I’ve lived in Birmingham for a little over four years. During that time I’ve seen my fair share of the good the city has to offer (kindness of strangers, a great business development environment, and a growing arts and entertainment scene), the bad (crime, crime, and more crime), and the ugly (cough “Brawl at City Hall” cough).
One thing I can say for sure is that moving forward as I look at the 12 candidates for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections as an undecided voter is that those living and working in our city deserve more than they’re getting at the moment. Yes, the city has made notable improvements under Mayor William Bell’s leadership but improvements are still needed and they could be done faster and with more efficiency and transparency.
Birmingham was recently ranked among the worst states in the nation for large cities. Beating out just 29 other cities in the overall ranking. The same report notes that of the 150 cities Birmingham is ranked 143rd in highest crime rates. You can see the full charts at the end of this post.
This campaign cycle has opened my eyes to the fact that many others within our community feel the same way I do. 12 people wouldn’t be running for mayor if things were running smoothly and there wasn’t progress to be made.
I join the resounding chorus of people who recognize that the one of the biggest, if not the biggest because it effects so many other issues, facing our town is crime. It is the nationally-known violent crime ranking that to this day still have out-of-state friends and family questioning why I live here. I can only imagine the impact that the violence is having on business development and how much better of a place we would be in if more investment went into crime prevention and deterrence. Bell has made economic development a large part of his time traveling throughout the nation and into other countries to business to move here. But for those on the outside looking in, if you were to see the statistics and the headlines that paint the picture of a city plagued with violent crime, poor education and poverty — why would you move? One has to wonder for every business that comes how many don’t because of problems that the mayor’s office could solve.
Nearly every candidate interviewed by AL.Com mentioned crime and poverty (which usually go hand in hand) as a reason for running for office. With our embarrassing national ranking in crime and all that comes with that, from discouraging people to live here or invest in the city, it’s a topic that should easily be number one. Not merely an issue used as a political football as was just weeks ago between the mayor’s office and city council.
Local elections are around the corner and the games of politics are strong. Buzz words are being thrown around but solutions themselves are still lacking. You can read the candidates Facebook and webpages and get the sense they all want a better Birmingham but it’s going to take more than want it’s going to take grit and effort and yes, even a little humility.
What do I want to see as a resident? First, I want a fully staffed, fully funded police force that doesn’t pass the buck and do the bare minimum (oh and I want it located in the heart of the city, which is where it currently is).
I want proactive policing but in ways that have been proven to work
I want a police chief who can call an audible and recognize that his department isn’t where it needs to be and brings in help from experienced law enforcement trainers and experts who know how to turn things around.
Ultimately, who does this responsibility fall to? The mayor.
Beyond safety which is a very big concern. I want a city with a functional plan of community engagement that relies on local business and charities to provide support for those living in poverty or just above it to get out. This doesn’t mean pushing failed agendas such as minimum wage hikes but instead means enticing giving, promoting job training, volunteerism, charity of the kind that makes our nation great.
We need local residents and local elected officials who do more than stand up when crisis come but shine a light in the deep crevices where crime starts and prevent it. Start with the youth of our city, show them a better way, give them someone to emulate that’s going to get their lives straight.
To me, like so many others I know, Birmingham is a city of hope and promise. To me Birmingham is a place with heart. It’s past time for everyone regardless of where they live in and around Birmingham to look to our mayor and feel like we’re getting solutions not soundbites.
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*More information on these rankings can be found at Wallethub.com