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Youngkin’s violent crime task force doomed to fail at solving the problem

Chris Graham
Police car with blue lights on the crime scene in traffic / urba
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Gov. Glenn Youngkin said last month that his violent crime task force is not a “one size fits all approach to combating crime in the Commonwealth.” Except that, that’s precisely what it is.

“We just can’t tell exactly what he intends to do other than convene a bunch of agency heads, all pretty much on the public safety side, and, you know, law enforcement, which is another agency under public safety, and then the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice. So, it just sounds like we’re going to gather together all of these folks responsible for incarceration and criminalization, and we are going to use these agencies, these individuals, as, you know, the long arm of the law to clean up the communities,” said Valerie Slater, the executive director of RISE for Youth, a Richmond-based nonprofit that advocates for dismantling the youth prison model and ensuring every space that impacts a young person’s life encourages growth and success.

If all you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail, but the thing is, we have other tools in the toolbox to use to address crime and its underpinnings than the hammer of criminal justice.

But in saying that, you’re making people think too much, and most people’s eyes glaze over when you start trying to explain the complexities of the realities of life in America.

“If law enforcement had been an effective response to community issues, we would have the safest communities in Virginia that you can imagine, and that’s just simply not the case,” said Slater, a former legal aid attorney who has also worked to protect the rights of children with disabilities in community, residential and juvenile justice facilities throughout the Commonwealth at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.

What’s glaringly missing from Youngkin’s task force “is the community itself,” Slater said.

“You know, when we start looking at where we find ourselves positioned in time, we’re two years after the ravishing of a pandemic, all of the trauma that that has imposed on families and on communities, and yet, we want to bring in law enforcement and other agencies, rather than including community, bringing to the table those health and human resource agencies that would be able to look at what is causing harm or folks to react, and rather than reacting to the way folks are behaving. We’ve got to get to the root causes. Otherwise, we will never really truly address the issues,” Slater said.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That’s Martin Luther King Jr. for you there, and it very much applies here.

The disparities between rich and poor, between upper middle class and lower middle class, are such that the American ideal, that people can work their way up the socioeconomic ladder, if they just put the effort in, is more ideal than anything tangible for the vast majority of those on the wrong side of the line.

Wealthy kids go to better schools; people in wealthy communities have better job opportunities, greater access to affordable and reliable healthcare.

“It’s almost like, there’s not a light at the end of the tunnel, and all of a sudden, you start looking ahead, and what you see is a police badge,” Slater said. “I’m just trying to understand, where is the empathy? Where is the, let me see it from your perspective? And if I can’t see it, from your perspective, let me invite you to the table so that you can be a part of creating the solution.

“Until you start looking at the makeup of a community and what is lacking, and then providing for those needs, you’re going to continue to have this cycle, because hurt people hurt people, desperate people take desperate action, and you cannot police away desperation,” Slater said. “You can’t police away the hopelessness and that desire to just get ahead. And if that means, you know, sometimes for some communities and for some community members, they’re taking the by any means necessary approach, well, let’s take away the need for by any means necessary by providing the resources and supports necessary.”

I’m sure her arguments here will fall on deaf ears, because, again, it’s a hard right to try to take into account the socioeconomic underpinnings of what leads to crime, and an easy wrong to just use the hammer and treat everything as a nail.

“When you have a law and order approach to solving issues that are endemic to particular communities, and you fail to recognize all of those disparities that exist, and they exist intentionally, they were created, and then they have been perpetuated, yet law enforcement seems to be the response, that signals something to particular communities that says to communities, yes, we are going to hold you in this place of disparate treatment. And as a response to you attempting to rebel against it, we’re going to incarcerate you, we’re going to incriminate you. And that is what this task force makeup continues to say to those very same communities that are experiencing the brunt of the increase in harm,” Slater said.

Story by Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].