Walking in others' shoes.

Author:Binnings, Tom
Position:THE ECONOMIST - Column

I'M SURE MANY READERS ARE DISTURBED by recent events that started with Ferguson, Mo. Whether Ferguson ignited a fire that has been smoldering in communities short on opportunity, or whether this has exposed poor policing in America, or whether it's about challenges in raising adolescents will be debated for some time. Unfortunately, our committed peace officers of all colors are becoming scapegoats and "legitimate" targets for some.

In Colorado we might think we are immune to the urban problem of persistent poverty. Our residents are more mobile, which tends to coincide with economic opportunity. Only 8 percent of our households receive food stamps as compared to 12 percent nationally. On the other hand, in Colorado, 35 percent of female-headed households with children and no husband present live below the poverty line. This compares to 40 percent nationally. In the Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Rankings, Colorado consistently ranks in the top 10 states, but we are comparatively weak in supportive relationships. In this category Colorado ranks 20th and Denver ranks 72nd out of the largest 100 cities surveyed.

Do we expect our police to play the role of strong mothers like Toya Graham, who chased her son during the recent Baltimore riots? If so, then we need to walk in their shoes and highlight the success stories--not just the tragedies. Some interesting work by people like Roland Fryer, an African-American who grew up in urban poverty, sheds some light on the challenges of pre-teens and teens losing friends by applying themselves in school. Losing friends occurs in all American communities, and I believe especially among males. In our formative years we are naturally pulled between parents with their longer-term view and friends who often represent instant gratification. This may be especially challenging in impoverished neighborhoods. And when discipline is not enforced, the environment can degrade to anarchy.


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