The Value of Violence, The Price of Poverty

Cover Credit: Edmund Guy

Cover Credit: Edmund Guy

Which violence is most valuable? Defined as injurious force against another, violence is heinous, traumatizing, and entertaining. Its gripping nature strangles our focus as fear floods the media tides. A universal taboo, the nature of violence and its victims can determine the level of coverage casted. At 2,455 murders (234 here in Baltimore), 2013 marked a significant low for homicide in America’s largest and most historically violent cities. This is 2,455 too many. America has a higher homicide rate than nearly every “developed” country. The majority of murders occur in low-income areas.

Poverty fuels daily violence in low-income America, yet it takes school shootings and ironic-mass-suburban-violence to spark national debates. I am no fan of the Boston Marathon Bombing. It enraged me. Following the incident, when homesick, instead of seeing my beloved skyline, my Google searches dripped blood and tears. The bombing resulted in 5 deaths and 280 non-fatal injuries. Contrastingly, from the day after the bombing to its 1 year anniversary, there were 237 people shot in Boston, 35 fatally, one of the latest occurring less than half-a-mile from my home. Many American children grow up considering neighborhood violence commonplace. They embrace the very denial cast on first world poor, “as long as I mind my business, I’ll be fine”.

Grievance stems from nonrecognition and is a byproduct of poverty. Violence is fueled by grievance and though governments use laws to prevent it, as coercion, it is politically just. In a nutshell, political economy refers to how resources are secured and expanded through the allocation of coercion; a.k.a. law enforcement. When the formal economy is inaccessible, black markets respond. Though less exclusive, black markets come at the cost of chaotic coercion. In his article, Violence and Poverty: Images and realities of the “underclass”, Herbet J. Gans wrtites, “The political, and tragic, reality is that mainstream America appears to be unwilling to give the poor a chance at decent full-time jobs until safety threats decline. The poor, however, need the jobs first. Otherwise, the lure of the streets will be too strong, and the incentive to move into seemingly secure and well-paying criminal occupations too great”. Richard Florida’s article “The Geography of U.S. Gun Violence”, shows the correlation between higher unemployment and higher rates of gun death. “Death by Poverty”, a Columbia University study, further highlights the American poverty pandemic:

Photo Credit: Milwaukee Courier

Photo Credit: Milwaukee Courier

“The investigators found that approximately 245,000 deaths in the United States in the year 2000 were attributable to low levels of education, 176,000 to racial segregation, 162,000 to low social support, 133,000 to individual-level poverty, 119,000 to income inequality, and 39,000 to area-level poverty.
Overall, 4.5% of U.S. deaths were found to be attributable to poverty—midway between previous estimates of 6% and 2.3%. However the risks associated with both poverty and low education were higher for individuals aged 25 to 64 than for those 65 or older.”

To reduce violence in America, better systems are needed to increase access and participation in the formal economy. This means jobs. Tech-start-ups, bakeries, and coffee shops are gentrifying their way into low-income areas from Brooklyn to San Francisco, but are there incentives to hire locally? Are low-income areas void of entrepreneurs, or do they have higher water and fewer bridges? Poverty and violence in America should raise ongoing discussions on incentivizing job opportunities rather than sporadic media ratings. Such discussions do happen, if only policies moved faster than words.

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Nathaniel Thomas

My interest in development initiated from witnessing issues of access during my upbringing in Boston’s diverse inner-city. When traveling the world, my multicultural upbringing has enabled me to see people as my neighbors rather than beneficiaries, which has enhanced my motivation to strengthen communities. As an Administrative and Project Assistant with Campaign Consultation, Inc. my project portfolio includes coordinating various aspects of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and AmeriCorps VISTA projects. Read more.

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