Capitalism: an Alternative For Inner-city Gangs

A Focus on Business Forces One to Look for Opportunity

Ralph R. Reiland is a Pittsburgh restaurateur and an Assistant Professor of Economics at Robert Morris College. He has been published in Barron’s, USA Today, and Minorities and Women in Business.

The much-publicized gang peace summit in Kansas City last summer produced some good ideas. The Crips and the Bloods are right that voting is better than drive-bys, but that’s nothing that the rest of us didn’t know all along. While there’s little debate about police brutality being wrong, what happened to Rodney King is chump change compared to what the Los Angeles gangs dish out to African-Americans every night. In Los Angeles County, shootings occur every hour, with gang murders now running at 850 a year, primarily black-on-black. Nationally, the top cause of death for young African-American males is homicide; more young blacks are murdered every year than were killed in a decade in Vietnam.

A young African-American male in Harlem is less likely to reach the age of forty than a boy in Bangladesh. Yet Ice-T is cashing in with his new weapons-theme clothing line: AK-47 pants, assault jackets, and M-16 jeans—back-to-school outfits for the pathological war zones.

Still, some of the deadliest racist violence in Los Angeles isn’t against African-Americans. In South Central, it’s Korean storekeepers who run a 1-in-250 chance of being killed each year, about the same fatality rate our troops faced in Vietnam. But they’re not victims of police brutality, so we won’t see their victimization, on videotape, ten thousand times on television. And none of us will notice the length of the jail sentences any of their killers receive. Instead, a nihilistic mob jumps to the music as Ice Cube pockets big bucks rapping about the slaughter in his song Black Korea: “So don’t follow me up and down your market, or your little chop suey ass will be a target.”

The recommendation at the gang summit that African-American parents develop their own separate school system has merit. Catholic schools regularly outperform the public schools, comparing equivalent entering students, at less than half the cost—and the female graduates of women’s colleges regularly outperform their coed counterparts. The present administration, however, isn’t likely to give back to African-American parents any of their tax money to fund their own schools as long as it continues to value the bloc vote of teacher unionists over upward mobility in the inner city.

The idea at the summit of improved treatment of women by gang members is significant too. In an environment in which gang members respected their girlfriends, wouldn’t more guys marry their girls and forget about the Crips?

What was best at the summit was the focus on economics. Instead of the old pleas for more government handouts, the vision was one of creating more small businesses. The talk was of management programs instead of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and jobs and economic development instead of busing and victimhood.

The key to wealth in America—for Koreans, Cubans, Poles, Chinese, Jews, or Black West Indian immigrants—has always been small business. Today, over three-quarters of the over- $200,000 family incomes in the United States are earned by small business owners. Too often, however, well-intentioned church leaders and politicians have warned African-Americans to avoid the evils of the private sector. Jesse Jackson’s only mention of business at the Democratic Convention was his story about how a North Carolina chicken plant chained in its workers and burned them to death. A life on the dole watching television soaps or selling dope sounds better than that racist, unfair, greedy, unequal, and deadly capitalism.

That picture of capitalism is just as much a lie, however, as picturing all African-Americans as Willie Hortons. Too frequently, the loud speakers on the Left paint a false picture of capitalist evil and socialist salvation. They don’t ask why Germans weren’t shot trying to escape from the capitalist West to the socialist East—the wall climbing was in the other direction—or why the thousands of Cubans paddling on inner tubes through shark-infested waters from Havana to Key West don’t pass anyone escaping in the opposite direction.

John Shipley Butler, black professor of management and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, states: “Going back to the 1950s and the beginning of the civil rights movement, we began moving away from business to politics. The result is we have become too focused on fairness—what somebody is doing to us and not doing for us—and almost contemptuous of business, especially small business . . . a focus on rights practically forces you to think in terms of victimization. A focus on business forces you to look for opportunity. That’s the main difference between us and, say, Vietnamese Americans.”

It’s time for another summit, this time to lay the plans to unleash African-American entrepreneurship. It’s time for African-American professionals, church people, gang members, and small business operators to open stores all across this country and watch the profits and role models trickle down and create more stores, more jobs, more hope, and more pride. It’s time for capitalism.

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