Our Opinion: It takes a village to combat crime

While Pittsfield Police say the city is on track to have a lower violent crime rate in 2017 than it experienced in 2016, perception is reality, and the perception now, particularly following the shooting death of 22-year-old Asiyanna Jones on October 2 and a rash of recent shootings and armed robberies, is that the city, or at least sections of it, is unsafe. A neighborhood meeting on Tuesday at the Christian Center resulted in resounding agreement that the community must come together and that violence in the city is a matter that should not — and cannot — be shouldered by law enforcement alone ("'We are not alone in this,'" Eagle, October 19).

What's at the heart of such violence in a small city in a beautiful corner of the world? Criminologists and sociologists will say it's a lack of good employment opportunities and a culture of violence that has made its way into the far reaches of the nation. Attendees of Tuesday's meeting also pointed rightly to a lack of familial and community values. Respect for the law and for others begins at home — everyone else down the line, including police and the courts, are reacting to the absence of that respect.

Add to this the two toxic factors of drugs and guns. In this, Pittsfield has plenty of company in the form of similarly sized cities across the country where violent crime has risen as a result of the drug trade. As to the matter of guns, Massachusetts' sensibly strong gun laws are undermined by the ease in which weapons can be bought legally around the country and brought into the state. The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas was the latest that was supposed to alter that equation but it is already fading from the nation's collective consciousness.

Adding to the fears in Pittsfield was the recently released FBI report on crime statistics that ranked the city ninth-highest in the state in per capita rates of violent crime. With a population of 43,031, there were 340 violent crimes reported in 2016, compared to 284 a year earlier. The good news is the city is on track to have a lower violent crime rate in 2017, according to Police Chief Michael Wynn. The downward trend could be the consequence of the department's more strategic emphasis on how it expends and applies its limited financial resources. Many at Tuesday's meeting nonetheless urged the city to explore more ways to get police officers walking beats to not only confront crime but build relationships within neighborhoods.

It was encouraging that so many city councilors and council hopefuls were in attendance. We need to hear their ideas and proposals for combating crime in the short time before Election Day, and the same goes for the mayoral and City Council candidates in North Adams, which faces the same problem.

Still, it does indeed take a village. Police put out a poignant plea on Facebook for witnesses in the shooting of Ms. Jones to come forward days before announcing that they had identified a suspect. Also necessary are the sorts of neighborly, bread-and-butter efforts suggested Tuesday — the doubling down and engaging in the traditional works of mercy of caring for those in material, emotional and spiritual crisis.

Asiyanna Jones' murder should be eye-opening in the sense that it opens our eyes to recognize that many who live among us are needlessly in danger. It should be eye-opening in the sense that we continue to look for ways in which we, ourselves, can build community, build trust, build hope — and build resolve that the evil acts of a few won't define who and what this city is.


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