What Little Rock's violent past can teach us about today's problems

What Little Rock's violent past can teach us about today's problems

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Little Rock Police Department officials believe a conflict between gang members may have led to the shooting at a Little Rock nightclub that resulted in 28 injuries last weekend.

Detectives think warring gangs could be responsible for lots of the violent crime to occur in Little Rock recently, bringing back memories for many residents of the early 1990’s.

“And the one similarity that I’m seeing right now that I saw in the 90’s, when I did work in the community, was the people involved in these activities have a dangerous combination of fearlessness and hopelessness,” said Ken Richardson.

Richardson, a member of the Little Rock Board of Directors, spent many years as a youth intervention specialist, working with gang members and children at risk of becoming gang members.

“Certain parts of our community looked like war zones,” he recalled. “You had certain parts of our community who were at war with other parts of the community. It could be within two or three blocks of each other.”

Today’s gangs, he believes, form as a means to protect drug territory, or to get revenge for robberies, not for the same reasons as during the “Bangin’ in Little Rock” days.

“Not,” he explained, “conflicts based on your name—Crip, Blood, whatever—not conflicts based on a color of clothing—blue or red—it’s not conflicts based on what part of the city you live in. It’s based on these initial conflicts revolving around financial opportunities, or lack of financial opportunities.”

Knowing the reasons why gangs form is important in finding answers to stop them. Richardson said the unemployment rate in many neglected neighborhoods can reach 20 to 25 percent, which is equivalent to living in the Great Depression. He believes that if the city were to put its money toward employment opportunities and job training, gangs would disappear.

“I’ve rarely seen any of these young people get off a job and do a drive-by shooting,” Richardson mentioned. “I’ve rarely seen any of these people get off a job and go rob a store.”

Part of the solution to the gang problem of the 1990's came from a sales tax increase, which funded an expansion of the Little Rock Police Department and new, neighborhood-based social programs. Richardson believes the city has the resources right now to turn the gang problem around.

Redevelopment, he argues, gives people more pride in their neighborhoods and more reason to respect them. And refocusing those community-based intervention programs would give people the skills to either catch up in school, join the workforce, or bring stability to their families.

“Our mission is not just to heal the young people,” Richardson said, “but our mission is to heal the family that produces the young person, and the community that produces the family, so it’s a three-prong approach.”

Richardson believes the city’s youth intervention programs are becoming less effective because the funding process has become more political. He wants more input to come from the people who are doing the work and making the progress.

“And they need to have a bigger place at the table, and help us guide the issues that we need to address, and how to address them,” he stated.

Richardson said part of the problem that leads to disaffection and crime is the response to violence based on its victim. He mentioned the large outcry for the killings of children and the shootout at Power Ultra Lounge, and said people should feel the same sense of outrage no matter who is hurt or killed.

“I mean, the message is loud and clear,” he stated. “This part, it’s okay, this part, it’s not okay. And that’s hypocrisy at its best, and it’s insulting at its worst.

“As a guiding principle, when I would work with young people, I always thought that young people either live up to or live down to your expectation. And once the community expects nothing of them, the society expected anything of them, they lived down to those expectations.”

Richardson said the Little Rock Police Department, which is 67 officers short of being fully-staffed, has enough personnel. But he claimed, during the 1990's, there was a bigger emphasis on community policing. Officers spent more time in the community, getting to know the people they served, and vice versa. Community members trusted them, which helped them solve crimes and prevent the kind of retaliation shootings the city has seen in recent months.

Richardson said Little Rock residents should press the Board of Directors to learn more about the issues leading to gangs, and direct money to programs that can fix them. To learn more about Little Rock’s Department of Community Programs, call (501) 399-3420, or email programreferral@littlerock.gov.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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