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Urgently Needed: A Public Jobs Program

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BRIDGEPORT, CT --- Recent murders in this city are a reminder that Bridgeport can still be a violent place, and it's going to take a lot more than beefed-up law enforcement and a few jobs provided by new retail development to change that fact.

People were shocked when a popular storeowner in the city's Hollow section was shot for no apparent reason after he turned over cash to two hooded gunmen who entered his store in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, April 11.

Jose Salgado, 57, who ran the store "Sapiao's Grocery" on Lexington Avenue with his wife Maria for 24 years, was shot after complying with the demands of the robbers. The assailants ran out of the store, jumped into a waiting car and fled.

Both suspects have now been caught. One has been charged with felony murder while the other one is awaiting charges.

The shooting at Sapiao's followed by weeks another killing of a store worker in the city's North End. Hakeem Joseph, 32, a clerk at the T Market on Reservoir Avenue, was shot around 8 a.m. by a man dressed in camouflage and wearing a hood. Police have not yet apprehended the man.

The murders jolted local officials who had been feeling good about the city's progress in slowing violent crime. It is true that the homicide rate for Bridgeport in recent years is sharply lower than what it was 20 and 25 years ago, when drug gangs often turned the city into a daily shooting gallery.

In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the city frequently experienced 4-5 homicides a month; the fatal shooting of Jose Salgado represented the city's fifth homicide this year.

Nonetheless, the recent killings demonstrate that Bridgeport is still a dangerous place sometimes, and is likely to remain that way, even if the overall rate of crime is reduced. That's because Bridgeport --- though having some success in redeveloping --- is still largely a poor city, and poverty often breeds crime.

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When people are poor, and there are no jobs to help pull them up, they get desperate. They're frustrated and often resentful. In some cases, they're driven to rob people to get the money they need for themselves and their family.

In other cases, out of desperation, poor people turn to illegal methods to raise money, such as buying and selling drugs. In the process, they may use drugs themselves, only to get addicted. The people who buy the drugs to get a lift, also get addicted. Addictions can lead to violent behavior, with the addicted individuals attacking other innocent people to get the money for the fix they so desperately need.

Drug sellers also are involved in shooting other people out of anger that their "turf" was invaded, or because of some other dispute.

We don't know yet what the motives were for the hold-up at Sapiao's store, but I won't be at all surprised if, after the facts come out, the robbers were driven by a need for drugs.

(By the way, I don't want to make it sound like all poor people are involved in crime. Clearly not so. Nor do I want to imply that middle-class people or rich people don't sometimes engage in violent crime. They certainly do. Nonetheless, studies show that crime rates tend to be higher in poorer neighborhoods, and there is often a link between poverty and crime.)

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No amount of added policing in Bridgeport and fancy new retail development on the harbor is going to end violent crime here. New stores and restaurants will bring in a few more jobs and more tax revenue. Those are positive, but limited steps, towards improving the city.

To really roll back poverty in Bridgeport and cities like it --- and in the process make those cities safer --- you have to put masses of unemployed people to work, and give them sustainable incomes and real hope.

Bridgeport and other cities cannot solve this problem on their own.

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Reginald Johnson is a free-lance writer based in Bridgeport, Ct. His work has appeared in The New York Times, BBC-Online, the Connecticut Post, his web magazine, The Pequonnock, and Reading Between the Lines, a web magazine affiliated with the (more...)

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