Monday, August 13, 2007

Urban Pathology And Distance

The distance between Windsor Locks, just to pick a suburban Connecticut town at random, and Hartford may be measured in more than miles.

In Windsor Locks awhile back, there was a triple murder, an affair of the heart, some think. A Lothario who held dual citizenship both in the United States and Italy contracted with a third party to have a husband put out of the way because he had a fancy for the man’s wife, according to early press reports. The wife perversely refused to leave her husband for the star-crossed lover, and so the duel citizen purchased the services of a fellow of low wattage to bump off the husband.

When the bullets stopped flying at the scene of the murder, three people were dead, and the person accused of arranging the contract killing was overcome suddenly with a hankering to visit the Old Country, at which point prosecutors in Connecticut began extradition proceedings. Like most fastidious Euro countries, Italy will not surrender those accused of murder to other nations that may dispose of them through executions. Arrangements between Italy and the United States having been settled, a trial date was set, but any punishment assigned cannot not include the death penalty.

The point to notice about the Windsor Locks mayhem is that the murders were an aberration. The narrative in Windsor Locks might well interest Hollywood or crime novelists because it is unusual -- for Windsor Locks.

Shootings, fatal and otherwise, are more common in Hartford. Last year there were 24 homicides in the city, and no one in the suburbs blinked. Sociologically, Windsor Locks is as far distant from Hartford as the moon. The distance between most Connecticut suburbs -- to which many a weary urbanite has fled -- and Connecticut’s cities is more cultural and sociological than geographical.

It is being said by some commentators that suburbanites are indifferent to the mayhem in Connecticut’s cities.

And why?

Suburbanites, so the theorizing goes, are disengaged from the pathologies of city life: single parent households in which rootless young males join gangs and terrorize neighborhoods; high schools in which, as was reported in Hartford some years ago, more girls became pregnant than graduated, the handiwork apparently of older men preying upon very young girls; random shootings and non-random shootings. Because of their emotional detachment, suburbanites just don’t care about city problems, despite the many warnings of commentators that the pathologies in cities undoubtedly will affect them.

To a certain extent, the warning is true. There were 76 shooting incidents in the Capitol city in 2003 and 86 in 2007, according to the most recent Hartford police crime summary, and despite spending $2,500 per student above the state average, drop-out rates in Hartford were triple the state average.

City schools have become the repositories of the consequences brought about by urban pathologies. The remnants of innocent families caught in the crucible of urban crime carry their fears and behaviors with them as they migrate out into the suburbs. This outmigration has produced a slight spike in criminal activity in some places, and the same outmigration also has deprived cities of responsible citizens who helped to reduce crime rates in urban areas.

The tough-nut-to-crack question is: What is to be done about all this?

If the root cause of urban pathologies is to be found, as some analysts have suggested, in partial family structures – single parent households abandoned by fathers, or those in which fathers never were present – then a solution to the pathologies must include a restoration of more adequate social structures.

What is the possibility that architects of social policy, including politicians and legislators, will in the future dedicate themselves to writing laws and policies that encourage the formation of traditional family structures, remembering that such legislation must include sanctions that discourage less successful forms?

To ask the question is to answer it. There are many powerful political interests arrayed against such a restoration, and politicians are not celebrated for an excess of courage in opposing powerful and politically well connected interests. Children in the cities are the victims of such timidity, not to say cowardice; and however much money is thrown their way, they will continue to be victimized by a system of sanctions and rewards that is blissfully unconcerned with families and convinced – despite clear evidence to the contrary – that it is possible for a village to raise a child in the absence of honorable, loving and working fathers.
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