An unlikely criminal-justice pioneer revisits his innovative, immensely successful crusade against youth homicide in America's worst neighborhoods.
Kennedy (Criminal Justice/John Jay Coll.) didn't set out to dedicate his career to crime, much less the seemingly insurmountable problem of gang-and-drug related violence plaguing America's cities and stumping even the most seasoned law-enforcement units. Rather, as an aspiring writer straight out of college, he took a job constructing teaching cases for Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. An early assignment on problem-oriented policing sent him to Los Angeles' beleaguered Watts neighborhood, one of many hit hard by the 1980s crack epidemic. Kennedy was struck by the devastating violence he witnessed and, as he plunged further into researching the problem, the horrifying trends it represented. Quickly, a few things became clear. First, guns, drugs and gangs held the keys to the downward spiral. Second, in a shockingly optimistic and humane perspective, that the real problem was, in essence, a massive misunderstanding; that is, that cops and communities wanted, at the base level, the same things, and could be brought together to work toward them. Kennedy and a few key colleagues launched what became known as the Boston Miracle (a name not sanctioned by Kennedy, who emphasized that hard work, rather than divine intervention, created the results). With a massive communication effort, including an astonishing set of forum meetings which actually brought gang members and police officers together, Kennedy's team made clear to the community their goal of stopping violence and valuing the young lives that had previously gone unnoticed. Results were swift and unprecedented—youth homicide rates halved, then quartered, and broad changes were made to communities. More importantly, the solution was not specific to Boston. Over the years, Kennedy has cloned his experiment in cities across the country, from smaller communities like Stockton, Calif., to, with significantly more effort and issues, meccas of urban blight like Baltimore. The problem has in no way been eliminated—and Kennedy emphasizes the drastic consequences when the programs falter—but progress is undeniable.
A valuable text—not just for the solution, but also for the refreshing philosophy behind it.