The embroidery on my decade-old "Operation 2006" denim shirt refers to the the anti-violence program that I helped clergy begin in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood in 1996.
By 1999, youth homicides there came to a virtual halt. The press called it the "Boston miracle."
But I hailed from Philly, where street violence remained rampant. Also, I worried that murder and mayhem might return with a vengeance to Boston and other cities around 2006. In a 1997 interview with Sojourner's magazine, I noted that, nationally, "by the year 2006, we'll have about 30 million teenagers . . . Whichever risk factors you emphasize . . . we will have a larger population of kids at risk."
In Philly, I developed programs to mentor the children of prisoners (Amachi) and boost literacy (Youth Education for Tomorrow). And, in 1998, I conceived the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership (YVRP).
Studies had shown that many murderers were on probation or parole, or awaiting trial or sentencing, when they killed, while many murder victims also had recent run-ins with the law.
"The YVRP would target 15-to-24-year-olds, zeroing in on those in that age group who risk-factor research and street-level knowledge indicated were most likely to kill or be killed. Its grimly pragmatic mission would be keeping its charges "alive at 25."
Then-Deputy Mayor Michael DiBerardinis vetted the YVRP alond with other key Philly officials. Paul Fink, an authority on homicides involving children, backed it, as did urban policy expert Mark Alan Hughes. With District Attorney Lynne Abraham and Deputy District Attorney John Delaney, we brought a Philly delegation to Boston.
The YVRP began in Philadelphia in June 1999 with a goal of monitoring a hundred young people in each of two police districts where violent crime had long been bad (the 24th and the 25th). It later expanded to two police districts where violent crime was getting worse (the 12th and the 19th).
Much as originally conceived, the YVRP has balanced enforcement with prevention. It has featured intense supervision by police and probation officers, zero tolerance for gun possession and an expedited judicial process for those who violate probation. It has also focused on making sure that participants continue education, work or attend substance-abuse treatment programs. So far, it has reached over 1,000 youths.
Mayoral front-runner Michael Nutter's "Safety Now" plan cites research suggesting that the "YVRP has shown remarkable results," but notes that its "budget of less than $5 million per year is insufficient," and pledges to "identify and lobby for state and federal funding in order to increase YVRP funding."
Amen, but Philly's leaders shouldn't wait until the next mayor is sworn in before radically expanding the YVRP and doing all else that is necessary to stem the city's bloodbath.
The facts behind today's murder spiral are deadly familiar. In October 2001, Penn's Joseph P. Tierney, who has helped steer the YVRP, co-authored "Murder Is No Mystery: An Analysis of Philadelphia Homicide, 1996-1999" a Public/Private Ventures report.
IN THOSE YEARS, out of 1,460 homicides, 1,083 victims were African-American (75 percent), and three out of four of the alleged murderers were African- American (also 75 percent).
Most victims and perpetrators were young black men. Half the homicides occurred in the poorest neighborhoods of just five police districts. In a typical high-crime police district, over half the perpetrators were on probation or parole, or were awaiting trial or sentencing, when they killed.
About half the murder victims had been charged with at least one offense prior to their murder. Handguns were the weapons of choice.
Today, not just Philly, but Baltimore, Boston and many other cities are facing what Sen. Barak Obama recently called "an epidemic of violence."
Blaming Mayor Street will not contain the code of the streets. Effective or not, the mayor and Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson have initiated well-intended prevention and enforcement efforts. As early as April 2001, the mayor begged the Bush White House for federal YVRP funds, but it delivered little. He later launched an YVRP-like initiative for 10- to-15-year-olds in the 19th Police District.
Besides, do this city's diverse civic leaders really need a new mayor to take daily local shootings and murders seriously? Does it really require a national media spotlight on Philly's bloody summer for us to act now to save our own most vulnerable citizens?
Each Philly newscast's lead and each local newspaper's biggest headlines, every day, should be about crime. Yes, make us all sick to death concerning senseless deaths in our city. Don't stop until the city has had a two-week murder toll below 10 homicides. Resume the practice any time the carnage breaches 10 homicides in a single week.
BIG-NAME PREACHERS from outside Philly have inspired the faithful with words about our violence problem. But we need less national inspiration and more local perspiration.
Religious leaders like the Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr., Philly's former mayor, run programs with real anti-crime blessing for the buck. They should convene an anti-crime leadership council.
In partnerships with public and parochial schools, the city's 2,120 religious congregations should commit to mentoring 25,000 severely at-risk children ages 4 to 14 (only about a dozen needy children per congregation, on average) by or before Halloween.
Elite secular nonprofit organizations - foundations, think tanks, and universities - employ people like me who are in the end talkers, not doers. Our academic mantra is "more research is needed."
But, no - it's not. Philly's nonprofit elites should belly up or shut up. They should bankroll a 10-fold expansion
in the YVRP, taking it to every police district where its leaders believe it to be needed, and including as many residents ages 10 to 24 as they deem ideal, before Thanksgiving.
"Tenfold" translates into $50 million a year. That's small change in the leading local nonprofits' collective budget machine. It's far less than the city's top tax-exempt organizations spend on things like art, gardening, members-only perks and the like.
The city's public-safety leaders must supervise the known, adjudicated felons, adult and juvenile - perhaps 6,000 out of over 60,000 who are on probation or parole - who they know to pose grave and immediate risks. And they need the state and federal funds to do it, now.
In "Transforming Probation," a 1999 report that I co-authored with past presidents of the American Probation and Parole Association, we called for funding and fixing agencies like Philly's Adult Probation and Parole Authority (APPD).
On any given day, the agency has several thousand so-called "wanted cards," plus supervision caseloads above 150 per officer. Still, it has supported the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership and related anti-violence partnerships. But it needs more money and staff to intensively monitor those on probation and parole who need it most - a short list led by known, adjudicated weapons violators. Philly's delegations in Harrisburg and on Capitol Hill should bring their respective legislatures as near to a grinding halt as they can unless and until the state and federal funds necessary to act on the city's top-priority anti-violence initiatives and public safety programs are forthcoming. Let the national press bloodhounds sniff that up.
If we each fail to do what we can to help stop the violence, or if we just wait for the next mayor to make it his problem to solve, then we will all have blood on our hands.
"Operation 2017" starts now. *
John J. DiIulio Jr. is Frederic Fox leadership professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and served as first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001. He is the author of "Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-Based Future," to be released in October by the University of California Press.