Huffington Post’s Listen to America project is in Little Rock today. Along with KARK/Fox 16, it’s hosting a panel discussion at Philander Smith College at 7 p.m. tonight. The stop-through coincided with a series of stories published on the HuffPost website:
*Again in collaboration with KARK/Fox 16, HuffPost has a feature on Little Rock’s rising murder rate, “We’re Having Gang Wars All Over Again.” Much of it will familiar to Arkansas Blog readers, but it does a good job at laying out some of the systemic issues at play.
Little Rock has also decided to adopt a local version of Ceasefire, a national gun violence prevention program that has proven successful in other cities. The program targets a handful of people who are at risk of committing gun violence or becoming a victim of gun violence, and then works with well-known people in the community who can convince them to put down their weapons.
In Richmond, California, a city of comparable size and demographic makeup to Little Rock, the most high-risk individuals were even paid not to commit crimes. Unconventional as it may seem, Ceasefire’s model has been credited with helping to reduce the number of criminal homicides from 47 in 2009 to just 11 in 2014.
“We’re using people who have been in trouble before ― felons,” Stodola, the mayor, said during his press conference. “These people, these intervenors, who have street credibility, are going to be used independently of the police to try and interrupt disputes before they become violent.”
For all the mayor’s talk of career training two months ago, however, Silva still doesn’t have anything resembling steady work. “I don’t sell drugs no more. I don’t run around gang-bangin’ no more,” Silva said. “But I need a job. I need something for long term. I need benefits ― something that I can look forward to.”
Study after study has shown that obtaining stable, legitimate work is one of the most surefire ways to prevent someone from entering back into a life of crime. “When you’ve got numbers of young people who don’t have that thing that keeps them from getting involved in [gangster] stuff ― nothing to lose,” said Wayne Burt, a community support specialist in the City of Little Rock’s Department of Community Programs.
*Jon Comstock, a former Benton County Circuit judge and in-house counsel for Walmart, suggests a number of ways to reduce the state’s swelling prison population. One of the best ideas: He points notes that prosecutors pursue vastly different sentences for the same crime in different judicial districts in the state. Some adhere to the recommended sentencing guidelines; some depart from them. But that sentence determines their parole eligibility. He suggests parole eligibility should instead be based on sentencing guidelines.
*Furonda Brasfield, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, writes about the racial disparities in Arkansas’s justice system.
Arkansas has completed 200 executions since 1913, and 70 percent (140 individuals) of those executed were African-American. Currently, African-Americans and Latinos make up 50 percent of Arkansas’ death row.
*Anika Whitfield writes about the closure of predominantly black public schools in the Little Rock School District.
*And David Koon noted earlier the profile of Dee Ann Newell, a longtime advocate for the parents of prisoners.