LSU law professor and Executive Director of Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome’s transition team Chris Tyson wrote a mind-blowing op-ed at the Baton Rouge Business Report today declaring “victory” for Broome on the occasion of the dying-down of the BRAVE controversy. The op-ed is worth a comment, as it seems to be a statement of the Broome camp’s company line.
According to Tyson, the accusations of corrupt dealing in the BRAVE program began to abate when Broome issued a report based on an internal memo which pointed out that management issues ultimately costing the program its federal matching funds were present before the new mayor took office. He says that disclosure put the issue to bed and now that Broome has “won,” he’d like to gloat a little and mark this down as a “teachable moment.”
We can learn a lot from the recent controversy over the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination (BRAVE) program. While Mayor Sharon Weston Broome could have been more proactive in communicating her plans for the remaining BRAVE funds, her internal review is clarifying. According to Broome, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to reauthorize BRAVE because of a history of reporting and compliance deficiencies. In an effort to utilize the remaining grant funds before their Sept. 30 expiration, Broome awarded small contracts for community programming that was originally earmarked under BRAVE but never pursued.
The initial media coverage and public opinion presumed that the BRAVE controversy signaled corruption on the part of the Broome administration. Most notably, Councilman Buddy Amoroso called for a legislative audit to determine if Broome was funneling BRAVE funds to her “political friends.” U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Congressman Garret Graves joined Amoroso in that request. All of them have been noticeably silent since the release of Broome’s report. While many seem ready to move on, it is worthwhile to examine the underlying anxieties behind the BRAVE backlash.
This seems to presuppose something which is not in evidence – namely that there won’t be any further inquiries about the BRAVE program. We’re pretty sure there will be. After all, the District Attorney’s office doesn’t appear satisfied with where the inquiry has been left, and former mayor Kip Holden certainly isn’t happy. Amoroso, who we talked to this morning, certainly isn’t satisfied. We also talked to other stakeholders in this debate who told us they’re not finished with it, either. The egg-on-the-face potential in Tyson’s assertion is quite high.
What the “internal review” showed was that the BRAVE program had utilized contracts with various entities in order to provide alternatives to criminal activity for gang members BEFORE Broome was the mayor. This was “clarifying” somehow, because “community programming” was not a new thing.
Everybody knew it wasn’t a new thing. That doesn’t “clarify” anything at all.
The point of the BRAVE program, and it’s important to remember that BRAVE drove results in 70802 and 70805, the two North Baton Rouge zip codes where the bulk of the city’s violent crime takes place, was essentially this – use LSU’s resources to generate reams of data pinpointing when and where violent crimes take place, from that data find out who the people involved in the gangs committing those crimes are, and stage interventions with them. Those interventions essentially amounted to a three-way choice – first, take part in activities diverting them from criminal behavior that BRAVE contractors would create, second, decline those activities but give up the gang life, or third, continue as they were in the knowledge that the heat was on and an arrest would surely follow.
The intervention itself had value in this regard, because if nothing else the young “gangbanger” – we’ll use this term precisely because it so irritates leftists like Tyson – knows he’s now on law enforcement’s radar and he’s going to be a suspect for every crime reported in the neighborhood. If the gangbanger in question cares about staying out of jail he now knows he needs to find something else to do. And on the margins, whether he decides to attend poetry workshops or play in basketball tournaments or whatever, the less-than-hardcore gangbangers will take the intervention to heart and not participate in violent crime.
This did produce results. Crime in Baton Rouge, and particularly in 70802 and 70805, did decline.
There was a BRAVE vendor coordinating most of the “community programming” before Broome took office. That vendor was Healing Place Church in South Baton Rouge, which has an outreach center in North Baton Rouge. It was a sore spot that a “white” church had the BRAVE contract, and apparently it was also a sore spot that so much of the BRAVE money was going to LSU.
So, with the federal funding in jeopardy anyway, funds going to Healing Place and LSU were redirected. And that’s how Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed got a contract to teach kids respect for the police – at least until he went in front of the Metro Council and claimed that domestic terrorist cop-killer Gavin Long brought “justice” to Baton Rouge by killing three local cops – and all the other questionable contracts were let by the Broome administration.
According to Tyson, those contracts represented “equity,” which “racists” like Graves, Kennedy, Amoroso and others in Baton Rouge can’t abide…
At issue are deficit-based versus asset-based approaches to youth development. The former views youth as future gangbangers at-risk of incarceration, only worthy of draconian policing and zero-tolerance policies. The latter views youth as having boundless potential but challenged by environments that systemic racism and poverty have made risky. The asset-based approach seeks to build up the capacity of poor neighborhoods by cultivating the intrinsic talents of their youth. The deficit-based approach, on the other hand, is obsessed with punishment.
Sen. Kennedy’s assertions aren’t the only ones that deserve unpacking. Councilman Amoroso’s suspicion that Broome was directing money to her “political friends” is a curious one. Local politics has historically been viewed as corrupt, and understandably so. It is simply easier to buy political influence at the local level. But Amoroso did not express a concern about Broome’s political donors receiving contracts. Rather he specifically used the term “political friends.”
I suspect the difference is more than mere semantics. Seldom do black political donors rival the financial heft of their white counterparts. It’s even less likely that grassroots artists and community workers have the cash to buy political influence. Referencing Broome’s “political friends,” therefore, might underscore a fear of black community-level businesses leveraging intra-racial networks to finally gain an equitable foothold in the distribution of government contracts. To some this is in and of itself an exercise in corruption—evidence of a black nefariousness that relates back to Reagan’s “welfare queen” and other tropes of a perceived pathological black dependency. The implication is that black people are neither citizens worthy of participating in the social contract nor taxpayers entitled to benefit from government’s largesse. Broome’s “political friends” could only be leeches sucking away the wealth of those rightly entitled to public resources. Historically, those people have been exclusively white.
Again – this entire controversy came up because somebody who had a BRAVE contract to teach respect for the police went in front of the Metro Council and said it was “justice” for a crazed black nationalist to blow into town and murder three cops. Were it not for that outburst there would have been no BRAVE controversy, even though there absolutely should have been given that violent crime in Baton Rouge is exploding this year and it’s particularly exploding – again – in 70802 and 70805.
In other words, this new “asset-based” approach might work someplace else where leftist eggheads have done studies, but it sure as hell isn’t working in Baton Rouge.
Furthermore, a couple of the critics of Broome’s BRAVE contracts we talked to don’t particularly have a problem with city-parish funds being used on things like poetry workshops and basketball tournaments, nor do they have a problem with the vendors for that “community programming” being black. What they have a problem with is BRAVE dollars that had gone to LSU to generate the data from which the program was working, to go to those things. Particularly when the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system is overflowing with money which could be used for poetry workshops and BREC is similarly overflowing with money for potential basketball tournaments. Even to the extent that Tyson is right to assert the mayor-president’s friends are deserving of patronage in the same way the old white good-ole-boys got contracts from the Bobby Simpsons and Tom Ed McHughs of yore, there are better pots of money to draw from to provide that patronage than to raid the program which has actually proven it works.
And by the way, let’s remember who lives in 70802 and 70805. Of the 27,000 people in 70802, 20,000 of them are black. In 70805, it’s 28,000 of the 30,000. So having a program which works to reduce crime in those neighborhoods means making safer and better lives for black people.
The program isn’t doing so much of that anymore, by the way. Here’s a screenshot from WAFB’s Baton Rouge homicide map taken this morning…
That heavy concentration along I-110? Guess what zip codes we’re talking about…
So what Chris Tyson is saying is that if you’re upset that money which had been reasonably well-spent, despite stipulated-to flaws in management and reporting by the Holden administration, on an overwhelmingly black part of Baton Rouge which is plagued with violent crime was now being redirected to other purposes, with results which are less salutary…if this upsets you, you’re a racist.
You’re a racist because you don’t want black people owning businesses and getting government contracts. When those contracts are aimed at preventing black people from getting killed, wounded, raped, robbed and otherwise molested in their own neighborhoods.
If the murder rate was down and not up, there might be a point here. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. What Broome chose to do is not working, and it’s black people who are being hurt. Maybe not the black people who want space at the government trough, or better put the specific government trough that is the BRAVE program, but how many of those folks are there compared to the nearly 60,000 people who have to have bars on their windows and live in terror at the gunshots ringing out every night?
Oh, and by the way…that number doesn’t include Chris Tyson. Why? Because Chris Tyson lives in a beautiful house not far from the golf course at Santa Maria, in the extreme southern part of the parish.
Here’s just a little more of Tyson’s nonsense to finish us off – and you’re entitled to wonder why, if it’s so crucial to get black-owned businesses stood up in Baton Rouge (something that, by the way, we have zero disagreement with), we’re not talking about convenience stores, laundromats and sandwich shops rather than government contractors…
A 2015 J.P. Morgan Chase study found that black businesses have a direct role in stabilizing black communities. This underscores the enormity of the missed opportunities with BRAVE and the severely limited imagination of those who would confine its scope to traditional law enforcement. By employing black community-level businesses to pursue capacity building in vulnerable neighborhoods, we could engage asset-based strategies through equitable economics. Said differently, we could do what national best practices, common sense and justice dictate we should have been doing all along.
Our claims to want to bridge our racial divide are worthless without a commitment to bolstering minority businesses—specifically their participation in city-parish contracts. This is an issue that other demographically comparable cities tackled a generation ago. Sadly, it remains controversial in 2017 Baton Rouge. Becoming the city of our stated aspirations requires a gigantic leap forward not just towards racial equality, but racial equity. We can do this, but city leaders must rise above old fears and realize that no progress can happen if half of the city is shut out of opportunity.
Maybe Chris Tyson ought to tell the folks in 70802 and 70805 about the “old fears” Mayor Broome is tackling at their expense. He should. But he ought to then make some time to listen to them tell him about their new fears arising from the skyrocketing murder rate in their communities.