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Reader: Poverty at root of Savannah’s ‘criminal subculture’

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Poverty at root of Savannah’s 'criminal subculture’

Editor,

The sudden and horrible end of Scott Waldrup’s life has spurred an outcry among a select portion of Savannah’s citizenry.

Scott knew so many people in his corner of our city – and was so widely loved – it is not surprising that a great many folks with influence and ties to the downtown business community found themselves speaking into microphones and looking into camera lenses.

The local politicians who represent the well-heeled looked a little uncomfortable having their anti-crime feet being held to the fire, while the ones who represent the impoverished of our city seemed more at ease. But then again, they have more experience when it comes to facing the paralyzing force of sudden tragedy, grief and outrage.

Meanwhile, the law enforcement community beats a steady drum of “Gangs! Gangs! Gangs!” and each beat is a call for more police.

Unfortunately, the absence of police officers is not what brought about the gangs in the first place, and it’s not going to make them go away.

Crippling poverty that spans generations is at the root of Savannah’s criminal subculture. The breakdown of families (and adult supervision), schools, infrastructure, livelihood and community fabric is what leaves the young poor open to the notion of gang affiliation and an expectation that sooner or later the future will hold either incarceration or an early grave.

In the United States, more than one in five children is being raised in poverty. Twenty-two percent doesn’t sound as bad as it should.

You see, poverty is a community and neighborhood problem. Twenty-two percent inside some Savannah neighborhoods would be considered an astonishing turnaround for the better.

Savannah has two faces – one that is bright and shiny and facing the world and telling everyone to come for a visit. The other is constantly being asked to turn to the right to pose for its profile mug shot.

It is this face that shows no trace of hope. No amount of policing can reconcile the division here. Only leadership will do.

It’s time to invest our financial resources in the people of Savannah who live in peril. House by house, street by street and neighborhood by neighborhood, it’s time to come knocking on the door with opportunity instead of a search warrant.

Reducing violent crime by 25 percent in Savannah would generate a savings on intangible costs for the city – something in the neighborhood of $200-$300 per resident.

Get things moving in the right direction, and the city can buy all the palm trees and police it wants. Maybe even two new arenas.

Savannah doesn’t need another coat of whitewash or a streetscape makeover. It needs leadership with courage and conviction ... leadership that will light the path out of darkness.

Scott Waldrup lived a life of courage and conviction. His legacy is secure.

How about you, Mr. Mayor? Council members?

Stan Kleine

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