Looking for better angels and narcs
Don't give up on Chattanooga's stop-the-shooting program.
Despite the headlines, there's more to Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative than the arrest of the key man whose job it was to offer young gangsters a way out of shooting up their neighborhoods.
The problem is bigger than just one man, and so is the solution.
But before everyone -- especially conservatives -- go piling on suggestions to abandon the plan and let churches fix it, let's take a breath and think.
Churches have a role in the support effort once these young people put down their guns. But so far churches have not been able to provide the "been-there" outreach needed to curb urban gun violence. A newspaper series about the problem, Speak No Evil, was so named because part of the culture is "no snitches."
Prayer and preaching about the shootings can only do so much. Meanwhile, a bridge out of gangster life unfortunately seems to require people with a foot in both worlds. Someone who understands smoking pot and drinking and even reckless lawbreaking in order to mentor young people who mistakenly think murder is as common and easy as playing a video game.
Was Richard Bennett, founder and director of the nonprofit A Better Tomorrow, right in reportedly sitting in a van with his pants unzipped with a woman he said he was getting information from? Absolutely not.
Was he wrong to have open containers of beer and tequila in the car? Or pot in the glove box? Or one and a half hydrocodone pills on his key chain? Technically and legally, yes. But police doing undercover work often pretend to be part of the drug culture. The difference is that Bennett's job was to talk and offer a way out, not talk and open a jail door.
Don't give up on this program. Tweak it, sure. Find a new mentor, but don't give up, and don't expect only one man to make it work. Does just one narc work? Does just one preacher work? If we're really ready for change, we accept fits and starts and move on.
Which brings us to the Strut
Don't give up on the Bessie Smith Strut, either.
Two decades ago, the street swelled with a smiling, dancing diverse crowd. Then came some shootings and fear. Riverbend ceded safety planning to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center -- the only group willing to take it -- and the result was an admission fee, entrance gates, bag checks, fewer vendors, an earlier close, diminished crowds and a less communal atmosphere.
The event has become safer, yes, but also less diverse and fulfilling.
Strut-goers and businesses along Martin Luther King Boulevard see the changed event as "a street divided."
New MLK businesses like Champy's Chicken and JJ's Bohemia are helping blend the divide. Maybe next year, more restaurants will open and more clubs will offer blues, jazz, rock and alternative music.
If that happens, the Strut will live forever. And not just on one day a year.
Don't tread on Vegas cop killers
You can't make this stuff up.
The couple accused of going on a deadly shooting rampage in Las Vegas on Sunday left a Nazi swastika flag and a tea party "Don't Tread on Me" flag on the bodies of the two lunching police officers that witnesses said they shot.
This married couple, Jerad and Amanda Miller (she was a former employee of a Las Vegas Hobby Lobby store), was so "fringe" that husband and wife had been kicked off the Nevada ranch where other anti-government protesters faced down federal Bureau of Land Management agents earlier this year. According to the son of rancher Cliven Bundy, they were "very radical."
Police said the Millers were known to be extremely anti-government, with ideology shared by "militia and white supremacists," including a belief that law enforcement was "the oppressor."
After shooting the officers in a pizza buffet at a strip mall, the Millers went to a nearby Walmart, fired a round and told people to get out because this was "a revolution." Amanda Miller fired on a shopper who tried to confront her husband. Then the Millers exchanged gunfire with more police before killing themselves in an apparent suicide pact.
The shopper also later died.
This is just the latest example of how a twisted world view can spiral down into domestic terrorism.