Our Dysfunctional City
A new report from the Department of Justice details Rockford’s continued struggles with a stubborn violent crime problem.
The report — which highlights law enforcement strengths, but also offers an unflinching look at local weaknesses — is the culmination of a year of research by federal officials.
It recommends that the city expand the ways it works with county, state and federal governments — as well as faith-based and community organizations — to reduce gun violence, juvenile crime and drug abuse. Improved relationships between law enforcement and the community also are needed, the DOJ says. The report was unveiled Tuesday afternoon during a presentation and discussion at the Nordlof Center on North Main Street. – Jeff Kolkey, “Report Details Rockford’s Violent Crime Program, Offers Recommendations”, Rockford Register-Star, September 23, 2015
Sometimes I think my city is a rainforest of dysfunction. The Galápagos Islands have got nothing on Rockford. Because the biodiversity of our crap would make Darwin spin in his grave.
The revolution won’t be televised, Rockford. It won’t be on Facebook or Twitter, either. Does anyone think more community conversations are the answer? Is anyone even listening? – Isaac Guerrero, “Connecting The Dots Of Rockford’s Dysfunction: Just Do It!”, Rockford Register-Star, September 21, 2015
It is just another headline in our paper: “‘Young Teenager’ Shot Dead In Southeast Rockford” We soon learned he was 13-year-old Gaillen Baker. Shot by homeowner Alhona Mack during what police believe was a failed breaking-and-entering robbery, Gaillen was a pretty typical 8th grader. He liked basketball and girls and clothes. For some reason, Mr. Mack believed it necessary that young Gaillen receive the death penalty for a stupid teenage mistake. He makes number 19 in our murder victim tally for 2015. Rockford is, according to one website, the number 2 most dangerous city in the United States with a population less than 200,000.
Those numbers, however, and that ranking, are misleading. Violent crime in our city tends to be restricted to a few neighborhoods in just one or two areas of the city. Underserved by city police, until recently even lacking a supermarket for which families had easy access, these neighborhoods are filled not with bad people bent on crime. They’re filled with families stressed by lack of economic opportunities, lack of access to services to help them, and of course the rising heroin trade and its attendant violence and overdose. I recently heard a man from my church, a life-long Rockford resident, insist that these areas of the city are places “no one should go”.
As the Department of Justice report released yesterday, linked in the first epigraph, makes clear, however, these are precisely the areas of the city where more people need to go: to connect with residents; to hear their needs; to work for them crafting solutions. One of the biggest things I took from reading the story about the DoJ report was the vital need to reach minority youth. A related story also in today’s newspaper notes that a Project Manager has been hired for a new group that’s seeking ways to help reduce crime in the city. Established by Mayor Larry Morrissey, they are seeking ways to coordinate help with city government, police, and private agencies and faith-based support systems. In her story, Georgette Braun notes that parolees are offered a choice of city services and those of Lutheran Social Services. The recidivism rate for those using Lutheran Services is around 17%. For the others, it’s almost 46%. That shows there has been movement in the right direction. Helping to reduce the risk that parolees will become repeat offenders is one great way to help reduce crime.
But it just isn’t enough. As Isaac Guerrero writes in his column, the multiple layers of political and administrative failure stretch from the national to the local level. One of the reasons for the stated poor relationship between Mayor Morrissey and Winnebago County officials is that Morrissey is non-partisan. Without a party apparatus or constituency to back him, relations with the partisan County Board and executive are always bound to be difficult.
Other actions the City Police have taken have not endeared them either to the County or to local residents who are most in need of an effective, connected police presence. Two years ago, in the midst of a hot summer of street violence and murder, the City tried to partner with the Winnebago County Sherriff’s Department to increase police presence around the city. The problem was the plan the city offered the county was that city police would vacate those neighborhoods most at risk for violence. That’s not exactly the best way to gain help or support.
In 2009, two police officers shot and killed Mark Anthony Barmore after pursuing him into the boiler room of a church day care center. The state’s attorney ruled the shooting justified. The city barely avoided a Ferguson, MO-style protest. Despite Mayor Morrissey reaching out almost immediately to minority clergy around the city, there was no follow-through, the police defended the shooting of an unarmed man in a daycare center – a couple missed shots passed through the wall separating the daycare from the furnace room, endangering the small children inside – and the city and police department, by and large, continue to turn a deaf ear to the needs of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.
There is so much that needs to get done. Relationships not only need to be repaired; they need to be built. Support systems not only need to be coordinated, they need to be created. Resources need to go where the need is greatest. Rather than implement and coordinate programs through the Mayor’s Office, local and city-wide programs that focus on listening to and responding to the real needs of our most endangered citizens and most vulnerable communities should spring from the people.
For example: There are eight United Methodist Churches in the city. One is located in one of the areas of the city where there has been significant gang activity. Small but mighty, Christ The Carpenter UMC has the knowledge, will, and faith to reach out to its neighbors, offering help for all. What they lack, however, is resources. I am a member at Christ UMC, the largest United Methodist Church not only in the city, but west of the Fox River. We have tremendous resources. We already do so much in our city and can always do more. We have partnered with Christ The Carpenter in the past. If we pooled our resources with the know-how and abilities of Christ The Carpenter on just one project together, reaching out to the neighborhood surrounding that small but vital congregation, we could transform lives, make disciples, and be that one light the darkness of violence, gangs, poverty, and drugs can never overcome.
Yes the city is dysfunctional. The fault for this, however, lies not with the people who only want help. It lies in a city administration and police department that seems determined not to hear what’s needed, not to reestablish good community relations, and only wish to reach down rather than offer a hand out.
Tags: Christ The Carpenter United Methodist Church, Christ United Methodist Church, Georgette Braun, Isaac Guerrero, Jeff Kolkey, Larry Morrissey, Lutheran Social Services, Murder Rate, Rockford IL, The Rockford Register-Star, US Department Of Justice, Winnebago County IL