When people think of inner city crime, we imagine big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles or Baltimore. And let’s not forget New York – it’s no wonder every Marvel villain wants to attack such a wonderful and frightening place. Yet we find the height of black homicide in the imposing shadow of Omaha’s two-skyscraper skyline.
According to a recent article in News.Mic, a black Nebraskan is about eight times more likely to be murdered than any other race in any other state. A 2011 study from the Violence Policy Center revealed Nebraska’s black victimization rate at 34.43 per 100,000 people – beating out Missouri’s 33.38.
When I first saw the News.Mic article in my Facebook feed, I thought, “That can’t be Omaha.” I mean, Omaha. The big-small town. I can see Woodmen Tower on my way out of my parents’ quiet, tree-hidden neighborhood. This can’t possibly be happening so close to home. This happens in Ferguson and the South and the Bronx. Not here. But it’s worse here in our own back yards than anywhere else in the country, and we need to talk about it.
I’m not a Nebraska native, but after living in this state for 10 years, there’s nowhere else I’d call home. And something I’ve noticed about myself, something many Nebraskans can identify with, is that I like to sit. I like long drives and longer talks. I settle in with food and friends and watch the rest of the world pass me by, making comments from a comfortable vantage point. But I was never entitled to be comfortable, and this isn’t something I can allow to pass by.
I’ll admit this article is difficult for me to write. I may be vaguely connected with Omaha, but North O feels so far removed. It’s that place I’ve been told not to visit alone. But it’s selfish and naïve of me to think I’m allowed to disassociate myself with this part of town simply because I’m not a low-income African-American. I mentioned earlier that all this is happening in my back yard. If part of my yard is infested with weeds, or if a stray dog keeps digging up my garden, it’s neglectful of me to sit and watch. I know this. The problem that emerges is one I dread – and maybe you share my sentiment: “What am I supposed to do?” Because I have to do something. But where I’m at right now, it seems like I can’t do anything.
Let’s break the problem down into the facts. According to the News.Mic article, 80 percent of the homicides happened in North Omaha, a part of the city densely populated by blacks, the majority of whom qualify as low-income or unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed in August that the black unemployment rate is 11.4 – roughly twice that of white unemployment at 5.3. Also, the gap between black and white unemployment is widest in the Midwest. The problem has worsened since the Midwest and the South cut back on unemployment benefits. The purpose was to boost the general economy, though as an Unemployment Trust Fund sales report states, that failed miserably: “unemployed workers lost an average $252 per week of curtailed benefits just so states could save roughly 37 cents per covered worker per week.”
I don’t mean to imply that joblessness causes murder, but to ignore the obvious connection between the problem of black poverty and the problem of black homicide in North Omaha I think will cause us to miss the solutions. Combating unemployment is a simpler and more solid step to take in the fight to end black homicide.
There are several ways to address the problem of unemployment in Nebraska. One way is through local charities. Hope for the Heartland is an organization dedicated to helping Omaha’s working poor. More than a food pantry, this organization attempts to “try to help families move into a position where they are once again self-sufficient” by providing a family’s basic necessities as well as general guidance and advice. They are well-organized, well-run and dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others. They’ll accept volunteer hours as happily as a donation.
But if you’re a college student with a tight schedule and a tighter budget, maybe charity isn’t your thing right now. So what can you do?
Don’t get comfortable. Don’t let your friends get comfortable. Raise awareness of the situation. Many people like me wouldn’t have even put Omaha on the list of dangerous cities. But you could do more than talk about it over coffee with friends. Contact local businesses in Omaha or your congressional representative. There are people with substantial weight in politics that could help us out – we just have to ask.
Annie Stokely is a junior English major. Follow her on Twitter @Anna_Bee_94. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org