The recent murders of two young men with bright futures and no history of criminal activity has refocused attention on violent crime.
Those of us living in low-crime neighborhoods know we can't protect ourselves or our children from a similar fate, but odds are it won't happen to us.
Lexington is, statistically, a safe city. That reassurance doesn't mean much to people who live in neighborhoods where violent crime is more common. They are often in the wrong place but must pray hard to avoid being there at the wrong time.
A time-honored response to crime, or the threat of crime, has been more police — numbers, equipment, firepower. That in turn has meant more arrests, convictions and imprisonments, resulting in more people, disproportionately black men, with felony convictions and so effectively barred from finding a legitimate job.
Crime is not just a police problem, it's a community problem.
Like putting buckets under leaks instead of fixing them, the arrest-incarcerate-return-to-streets approach can only lead to greater heartbreak and expense.
Both Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard and members of BUILD, Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action, a group that's tackled tough problems here since 2003, understand that.
BUILD members have done extensive research on the Drug Market Initiative offered by the National Network for Safe Communities. The idea is to stop open-air drug markets — which attract violent criminal activity — by bringing together a coalition of police, prosecutors, family, neighbors, social service providers and others to put drug dealers on notice that they are known and must stop.
A critical element is to offer support — addiction treatment, job training, etc. — for those who choose to change their behavior.
First rolled out in High Point, N.C., the approach has been used in Nashville, Cincinnati, Charleston, Austin and other cities. The initiative was tried, although not fully implemented, in Lexington in 2012. But Barnard promised BUILD to reconsider the approach.
But the essential lesson — one that thankfully, Barnard and other local leaders get — is that fighting crime means fighting the root causes. And here, Lexington is beginning to take some important steps.
The programs to decrease and prevent homelessness (already showing impressive results) and create affordable housing — both vigorously pushed by BUILD — are part of this picture.
Without stable, safe housing, it's hard for adults to work and children to learn, to climb out of poverty. State and local programs offering more drug treatment are also part of the picture. So is closing the school achievement gap and, we would argue, raising the minimum wage.
Barnard says the police must also increase outreach in neighborhoods where people are afraid or reluctant to call on them for help or to report crime.
Last summer, for example, 25 police recruits joined a neighborhood cleanup organized in response to a recent shooting in the area. He wants to see more police officers in elementary schools building relationships with young kids, both to create trust and to help in future recruiting.
Too often spending on social services, neighborhood cleanups and cops hanging out with young kids can be viewed as unnecessary, squandering precious resources that could be used fighting crime.
But nothing is tougher on crime than a community built on trust and opportunity.