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Jesse Can Save

July 11, 2008

By Heather Mac Donald

It's never too late to get a real job, so here's one that the Reverend Jesse Jackson should consider in the wake of his embarrassing anti-Barack Obama moment: city lifeguard. A spate of violence—in one case lethal—has wracked the public pools in Los Angeles's Watts area this summer. Trying to keep order from his lifeguard station, Jackson would have a splendid opportunity to test his claim that what inner-city black youth need is more "government-based policy," rather than fathers who stay around long enough to raise them.

Watts public pools have a history of anarchy. Last year, Los Angeles city officials hired armed guards and installed video cameras at the 109th Street Swimming Pool in order to protect children and pool staff from out-of-control youth. The 109th Street pool lies between two infamous housing projects and the warring gangs which control them. Many neighboring families avoid the recreational facility, driven away by the local gangbangers' aggression.

But the usual disorder turned even scarier on the second day of the pool season this June. The pool manager had had the temerity to ask swimmers to clear the pool for cleaning, its water having been rendered dangerously dirty by people jumping in with their clothes on or refusing to shower before entering. In response, up to 30 young men went on a rampage. They overpowered two armed guards and six pool workers, punched the manager as he was trying to escape to his office to call 911, and threw the manager, a lifeguard, and locker attendant into the water. This was not a case of adolescent hijinks: The men were in their twenties and thirties. They were simply unable to tolerate any authority over their own. The police reaction was delayed as officers responded to a report of a man with a gun at another city pool, a report that this time proved unfounded.

The 109th Street pool stayed closed for the next two days, depriving local children of watery recreation during a heat wave. It reopened only after the Los Angeles Police Department agreed to station two armed police officers there, and the city recreation department hired six residents, mostly ex-gang members, to help patrol the pool. Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks observed the charming modus operandi of these community peace-keepers: one "lightly . . . whacked" a boy on the head who did not get out of the pool quickly enough. After the pool had closed and the security force had gone home, teens and kids were still jumping into the filthy water with clothes and shoes on, Banks reported.

A nearby Los Angeles County pool facility saw an even more egregious outbreak of violence last Saturday. Three men tried to rob a 60-year-old man who was sleeping outside the pool at the Ted Watkins County Park, which borders Watts. They beat James Hurst unconscious with a blunt object; he died the next day in a hospital from his injuries. In reaction, the county will station eight additional county police officers at pools in South Central Los Angeles ten hours a day through the summer.

It is striking how quickly elected officials in the inner city call on the police when things go wrong. These are the same "racial profilers" who, according to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and a host of local loudmouths, pose as much threat to the black community as criminals. Turns out that the threat from the allegedly racist police disappears from view whenever they are needed to protect inner-city residents from the real danger in their midst—criminals males. Jackson was one of the first publicity hogs to fly down to Jena, La., the site of a trumped-up media fable about a supposedly racist criminal justice system and its victims—six black high-school students who without provocation viciously beat a white student unconscious. Had Jackson been a guard at Watts' 109th Street Pool or the Ted Watkins County Park, the chances are high he would have dialed 911 for the cops as desperately as anyone there.

The pool attacks demonstrate yet again how pathetically irrelevant Jackson's style of "civil rights" leadership is. In his criticism of Obama, he said that the Democratic presidential candidate should be speaking not about absent fathers but about unemployment, the mortgage crisis, and the number of blacks in prison, according to the New York Times. Let's see: The chances that the thugs who took over the 109th Street Pool or who beat James Hurst to death would show up every day for a job on time and not fight with their supervisor are exactly zero. The mortgage crisis was fueled in part by pressure to lend to low-income communities under the Community Reinvestment Act. And the number of blacks in prison is a function of their astronomical crime rates—in 2006, blacks constituted 39.3 percent of all violent-crime arrests, 56.3 percent of all robbery arrests, and 34.5 percent of all aggravated-assault arrests, though they are less than 13 percent of the population. The black prison rate may not be high enough—James Hurst's still unapprehended killers undoubtedly had rap sheets; had they been incarcerated for those crimes, the 60-year-old would be alive today.

The fact is, the only thing that can stop the lethal anarchy in poor black neighborhoods is personal responsibility, starting with the duty of men to raise the children that they sire. The young men who committed the recent Watts attacks didn't need a mortgage, a job, or a get out of jail free card, they needed self-control and respect for their fellow human beings. There is very little the government can do to make up for those deficits. When the marriage norm has disappeared from a culture, the greatest civilizing force on boys disappears as well. Young men who know that they can endlessly inseminate girls without getting a wife or having to support their children have no incentive to develop the stable character and work habits that would make them an attractive husband and employee. And the boys raised in those fatherless households have a much lower chance of receiving the parental discipline and guidance necessary to keep them out of trouble and in school.

Jackson's tired excuse that it's up to "government and public policy" to prevent black male irresponsibility ignores the fact that Los Angeles and every other big city have public programs aplenty to try to make up for the husband deficit. Los Angeles has been funding anti-gang counselors and job training for decades; the only taxpayer-supported employees who ever seem to make a dent in the violence are the police. While there is always room for more urban recreational facilities, the pools at which these recent crimes occurred were city- and county-run.

The need for armed officers to keep a public pool functioning should be a wake-up call to the so-called civil-rights leadership that its brand of activism has failed miserably. "If everything is dependent on a cop being there, we've lost," LAPD Captain Thomas McDonald told the Watts Gang Task Force after the first pool attack. Jackson has called on the "collective moral responsibility of the government" to solve the black problem. Now there's a case of "talking down to black people," as he accused Obama of doing in his seemingly off-mic moment on Fox News. How about calling on the "collective moral responsibility" of fathers to stop their sons' violence? If Obama will continue making that call, he may well deserve the presidency. And that's what Jesse Jackson fears the most.

Heather Mac Donald is the John M. Olin fellow at the Manhattan Institute and co-author of The Immigration Solution.

 

 
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