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Yes, there’s a ‘morality problem.’ But why are so many people in a few neighborhoods involved in violence and other illegal activity?

‘Not my problem’: reactions to the shootings 

Well, this is what we're facing.

My question last week, after the August 19 shootings on Genesee Street, was whether that horror would move this community, at last, to do what we need to do. Whether now we would be able to summon the will - and community leaders would help us summon the will - to get at the roots of our violence problem.

As I said last week, dealing with the roots of violence won't be easy. And it sure won't be politically popular, because many people in Greater Rochester are still convinced that the poverty in the inner city is solely self-inflicted.

I'm not surprised by the negative remarks the article drew. But I'm disheartened. Here's a sample:

"The problem isn't the concentration of poverty in the inner city, it's the concentration of stupidity in the inner city.... dropping out of school, getting pregnant before getting married, failing to hold down a job, deciding to defy order and laws instead of obeying both."

"Poverty isn't the issue. We all know what the issue is, but white people can't say what the issue is, because we get labeled 'racist' when we do."

"I can't believe I read this whole article just to read for the umpteenth time that it is the suburbanites' fault."

"The only way out of poverty and all the problems that come along with it is to take responsibility yourself."

"The 'bad' neighborhoods were good before, but houses get rented and most renters trash them. Outside they drop trash and don't pick it up, don't mow lawns, don't pull weeds, don't plant flowers, don't clip bushes, fight in the streets, allow drugs to be dealt and don't do anything about it, and play music that glorifies violence, abuse, misogyny, drug dealing, and more."

"Poverty does not cause this or we never would have made it out of the Great Depression."

"It's SIN, plain and simple."

One reader quoted the Rev. Lewis Stewart, a longtime black community activist, who since the shooting has said there's "a morality problem in our community among young blacks."

Stewart is right, of course. So is the Genesee Street neighborhood resident who interrupted a press conference by Mayor Lovely Warren to say the same thing. I don't know anybody who condones the violence, drug sales, and destruction that plague inner-city neighborhoods. Certainly the many non-violent, law-abiding residents of those neighborhoods - who do indeed mow their lawns and plant flowers - don't condone any of that.

And lord knows, nobody condones the drive-by shooting on Genesee Street. Nobody I know thinks the person firing that gun didn't have other choices, or that he was helpless because he was poor.

But at some point, we need to ask why so many people in a few neighborhoods are involved in violence and other illegal activity. This, as Harvard's William Julius Wilson, Cornel West, and others have said, is a problem of culture - of some poor people. And generations of concentrated poverty bred the culture.

Among the most discouraging comments posted on our website was one bemoaning articles of people like me "that mislead the public by their clueless, myopic opinion that poverty or concentrated poverty is the cause of all this violence. They can back it up with data and studies from 'Ivory Tower' professors who have not experienced what really goes on in the urban environment."

So I guess we should dismiss decades of research by prominent scholars (who actually have deep experience in the urban environment), the same way we dismiss studies pointing to climate change. And then what's left? Shaking our fists at the behavior of "those people." Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Or community leaders - white and non-white, government and business, clergy and neighborhood - can read the research, come to grips with the root of the problem, and lead us forward.

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