A Gritty Crime-Ridden City Fights to Regain Its Streets
GARY AND THE GOP 'REVOLUTION'
HALFWAY through the swing shift on a warm spring night, a group of Gary police officers pulls off the beat for a dinner of cheap pizza. The talk quickly turns grim.Skip to next paragraph
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Two rookies recall responding to homicide calls in their first week. A veteran recounts a triple murder involving a VCR a few nights earlier. The stories aren't bravado.
Known throughout Indiana simply as ''the region,'' Gary is one of the most crime-ridden cities in the United States. In 1993 it had the highest murder rate in the US, and after a dip last year is headed toward reclaiming that distinction. Gangs and drugs are prolific, domestic violence all too common. ''I even carry a gun to church,'' says Officer Al Galinis. ''A year on the beat in Gary is equivalent to five in surrounding communities.''
At the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Gary is inner-city America, struggling with the same challenges as Harlem, South Side Chicago, or Watts. Unemployment is in the high teens. Nearly two-thirds of eligible adults are on some form of public assistance. Racial tensions isolate the city from adjacent communities.
How to make streets like Gary's safer and improve the lives of struggling urban citizens has been one of the most difficult and important social problems of postwar America. Today, it is again at the center of a national debate -- sparked by the GOP revolution in Congress and its ideas about welfare, crime, and the balance of power among local, state, and federal governments.
To many Republicans, Washington has only exacerbated Gary's problems. Public-assistance programs created in the 1960s to eradicate poverty have, in fact, advanced it, they say. They advocate instead ''tough love'' reforms designed to promote self-reliance and individual responsibility.
''Existing welfare programs are like pouring toxic waste in the inner city,'' says Robert Rector, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the source of many GOP ideas about social welfare. ''A whole generation of young men has lost the attachment to education and labor, and as a result they are prone to criminal activity.''
But critics say that cutting off welfare benefits and building more prisons will come at the expense of the measures that are truly needed to renew the inner city -- greater investments in education and job creation. ''The Republicans are writing off places like Gary,'' says Evelyn Brodkin, a sociologist at the University of Chicago. ''They are balancing the budget by turning out cities and the disadvantaged.''
It is on these streets that the outcome of this debate will have its greatest impact, either precipitating urban renewal or accelerating racial and class fragmentation.
Gary is a case study in the rise and fall of an urban center. Established in 1906 and named after Elbert Henry Gary, the first chairman of US Steel, Gary was for most of its history a mill town, home to the company's flagship plant, which still covers 12 square miles and once provided more than 30,000 jobs to a rich tapestry of Greek, Polish, and Russian immigrants. But when blacks started arriving in large numbers, drawn by mill jobs, the tapestry changed.
The European immigrants fled rapidly to homogeneous suburbs, taking their businesses and investments with them. By 1967, as the civil rights movement was reaching a pitch across the country, Gary's population had shifted enough to elect one of the nation's first black mayors.
During the next decade Mayor Richard Hatcher (D) would bring in enough federal money to finance a convention hall, a transport center, and other developments. But none of these projects was sufficient to offset the damaging effects of the white flight that followed on the heels of his arrival in office.