to organized gangs, there are still plenty of free agents out there.  Nevertheless, Howard keeps buffering his statements about the tidal wave of gang violence with assertions that it is not his aim to prosecute all criminals involved in gangs.  From a July 16 interview with Fox 5:

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard spoke out Thursday about what he called an explosion of gang activity in Metro Atlanta. Howard talked about the wave of gang crimes that have been committed mainly by teenagers.  Howard said that gang violence was never really a big problem in Atlanta until now.  There are now more than 100 active gangs in the city and the number of crimes just keep growing.  “It started as a small stream and now it seems like there is a river of them,” said Howard. . .

[H]e said the rise in gangs is a new phenomenon.  “It’s a warning and I think people ought to heed the warning.  I think we should start getting ready,” said Howard. . .

OK, we need to start getting ready, right?  The problem is exploding and the public needs to act?  Well, wouldn’t that mean that the prosecutor’s office needs more lawyers to deal with this explosion of organized crime?  Not according to Howard:

When asked if locking up the people involved in the gangs would solve the problem Howard said, “It’s not going to solve it and that’s what I want to say to people. I’m the DA and I tell you we cannot lock up every gang member in our community.”

Howard said he was looking at options outside the courtroom, starting with sponsoring a community-wide gang summit.

Ah-ha: a gang summit.  They’re not going to arrest gang members and impose consequences: they’re going to make gang members feel even more important than they already do by sitting down and talking with them and with the activists who view them as victims of society.  That’ll show ’em.  Oh, and by the way, they’re not even going to try to prosecute them.  Howard continues:

“As prosecutors we’re not on some campaign to add more prosecutors,  we’re not asking the governor to strengthen laws to fight gangs . . .

To state the obvious, why not?  Why would any prosecutor not want this, especially when his office has dropped the ball on gun crimes and dropped the ball on recidivism cases, at least one of which led to the released offender committing cold-blooded murder (see my posts here and here)?

Paul Howard, prosecutor, has decided that gang members need to be understood:

“[W]hat we are asking to do is to start to look for the roots, the sources,” said Howard. . . “We have to ask ourselves, ‘why are young people attracted to this gang activity?'”

Meanwhile, over at Pennington’s beat, the chief who denied that crime is a problem is now acknowledging it is a problem — but not for the law abiding.  Crime is a cry for help by criminals who feel squeezed by the economic crisis.  You see, it’s all your fault:

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington told the crowd that crime spiked when the city cut recreational programs for children.

“Kids are idle in our community,” Pennington said.  When you talk to them after you arrest them, they say, ‘I don’t have anything to do.'”

Oh, come on.  Did anybody bother to ask the Chief to produce the figures that support such gawking claims?  The population of school-age children has dropped substantially in Atlanta as public housing populations dispersed, often outside city limits: that represents the only reduction in publicly funded recreation programs for children.  The city still has an enormous (and politically connected, and well-heeled, thanks to taxpayer dollars) network of programs that do all the parenting from cradle to adulthood for its population of parents (read: absentee fathers) who cannot bother to parent their own children or simply have come to expect somebody else to pay.

There has been no denial of spaces for children who need them because of their parent’s choices.  There is also no proof that the economy has anything at all to do with youth crime.  It’s all lies.

Does anybody ever ask these people for any proof to back up the things they say?

Here is what is really going on: the Chief and the D.A. are gearing up to blame the public for failing to provide enough social programs for deprived youths.  They are doing this to punish you for having the temerity to tell them to show up and do their jobs and get criminals off the streets.  They are reverting to a narrative that has tremendous support among the anti-incarceration crowd: offenders are merely victims of society.  We need to understand them, not punish them.  It’s all your fault that they are kicking down your doors.  If you gave them more things than you are already giving them, they would stop victimizing you.  Shame on you.

Of course, that’s just a perception of failing to provide social programs for deprived youths.  But that is one “perception” nobody is going to question on the editorial pages of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The “blame the public, not the criminals” narrative is seeping out in every new public interaction.  The “crime summit” where politically connected activists pretended to teach self defense and community organizing is where Pennington made his contemptuous remarks about the public being responsible for youth crime.  And don’t forget, he showed up there.

Think about it: well-intentioned, taxpaying, law-abiding residents spend six months trying to get Pennington to show up for work and he stays disappeared and heaps contempt on them from undisclosed locations: now he shows up and blames them for the crime problem that he also says doesn’t exist anywhere but in their minds.  Nice.

This is just like Bill Campbell’s last days.

More narrative, on your dime?  There is a very snazzy, very expensive-looking new interactive computer “gang intervention” game posted on the Atlanta Police Department’s website.  Go to this page, or you can find it on the bottom of the department’s homepage.  I encourage you to explore Atlanta Gang Story and let me know what you think.  In fact, let Pennington know what you think, too.  It’s your money.

I think Atlanta Gang Story is a disturbing glamorization of gangs, complete with a cool gun-logo which is inappropriate in so many ways that I’m tempted to contact Francis Ford Coppola to see if he’s interested in copyright infringement.  It looks like a movie poster.  How smart was that?  How long before vendors start hawking t-shirts that say Atlanta Gang Story, gun and all?

I think Atlanta Gang Story will do exactly nothing except amuse those gang members literate enough to use computers and then make them feel all puffed up for being the center of attention.   Self-esteem pieties aside, the last thing 14-year-olds with guns need is to feel more important.

I think this type of intervention is doomed to fail because it rewards the kids who join gangs instead of rewarding the vast majority of kids who do not (and are also most vulnerable to violence by gang members).  Everybody except apparently the D.A. already knows why young people join gangs: they join gangs in order to gain recognition for being tough, and to belong to something, and because it’s exciting and fun and gets them power and gets them noticed.  This is why they put videos on YouTube showing themselves waving wads of twenties and flashing not-so-secret hand signals.  Acknowledging their identity as gangsters will merely reinforce this sense of toughness, and of belonging.  It will enhance their identities as gangsters, not discourage it.

Atlanta Gang Story is also directed at earnest-yet-naive citizens who believe in this stuff, the types who get excited by the idea of the special role they imagine they play in understanding misunderstood gang-bangers.  In other words, this is also PR, directed at that slice of residents most likely to overlook the Chief’s lack of commitment to actual crime fighting in the first place.

I think somebody made a LOT of money producing this site.  I think reporters should start asking what got spent to produce Atlanta Gang Story and what is being spent on the whole rest of this gang summit boondoggle.  Remember Shirley Franklin’s 8 million dollar (according to NPR) “re-branding” campaign?  Atlanta needs to grow up: the party needs to end.

Millions disappear on this type of junk, while you still can’t get a 911 operator to take your call.  Of course, it’s hard to get the money to do something as mundane as hire more 911 operators and train and supervise them correctly.  It’s easy these days to get a fat grant to hold a conference where important people bloviate predictably and then evaluate each other positively while spreading the cash around.  Your cash.

How much money?  Who is getting it?  And in the interest of tracing the future path of the status quo, who do they support in the next election?

Why won’t the city’s chief prosecutor simply commit to prosecuting every single crime?  Which crimes will be deemed unimportant enough to ignore?  Small businesses that have been hit five times?  Certain neighborhoods?  Who, exactly, is going to be denied justice this time?


2 thoughts on “Everything’s OK in Here, Bob: The D.A., the Police Chief, and Atlanta Gang Story”

  1. Hmmm… I was asked to join the DA’s panel on this topic about a month ago. Haven’t heard anything since. I’ve sent a “what’s up?” email and will report back when I hear back.

  2. Please do. And ask who did the “Gang Story” game. They have chosen, quite modestly, to keep attribution off the website — doubtlessly to powder the crony trail.

    The bigger issue, of course, is whether this sort of thing should be done at all. “Gang Intervention” rewards some of the worst criminals with taxpayer-funded jobs, enabling them to control neighborhoods “by other means” while, reportedly, in every city where they implement it, continuing their criminal activities on the side.

    The only people who believe it works is the excited academics they hand-pick to evaluate “success.” And, of course, the community activists who get paid handsomely to pretend it’s cleaning up the neighborhoods. Yet Pennington and Howard appear to be setting the city up for it, and nobody in the media is reporting on it. Scary.

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