A national study last month found that black male juveniles are killing one another at an alarming and growing rate — no surprise to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe.
Of all the crimes CMPD investigates, Monroe says, homicide is by far the hardest to prevent. And in the African American community, he adds, the problem is especially thorny.
Chief Monroe recently sat with Qcitymetro.com to talk about the problem of blacks killing blacks. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
Q. You say murder in general is especially hard to prevent. Why is that?
We talk about people out there taking others’ lives for petty conflicts, domestic violence, youthful disrespect issues and things of that nature. It’s hard to be there in the right place at the right time to intervene.
To me it’s more an issue of addressing other problems. We had 11 young people killed last year below the age of 18. It was for senseless things — arguments, he-said-she-said kind of disputes. Those are some tough things for police to go out there and try to police.
Q. Did you read the report on black homicide?
Yes. I think it’s a lack of respect that black males have for one another and for themselves. We’re willing to take a life over something as simple as the fact that somebody looked at me wrong or didn’t give me what I believe was the proper amount of respect. You see where people are engaged in murder for reputation, to maintain or establish reputations.
That’s very disheartening. It’s disheartening as a police chief, and it’s disheartening as a black man. We’ve lost something. We’ve gone astray somewhere where we are allowing ourselves to be willing to take one another’s life at the drop of a hat.
If this were a crime against others, I don’t think it would have gone as far. If blacks were killing other races, I think we would have a far greater outcry. But because they are killing one another, I don’t think there is much of an outcry, even from our own communities.
The only way it’s going to stop is if we who are part of that community start sending messages that we’re not going to tolerate that, that we’re not going to tolerate it when we see a kid in possession of a gun, we’re not going to tolerate it when we know somebody has come into our community and taken somebody else’s life. Until we start getting to those levels, people are going to continue to see the amount of violence that is perpetrated in our communities.
Q. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed outside a Masonic lodge last year while attending a party. A large crowd was nearby, yet the case remains unsolved. What kind of cooperation are you getting from the community?
It doesn’t or hasn’t come as quickly or clearly as it should. Normally when you have a young kid or an elderly citizen that falls victim to homicide, people will come out of the woodwork to identify and tell what they know. In this particular case, we haven’t seen that. Somebody has the answer out there. Somebody knows what and who surrounds the death of that young man. We can’t allow that death to go unpunished.
Q. Some in the media implied at the time that witnesses were withholding information from police. Is that true?
I think it was more people not really knowing what happened. That shot could have come from afar and just made its way into the body of that young man. Somebody may not really know who that exact person is who was responsible for that.
A lot of information came forward, but I don’t think that even people who were there were able to really piece together exactly what happened, to be able to say this is the individual. I think there are people who are willing and wanting to do that.
We re-circulated that case as recently as two or three months ago to see if we can get additional information. We put out there the type of gun that the individual would have been carrying based on the wound the young man suffered. So if somebody out there saw somebody with a .38 caliber revolver, tell us that. We know there were other people out there with guns, but did someone see somebody specifically with a .38 caliber.
Q. When you talk about young black men who kill other young black men, are there common characteristics you see?
In the cases that we’re able to close, I think you see an individual who has become lost at some point, has lost their way in the educational system, has become involved in other criminal activity that has put them out there in kind of a free-falling type of environment. Little structure to their lives. Lack of concern for another human being.
Q. If you could do one thing to address the murder problem in the black community, what would it be?
I would say education. Sometimes people lose hope, or feel that jail is the worst outcome or death is the worst outcome, but compared to what they have now, those may not be bad alternatives. If they don’t have the ability to make a living, the ability to earn a decent living, then the consequences — jail or death — don’t seem that strange to them.
Q. Do you think these young men are reachable?
Yes, I do. I think there are people out there who can reach these individuals. They may not be the same people who are able to provide opportunities for them, but there is somebody who can sit them down and say, ‘Hey, here are some viable options for you. Here’s an opportunity to go back to school. Here’s an opportunity to seek some type of training or employment.’
I’ve seen it. But once I reach you, I have to have the ability to deliver something to you.
Q. Do you see any organizations out there doing a particularly good job of this?
I think there are, but they are struggling. When you talk about organizations that service the young people, there is some fragmentation out there. If we can come together and maximize some of our resources, where you’re not out there struggling with your program and someone else is not struggling with their program, we can come together with some kind of viable program.
That’s what we want to do. We want to be able to bring the churches together and other organizations and say, ‘What’s out here? What’s available that can help some of these troubled young people?’
We’ve got to put away our own individual (goals)…What I like to say is that sometimes people are out here just to make something for themselves. But it has to be about the people we’re trying to help. We have to put aside those individual personal goals and really look to put something together than can help people.
I think intervention is viable in our community. Yes, we want to have prevention programs to keep kids from even getting involved in certain types of activities, but I think we also have to have intervention programs that will go out and say, ‘If you’re already involved in this, whether it’s a gang or other types of criminal activity, that there’s a way for you to get out of it.’
Q. Some critics blame the criminal justice system for locking up too many young black men. The implication is that they are being locked up unfairly. How does that look from your vantage point?
I think that when you talk about some of the activity that some of our black young men are involved in, something has to stop the cycle. Unless we can do more of the intervention work to deter people outside of the criminal justice system, then jail is going to always be the option of first choice.
There are some people that need to go to jail. But when you start looking at all the social factors that come into play, as many of those as we can try to address outside the correctional system, the better opportunities we can have. But if we don’t have those viable programs our there, then we’re going to keep seeing them going through that revolving door.
Q. You’ve been in Charlotte now for seven months. How is the city treating you?
I think it’s a good city. It’s a progressive city, but it’s a city nonetheless that has some of those same urban issues that any other city has.
We can’t close our eyes to it. We can’t close our eyes to the gangs that are here. We can’t close our eyes to the fact that we have people out here who are hellbent on doing us harm.
We can think that the only option is arrest and lock some of these people up, but we’ve seen clearly that we don’t have the capacity to incarcerate everybody out here who’s committing criminal acts. Unless they are planning to build a multitude a new prisons, we’ve got to find some other viable options.
Q. What has surprised you about Charlotte?
I’m speaking mainly within the criminal justice system. We need to have a greater sense of urgency when it comes to how we break this cycle of violence, this cycle of repeat offenders, this cycle of revolving doors. We’ve got to have a greater sense of urgency because people are dying. Communities are afraid. A lot of things are affecting our quality of life.
Q. Have you gotten involved much in the community?
I think the community is what drives it all. The community is what holds us in law enforcement accountable, and I think it’s going to be the community that’s going to hold other aspects of the criminal justice system accountable for what they do and how they do it and when they do it and why they do it. I’m a strong advocate as it relates to what the community has the ability to do for itself. Government can help, but government is only going to be as strong as the people who allow us to do our jobs.
Q. Taking off your chief’s hat for a minute. Have you gotten involved with any churches or other groups?
We’ve found a great church. We’re Catholic. Our Lady of Consolation is our home church, and the people involved are doing some good things. There are a couple of organizations that I’ve personally attached myself to, wanting to be able to do more, both at the (YMCA) as well as organizations that are working with the victims of domestic violence and homicide.
Q. What do you enjoy when you’re not working?
Golf. That’s my stress reliever. That’s what I do to maintain my level of sanity. I’m not very good at it, but I try to get out there once or twice on the weekend to relieve some tension.
Q. Do you want to share your handicap?
Uh, it’s hovering around an 8.
Q. That’s not bad.
I’ve been there for a couple of years and I’m looking for an opportunity to get better.