The best way to reduce the U.S. plague of urban violence would be to "disrupt the allure of street life."
So says Thaddeus Johnson, a criminologist in the Georgia State University Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
Johnson spoke at a national conference on criminal justice co-sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association, Justice Research and Statistics Association and SEARCH organization. The session was held last week in Long Beach, Ca.
A former Memphis police officer who now is a senior fellow at the think tank Council on Criminal Justice, Johnson discussed some of the "ugly truths" about urban crime.
He believes that many factors contribute to the scourge of violence in big cities, including the prevalence of illegal guns, but at the heart of it what he calls the "hedonistic pursuit of illegal activities."
Johnson says that many youths, mired in a life of poverty and poor housing, resort to a pattern of "living life literally as if there is no tomorrow."
It's a "perpetual cycle of crime and violence," Johnson told the session. "That is what we're up against."
In Johnson's view, "street life can be alluring for young black people ... it may seem to be the only option to survive." Joining a gang and selling drugs may provide some financial security.
Johnson's suggested solutions include more affordable housing, better education and job training, mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as good community policing.
He cited Atlanta's former East Lake Meadows housing project, which was torn down in the 1990s and replaced with a mixed-income development called The Villages of East Lake, which offered much better living conditions and less crime.
Johnson also mentioned the "focused deterrence" strategy pioneered by criminologist David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in which social service providers and police call in high-risk offenders to meetings and offer them help along with warnings of strict law enforcement if they continue to misbehave.
The technique has been associated with crime rate declines in Boston, Oakland, Ca., and other cities.