Editor’s note: This column reflects excerpts from Mayor Greg Fischer’s speech — “Capturing Ali’s Spirit: Creating a City of Peace and Safety” — delivered July 6 as part of the I Am Ali Festival. Read a full transcript of his prepared remarks and view a video of the event at www.louisvilleky.gov.
As mayor, it’s my job to shout our city’s many successes to the world. Like creating 63,000 jobs in six years. Or the booming economy that helped 10,000 Louisvillians lift themselves out of poverty in 2015 alone.
Or the tremendous sense of pride, unity, joy and peace we saw during what we now call Ali Week last year as our community came together to celebrate the life of Muhammad Ali.
At the same time, it’s essential to be clear about our challenges, like the rise in homicides and violent crime we’ve seen over the last two years. Understandably, citizens often talk to me about this issue, usually by asking one of three questions:
1. What is happening
with homicides in our city?
Last year, our city had 117 homicides, the kind of record we never want to break, because one is too many. For context, that figure translates into roughly 15 homicides per 100,000 people in our city, and we’re a little ahead of that now.
For comparison, St. Louis and Baltimore averaged around 60 homicides per 100,000 in 2015. Cincinnati saw 22, and Indianapolis 18.
Figures from this year, as reported by police chiefs across America, indicate that violent crime and homicides are on the rise in roughly 60 percent of the largest cities. Of course, while that’s helpful to know, our focus is Louisville. A few more facts:
- Most of our homicides involve people who are already engaged in criminal activity. We have gangs, many of which are in the illegal drug trade.
- The rise in homicides coincides with a significant change in the illegal drug market. Closing down the pill mills fueled the rise in heroin.
- When competitors in this business have a dispute, it often ends with gunfire — more evidence that guns today are too easy for criminals to acquire.
2. What are we doing about the homicide spike?
We’ve worked with local experts to create a targeted action plan for violence reduction that has been reviewed and endorsed by national experts with strategies that both fight and prevent crime.
Our action plan is built around these six pillars:
- Community mobilization
- Organizational change
To boost law enforcement, we’ve invested in 55 new positions for LMPD in the last year, bringing our manpower to an all-time high with just under 1,300 officers.
We’re focusing on the roots of crime, including narcotics, gangs and guns. Last year, LMPD took about 1,700 guns off the street — the highest total since merger.
And I will continue calling for common-sense gun laws from Frankfort.
But law enforcement is just one component of our strategy to make our city a safer, healthier place. The challenges our city and country face are bigger than one type of crime.
The uncomfortable truth is that homicide and violent crime affect every demographic, they plague many neighborhoods in Louisville’s African-American community. In these same neighborhoods, we also see troubling statistics on health, employment, income and more.
We can trace these challenges to a history of discrimination, too often conducted by government and business leaders in our city and beyond.
Redlining, for example, was a banking practice aided by the federal government that denied housing loans to hardworking African-American families. Urban renewal was a euphemism for what some called “negro removal,” which decimated once thriving communities.
Over time, practices like these contributed to the phenomenon of concentrated poverty, which is a factor in much of our crime.
Today, 1 in 7 Louisvillians lives in concentrated poverty, which is unacceptable.
And we have a whole generation of young people in our city, particularly young people of color, searching for that same support, connection, and a future.
Twelve-year-old Cassius Clay found opportunity in the boxing gym, when Louisville police officer Joe Martin introduced him to the sport that became his path to greatness.
Now it’s our turn to follow their example, which brings us to the other question citizens all over Louisville ask me when we talk about our city’s challenges.
3. How can I help?
Be the One.
Within each pillar of our action plan are opportunities for citizens, businesses, faith groups and others to help us meet this challenge, one person at a time.
- Enforcement: Sign up for one of LMPD’s community-based initiatives, like Peace Walks or donate to the Louisville Police Foundation.
- Intervention: Mobilize your house of worship, volunteer at a community center or with Youth Detention Services.
- Prevention: Talk to your employer about joining SummerWorks. This year, SummerWorks is helping more than 5,000 young men and women gain the skills and experience they need for a better future.
- Community mobilization: Sign up for a Brightside cleanup or join your local neighborhood association.
- Organizational change: Join one of the many boards and commissions that make critical decisions affecting our citizens’ lives.
- Re-Entry: Become a mentor through ReImage, which helps young people who are returning to society after incarceration connect with employment and education. ReImage participants’ recidivism rate is under 2 percent.
- There are many more opportunities at louisvilleky.gov/bethe1.
I know that there are those who will look at the challenges we’re facing in some of our neighborhoods, and say, “Mr. Mayor, this is impossible.”
You know what Muhammad Ali would say:
“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. … Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Anything is possible for our city when we come together. We proved that during that unforgettable week 13 months ago when Ali came home to his final resting place. We can be that city every week.
Let’s build on that uniquely Louisville legacy. Please join us.
Be the One.