As we all know by now, Baltimore has been the epicenter of cultural, political, economic, social and psychological conflict over the past few weeks. With the death of Freddie Gray, light has begun to shine on some of the underlying problems we face in our cultural and social DNA. In addition to this event, which has left many heartbroken, angry, confused and saddened, another tragedy took place in New York City, with the brutal murder of a social service shelter manager. Her murderer, a former resident of the shelter she managed, stalked her, followed her to her car, attempted to rape her and as she was able to bravely escape, he gunned her down in the middle of the street.
As more horrific events like these become common, I wonder if we have become numb or complacent to the breakdown in our social contract. We have learned to accept and disregard the effects of unemployment, low wages, income inequality and mental illness. Collectively, we have failed to seriously address the pressing issues of our time that have led to the manifestation of racial tensions, mistrust between authority and citizen and above all else, a sense of apathy for action…real action.
Light has been shined on the broken neighborhoods of Baltimore, where drug dealing and gang violence have replaced work and education. Several politicians, many of them at the state level, have cited the amount of money that has been poured into poor neighborhoods for community centers and parks. While this is nice, it is a misappropriation of funds. As someone who works with the homeless, the addicted, the poor and the disenfranchised, I will be the first to tell you that the real issue lies in the disincentives to work. We have created more barriers, such as back-to-work programs, that do virtually nothing. We assume that the disparaged cannot work and must receive government assistance. This is wrong.
We need to increase the minimum wage and get people working so that drug-dealing and other activities no longer need to be the top viable option for income. I, too, would turn down a $7.50/hour job, if I knew I could make $2,000 a week in heroin sales. In essence, we are subsidizing drug dealers!
Pour money into education, after school programs and implement structure for young adults. The PC police will need to sit back on this one, but we must thoroughly address the problems as they are, not as we think they are. The murder of the social service worker in New York City is another stigma for the mental health field. Let’s stop accepting the occurrence of such events. We need more mental health facilities, more long-term treatments for the chronically ill and a more comprehensive understanding of the ills that plague many people in society. Until we accept that many individuals with severe mental illness need long-term, intensive treatment in a safe environment, more tragedies will continue to occur.
I use the word complacency, because as a society, we have yet to take the necessary measures to address these concerns. The poverty rate today is the same as it was in the 1960s. Money alone is not the issue. We need to come together to form comprehensive legislation that focuses on treatment, education and employment.