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What really sparked Speed Street violence


Our gangs aren't like other cities' gangs because ours get along great, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe explained last week.

"You know, you could have somebody from the Crips and somebody from the Bloods living in the same house here in Charlotte, which you would never see in other cities," Monroe said at a press conference last week. "Do we see the violence, drugs or other criminal activity that other cities see in relationship to gang activity? No, not here in Charlotte."

Well, except for the murder Uptown during last week's melee after the Speed Street festival, that is. And the second shooting. All with what Monroe calls "gang overtones." But other than that, Charlotte's fun-loving gangsters generally hang out at home painting each other's toenails in gang colors.

"At no time did we feel anything was out of control that we were not handling," Monroe said.

Except for, again, the people who got shot, which is totally natural at a family event like this. And sure, that out-of-control crowd might have required a military-style tactical unit to put down. But other than that, it was no big deal.

What we do have, Monroe explained, are "a lot of little neighborhood rivalry type of things."

Is this man serious?

Charlotte's leaders may have shrugged their shoulders, but the national media didn't. They rightly recognized that when a crowd of 30,000 (The Charlotte Observer's estimate of its size) takes to the street and goes berserk and people get shot and murdered in the process, it is national news.

The "Charlotte Way" has always been to downplay things like this and pretend they don't happen. That worked great in 1996, but it doesn't work on a national stage.

This is something you'd expect to happen in a national-class urban city, not some hick Southern town. If we are going to be a top 25 city in things other than media and schools, we have to anticipate stuff like this and roll with it.

And we have to face the truth about what is causing it.

A study by the Business Journals last month shattered the myth of the ongoing North Carolina economic boom. Over the last decade, North Carolina didn't add a single new net job. We ended the decade with 95,000 fewer jobs than we started it with. That puts us in the top 10 worst states in the nation for job creation over the last decade along with places like Michigan, California, Ohio, Illinois and New Jersey.

The Charlotte region had the second highest growth in poverty in the nation since 2000, with a jump from 123,000 impoverished people to 233,000 in just a decade, a study of census data by the Brookings Institute showed. That same study ranked Charlotte first in the nation in the increase in poor children living here, from 40,000 at the beginning of the decade to 87,000 now.

If these stats shock you, it's only because you are reading them for the first time. Like the melee "with gang overtones" Uptown, no one talks about this here.

The people who took to the streets Uptown were young. Statistics show life for them is pretty hopeless right now. The unemployment rate for those 16 to 24 hovers at between 25 and 30 percent. So they don't have much else left to do but paint each other's toenails — unless they deal drugs, one of the few employment options they have left.

A decade to 15 years ago, there were decent paying blue collar jobs for those without a college degree. Not anymore. Last week, Newsweek asked how long it would be before there were economic riots in the U.S. I think we just had one Uptown, with frustration, hopelessness and plain boredom pouring out on the streets in what is one of the tougher economic zones in the country.

Over the last decade, I've lived in gang territory and fallen asleep to the sound of gunfire more times than I care to remember. Trust me, Charlotte's gangs are just like other cities' gangs — and our economic problems are just as bad, if not worse.

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