By Tim Trenkle
As an Iowan, it sometimes feels to me like poverty is considered a character defect. We pride ourselves on our work ethic and point to Borlaug, Chrysler, Robert Noyce, the father of the microchip, and John Deere.
Poverty is increasing locally and violence is its undeniable twin.
In 2000 in Dubuque County, the poverty rate was 7.4 percent while violent crimes per 100,000 residents averaged 164.6. In 2005, the poverty rate was 8.8 percent, while violent crime rate was 408; in 2010, the poverty rate was 10.7 percent and the violent crime rate 425.9.
In Dubuque, city leaders began a campaign against violence after events surrounding Section 8 Housing issues, crime and race became street conversation. The culture of the impoverished became important. A task force was created. A survey commissioned.
Stabbings and shootings were once almost unheard of here. Now there are intermittent periods when serious crime rumbles through like waving storms.
Around midnight Oct. 20, a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed after he left a neighborhood party. One of the local news outlets referred to it as “another shooting.” No longer uncommon.
A century of research shows poverty correlated with violence.
I surveyed 100 people, asking about safety and perception, a few years ago, then again this spring. The vast majority said they do not feel safe; many suggest there are places they will not go. The task force appears to be impotent.
War zones are like this.
The little port of Dubuque seems like other places in Iowa, places where leadership has become a netherland of image building. Everywhere on the street, people say that they’re proud of the awards and recognition, empowered by our Iowa communities pulling together, little engines that say they can, climbing up the economic ladder.
Invariably, when I ask longtime residents what they think about safety, they shake their heads. They say the community never had these problems, these stabbings shootings, assaults.
In a Safe Community Task Force meeting I attended, the lone black man asked: “Is this group interested in everyone, black, brown, white and yellow … does this group really care? I can’t tell because it seems like, to me, you don’t care, except that you have money and everything you need.”
Jobs matter. Jobs that make life bearable. It seems like we have the right attitude, the right stuff. We need to fix our plows to the stars, to our greater nature.
It has to be done where each of us lives. The young are dying and they’re killing each other. Poverty is connected. It matters to us all.
l Tim Trenkle of Dubuque
teaches psychology and writing
at Northeast Iowa
Community College. Comments: peace email@example.com