By Shannon Ogden
First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- On a recent blazing hot afternoon, Harry Shorstein and I walked through one of Jacksonville's most violent neighborhoods.
"This is one of four council districts where the murder rate is arguably as high as anywhere in the U.S.," Shorstein says.
This is northwest Jacksonville. The overwhelming majority of the city's homicides occur in northwest and west Jacksonville.
Ninety of the 138 homicides last year, 65%, occurred in City Council districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 - some of the city's poorest areas. And 65% of the murders this year have been in those same four districts.
"If you live in either the affluent or rural areas of Jacksonville, the crime rate is relatively low. And I'm afraid the majority of people in Jacksonville who live in the relatively low crime areas just don't seem to be adequately concerned about the plight of the inner city," Shorstein says.
Concern was certainly heightened for a time last summer when eight-year-old Dreshawna Davis was shot to death as she played video games at home.
"Before that murder occurred, too many people said, or thought without saying, well, that's just a bunch of black drug dealers killing each other and that's not a big problem," says Shorstein.
He continues, "As a result of that in August of last year the murder rate dropped significantly. And (now) it's right back where it was, arguably worse."
Why so many murders in these areas? Shorstein blames poor education, poor housing, poor health care, low paying jobs and high drug use, the seeds of crime everywhere.
He's not willing to point fingers directly at the mayor or sheriff. Shorstein blames you. And me.
"I don't believe there has been an adequate response from the media, from the Chamber, the leaders, those of us who live in areas of low crime. There just doesn't seem to be the concern there should be," says Shorstein.
As the early afternoon sun beats down, Shorstein admits he is less optimistic about the city's future these days but he still believes the problems are fixable. He notes New York City's turnaround in the last decade from jungle to one of America's safest cities.
He says Jacksonville can begin by redistributing the police force - assigning more officers to high crime areas.
"But we're not talking about just law enforcement. We have to talk about education, housing, health care, everything we know contributes to crime."
But perhaps the most important part of the solution may be the most evasive, ending indifference.
"We are not a wonderful city. We are not a good city as long as people are dying and being exposed to violent crime in our inner city at the rate that it's happening."
Shorstein concludes, "The city better wake up or the problem will get worse."
First Coast News