Fight the Disease, Not the Symptoms: It’s Time to Rethink How We Handle Crime

Last week a Chicago Police officer shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo sending the city into a fury of riots and protests, calling for better police accountability and even the defunding of the Chicago Police Department. But last week there was also a drive-by shooting of seven-year-old Jaslyn Adams sparking calls for better police funding to combat violence in the city. So what’s the solution to Chicago and the entire country’s police problem?

The police exist to stop crime, so the next question is obviously why does crime exist? No one wakes up and decides they’re gonna rob a bank or join a gang, so what leads people to commit crimes? The answer is that criminals are made as a result of their environment and upbringing, and the poorer you are the more likely you are to commit a crime. In fact, the Hamilton Project found that “low-income youths are significantly more likely to attack someone or get into a fight, join a gang, or steal something worth more than $50” and the socioeconomics behind this is clear. In low-income neighborhoods, there are fewer job opportunities, fewer social services programs, and less funding is provided to schools so of course, the teenagers who live there are going to turn to criminal behavior as an escape. This is through other environmental factors such as growing up in a single-parent home, where teens are much more likely to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism.

This violent environment not only affects teen’s behaviors but their way of thinking and mental health as well. In fact, studies have found that growing up in a violent neighborhood gives you the same type of PTSD experienced by combat veterans. In a study where almost 8,000 Atlanta residents were interviewed two-thirds said that they had been violently attacked, more than half knew someone who had been murdered and a third showed symptoms of PTSD. If this wasn’t bad enough, the lack of mental health clinics in Chicago leads to even more problems, as almost half of those killed by police are disabled or mentally challenged in some way. 

When you over police communities you are treating the disease, not the problems. When polio struck the world in the 1900s doctors didn’t just look for ways to treat the symptoms but rather they worked to find a cure and by the 1970s the polio vaccine had eradicated the disease from the United States. Poverty, crime, and over-policing are the same. While crime is the symptom the actual disease is poverty and by eradicating poverty we can end the symptom as well. Using over-policing as a medicine to treat the symptom of crime has not worked and never will work, but by funding the vaccine of education and social services we can prevent the disease from ever occurring at all. 

Complex problems are never fixed by simple solutions. The problems of the 60s weren’t solved by King’s march on Washington but rather through successive policy changes that changed society for the better, and ending poverty and crime is the same. We can’t solve a problem as complex as poverty and crime by simply crowding police into our poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods nor can we do it by crippling our police departments. You need to find complex solutions to complex problems. To truly end problems like poverty and crime we need to attack the root of the problem and better fund mental health clinics, social services, and education. On the other hand, we also have to provide training to our law enforcement so that they can better deal with mental health calls, and other high-stress situations so that there is never another Goerge Floyd or Adam Toledo. This will not be easy, but the alternative is decades more of police violence and raging poverty which is something our nation can no longer stand for.

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