Tulsa is in the middle of a mayoral race, and one of the candidates’ top talking points is crime. Former mayor Kathy Taylor has criticized current mayor Dewey Bartlett’s policies on public safety, and vice versa.
However, Bartlett’s former chief of staff and Urban Tulsa Weekly columnist Terry Simonson (who twice ran for mayor himself) thinks Tulsa doesn’t really have a crime problem—not one that won’t work itself out on the streets. From “Crime Stories,” published last week in Urban Tulsa:
In Tulsa, we’ve had 54 homicides this year. However, if you look at what makes up that number it isn’t as daunting as it may seem. An overview of the homicides so far in 2013 shows that the killings resulting from drug deals going bad account for eight of the killings, 18 were a result of altercations (many of which involved alcohol), and nearly 10 of the killings were tied to either robberies or were gang related.
It’s hard for the community to be concerned about the number of homicides when it’s gang members killing gang members. When you think about it, who’s really complaining about that? Those deaths are certainly a loss to the families of the fallen gang member, but is it actually a loss to the community? It sounds like good public safety work being done for the police by the gangs.
Wiping out gangs is, after all, the focus of local law enforcement, and they can use all the help they can get. If the gangs want to kill each other, we certainly don’t want to stop them. This is a callous, but true, assessment of the situation. The sad part of these gang-on-gang shootings are the innocents who end up being killed in cross-fire and drive-by shootings.
Simonson, it appears, believes that the young men and women who have fallen victim to gangs—some recruited as early as elementary school—deserve to die. Eventually, he figures, they’ll all kill each other and Tulsa won’t have a gang problem anymore. It’s just too bad that innocent people (as many as 50 percent of the gang’s victims, according to some research) get caught in the crossfire.
Local blogger Michael Bates makes the point that, when Simonson was married to his first wife, “they lived in a gated community across 81st Street from Holland Hall.”
“I was at his home for a fundraiser once,” Bates wrote, “and I suppose if you lived in such surroundings you might believe that you could be insulated from the effects of gang warfare. Stay behind your walls, order everything through amazon.com, and all will be well.”
Homicides, whether gang-related or not, are a measure of the level of danger and disorder in a community. Public safety—restraining and punishing evildoers—is government’s number one duty, its God-given (literally—see Romans 13) responsibility. If I can’t feel safe in a city shopping on a Sunday afternoon, I’m not going to care about water in the river, a big sports arena, or a new ballpark.
Simonson’s argument is that parents should be more responsible for their children, keeping them out of gangs in the first place. That may be true philosophically, but, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, several factors influence parents’ ability to do that. Poverty, a lack of education, domestic and child abuse, and drug use are all adversities that prevent parents from providing adequate care for their children and keeping them out of gangs, and many of those issues are generational. That’s why organizations like the CDC advocate for gang-prevention strategies that work to strengthen family bonds and address other factors that contribute to gang membership.
Simonson also made the argument for disregarding the lives of burglars and drug addicts:
Another crime statistic is where someone attempts to break into someone’s home and the property owner defends himself by killing the intruder. Again, another act of wiping out crime and helping the local police. That type of killing shouldn’t be looked upon as a negative…”
Like the gang related and home invasion killings, the eight people killed in drug related deaths are people who have made death wish choices in the life styles they have chosen. They live by the sword and they die by the sword.
Simonson contends that if you remove the homicides of those who basically deserve to die from the total crime rate, then you see that Tulsa doesn’t really have a homicide problem:
So, at the end of the day, when you take out the drug killings, gang killings, alcohol-related killings and home invasion killings, for a city of almost 400,000 people, our homicide rate is one of the lowest in the nation.