When 20 children were viciously murdered, the nation simultaneously grieved and initiated a call to action. Yet, the reaction was quite different when 67 people were viciously murdered. For the most part, those victims were ignored, and very few people are addressing the root cause of that violence.
Those 67 victims are the latest count (and may be higher by the time this is posted) of the people murdered in Camden this year.
The situations are, of course, different. The Connecticut murderer was a single deranged individual whose motive will never be known for sure. The Camden murders have come from a variety of motives from domestic violence to drug deals gone bad.
Stricter gun laws are essential and would have reduced the number of people killed in Camden and Connecticut. Maybe the Connecticut murderer’s death count would have been less if he was only able to purchase magazines with five rounds. Maybe some of the carnage in Camden could have been reduced if vengeance were taken out by knife attacks instead of the more lethal and efficient guns. So the push for more effective gun control is necessary. But it is not sufficient.
That axiom is well-understood by the majority of the American public. That’s why there’s grassroots support for improvements to our mental health system going on in parallel with the call for sensible gun laws. Better mental health services help address the root cause of the Connecticut tragedy. But it does not address the root cause of the Camden carnage.
Camden’s problems are the result of rampant poverty, which in turn is the result of obscene unemployment rates. Years of neglect, the overwhelming impact of the Bush Recession, and political corruption, have all contributed to the feeling of despair and desperation that is a significant cause of crime.
Are we addressing the root cause of Camden’s problems with the same vigor that we are addressing the tragedy in Connecticut?
Sure, there are some community organizations that are trying to make a dent. Groups like Cooper’s Ferry Partnership are addressing economic development in the neighborhoods as well as the waterfront area. Camden’s Cooper Medical School at Rowan University requires each medical student to perform non-medical related community service in the City of Camden. Activists on both sides of the charter school debate want to improve educational opportunities for the children of Camden. Organizations like South Jersey Eye Center are committed to provide no-cost or low-cost care to city residents.
Yet, as these groups are making a dent, other forces are continuing to exacerbate the problem.
Governor Christie’s failure to lower the state’s unemployment rate as fast as the national average hits urban centers like Camden particularly hard. State and local politicians are eviscerating the police force at a time when crime is at an all-time high. Profiteers are taking over the school system which makes one wonder which comes first – students or profits?
We can’t fix Camden overnight. It will take a generation. It will take dedication, commitment, and dollars. But urban areas are vital to the heart and soul of our nation, and Camden is South Jersey’s premier urban area. It has a lot to offer – mostly on the waterfront today, but with great potential throughout the city. And we need to improve the whole city. If we do this, will there still be murders and other crimes? Sure. But Camden will be happy to relinquish its Number One spot on the list of high-crime cities. That’s the best way to remember the victims of Camden’s violence.