The culture of violence is a product of a culture of poverty. How can we talk about 16 shootings in one day and not mention 65% of black children under the age of five now live in poverty in New Orleans—that poverty rate for black adults has regressed to the 1999 level?
Systematic discrimination against Blacks in Katrina recovery jobs has created poverty where it did not exist before. Children growing up in families where there appears to be no prospect for work are likely to turn to the drug trade. In the drug trade, business conflicts are settled with weapons. As weapons spread through the drug subculture, law-abiding citizens in low-income communities live in fear and come to believe they need to arm themselves to protect themselves from attack.
Ordinary conflicts between law-abiding people occur in situations in which everyone is armed. As much as the authorities would like us to believe these are primarily drug-related violence, the fact is that the violent drug subculture affects ordinary citizens. Reports are that the wealthy and privileged are arming themselves and they too risk becoming part of the trigger-happy culture of violence.
The “culture of violence” has its roots in the “culture of poverty” which has its roots in the “culture of indifference” displayed by the elites who control employment and housing. We will never change the culture of poverty until we change the culture of indifference.
Imagine if those in power demanded that all of the $20 billion in recovery contracts—schools, hospitals, roads, etc.) required 50% of the jobs to go to New Orleans residents instead of outside itinerant workers? Would that lift families out of poverty and provide children with a belief that there is a future for them?
We can’t solve a culture of behavior until we recognize that all maladaptive destructive behaviors develop because people are trying to fulfill basic human needs such as employment and decent housing. If we don’t satisfy those human needs, we can never change the culture of violence.
While we can’t take guns out of people’s hands, we can take the people out of poverty.
Dr. Lance Hill is the Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a tolerance education and race relations research center based at Tulane University in New Orleans. He is the author of The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and The Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2004).