Moynihan was right on urban crime

Last Updated: 12:21 AM, June 15, 2011

The New York Post

In just the last few days, a deadly shooting on the Brighton Beach boardwalk in Brooklyn killed Tysha Jones, 16, and wounded five others.

In The Bronx, cops busted a 17-year-old boy for shooting a teenage girl in the head outside a party. The victim, Yvette Torres, 15, was only trying to break up a dispute.

On Monday, a woman in her 80s, Mazzie Garris, was stabbed inside her Harlem apartment during a robbery attempt.

In another recent Bronx case, Claudia Millan, a 29-year-old mother of four (including a visually impaired child) was fatally shot in the face on a Bronx street while holding her 2-year-old son's hand.

And in Newark, a 16-year police veteran, Officer William Johnson, was fatally shot last month while off duty and grabbing a slice of pizza at a neighborhood restaurant.

Are these cases the result of a shrinking police force? Or of urban violence -- and history repeating itself?

No one really likes to publicly talk about black-on-black crime -- what New York's first black police commissioner, Ben Ward, once called "our little secret." But one man saw it all coming.

Forty-six years ago, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor, famously wrote to President Lyndon Johnson warning that the collapse of black family life would mean rising chaos and crime. Before the days of last year's alarming 31 percent jump in the homicide rate among African-Americans in New York City (even as the number of whites slain last year dropped 27 percent) Moynihan saw the predicament of the African-American male as a vicious cycle.

"There is one unmistakable lesson in American history," Moynihan wrote in his much-talked-about 1965 report, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," "a community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring rational expectations about the future -- that community asks for and gets chaos."

Liberals and civil-rights leaders screamed bloody murder then, accusing Moynihan of "blaming the victim" -- even calling him racist. History has shown it wasn't Moynihan but his critics who were the impediments to progress, and that Moynihan was dead on with almost all of his predictions.

Take nearly any city, and the results are almost all the same -- chaos.

Moynihan was trying to break the cycle of generational poverty, which he knew a thing or two about, having lived fatherless and in poverty himself. Yet instead of honoring Moynihan, civil-rights leaders and others ridiculed him. But 46 years later, it seems as if Moynihan had a crystal ball about the stories that dominate the news. The lack-of-opportunity argument doesn't fly anymore -- nor does blaming others.

Imagine what historians writing 100 years from now might say. Use of the N-word not only accepted by young people, but justified in some circles. Young men socialized to think that prison is a rite of passage as opposed to obtaining a college education. Maybe we should've listened to Moynihan?

Even America's first African-American president has expressed the same alarm over black family disintegration. President Obama cited Moynihan in his book, "The Audacity of Hope," praising Moynihan's warnings and complaining that Moynihan had been wrongly accused of racism.

Entertainer Bill Cosby took on the same national crusade for personal responsibility in the black community.

Moynihan didn't just point out problems, he also advocated, warning that without jobs, educational programs and vocational training, black men would become systematically alienated from their roles as husbands and fathers.

Interestingly, over the years, I interviewed Moynihan on TV and moderated one of his re-election debates, but never once did he bring up his report to me. He never said privately that he was ridiculed or that history was on his side.

We should all realize Moynihan was years ahead of his time and saw the troubles ahead.

Journalist Dominic Carter has covered city and state politics for 25 years.