STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Here's an incomplete list of some other things we might want to put on pause, just to be prudent.

Michigan Municipal League

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder took some time yesterday to clarify his stance on the future of Syrian refugees in Michigan.

Snyder, who two years ago declared himself "probably the most pro-immigration governor in the country," now says he doesn't want to completely stop Syrian refugees from arriving in Michigan. He just wants a pause, so that the federal Department of Homeland Security can review its screening procedures to ensure none of the refugees (who already undergo intensive screening) are terrorists. 

"Most people are not terrorists," the governor said, according to a report from the Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta. "This is just to be prudent, to make sure some terrorist element is not entering our country." 

The governor first announced he was putting a temporary halt to the state's refugee resettlement plans because "our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents." 

The governor is right to put an emphasis on public safety. But perhaps, in the interest of safety, and just to be prudent, the Syrian refugee resettlement isn't the only thing that should be put on pause. 

Here, then, for the governor's consideration, is a partial list of some other things that could be paused to protect the safety of our residents: 

Lead poisoning. My colleague Lester Graham reported ina State of Opportunity documentary last year that lead poisoning poses a huge risk to Michigan's children. And it's not just a risk to the children themselves. Children who've been exposed to lead poisoning have been shown to be more aggressive as adults:

If lead exposure to children is reduced to zero, schools might have fewer discipline problems, fewer students in more expensive special education programs, fewer days missed and - more than likely - less crime, fewer people in prison.

And yet, despite what we know, kids continue to be exposed to lead in Michigan. In Flint, lead was coming right out of the water pipes, even in schools. Just to be prudent, Michigan may want to consider a pause in poisoning kids with lead. 

Of course, most university students are not rapists (just as most people fleeing the Syrian war are not terrorists). But, just to be prudent, perhaps the governor should put a pause on universities, if safety is our first priority.

Universities. Michigan's universities are a shining example of the many things going right in this state. When they're at their best, these universities provide a springboard for Michigan kids to educate themselves and find success as adults. And yet there are problems at Michigan's universities that our state's leaders haven't yet been able to solve. A nationwide survey found that 1 in 4 college women have been forced into sexual encounters against their will. And the numbers may be even worse in Michigan. Worse still, my colleagues Kate Wells and Joe Linstrothinvestigated how MSU handles sexual assault investigations, and found a system that takes way longer than it should, and causes more trauma for victims. Absent action from the state, some students have started instituting a pause of their own:

"I don't currently feel as though East Lansing is a safe place for me," one student victim told Michigan Radio. "So we will see. I hope to go back someday and finish my degree because that's important to me. But right now, that just doesn't seem like the best option."

Of course, most university students are not rapists (just as most people fleeing the Syrian war are not terrorists). But, just to be prudent, perhaps the governor should put a pause on universities, if safety is our first priority. 

Guns. This one comes up a lot. We know most gun owners are not criminals (just like most people fleeing the Syrian war are not terrorists). But Michigan hasn't seemed to figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of people who will use them for violence. Consider what I learned while reporting on community violence in Muskegon two years ago

Shauna Hunter works at the YMCA just across the highway from the Nelson neighborhood. She recently had a group of kids in a room, and asked them about guns. "The question was, 'How many of you, think it’s easy to get a gun?' And 100 percent of the children raised their hand," Hunter says. We’re talking about kids some of whom are only 15 years old.

This doesn't mean the state should consider a pause on gun sales. Many of the crimes committed with guns in Michigan are done with guns that were stolen, not bought. You can see how this works at the local level. Near Muskegon for example, criminals frequently target gun stores with lax security. Or, they break into the homes of law-abiding gun owners and steal guns that aren't locked up. If your phone was stolen from your home, police would be able to use its tracking software to find it again within days. But guns aren't as traceable. Stolen guns can just disappear, only to show up years later in the most horrific ways imaginable. Most guns are never used in a crime. But any gun that isn't locked up could be used in a future crime. Perhaps, just to be prudent, the governor could institute a pause, to review what can be done to keep guns out of the hands of violent people.

Childhood trauma. Sarah Alvarez wrote on this blog last year that "exposure to violence is the No. 1 predictor of later violent behavior." She pointed out that we don't actually know how many kids in Michigan are exposed to violence, but we do know that investigations of child abuse and neglect have been on the rise. The trauma kids feel as a result of abuse, or other exposure to violence, can lay dormant for years. If kids don't get help dealing with it, they can turn violent themselves. 

You might be thinking this problem is a little out of the scope of a governor's powers. The governor can't simply put a pause on childhood suffering. But, legally speaking, the governor also can't stop refugees from resettling in Michigan. Just because he can't do something doesn't mean he shouldn't try - just to be prudent, of course. 

Most men are not terrorists. Most men aren't violent. But among the group of people who are terrorists, or who are violent, the overwhelming majority are men.

Men. Some people look at the Paris massacre and focus on the fact that all of the attackers were Muslim extremists, tied to the brutal ideology of ISIS. One of them, it seems, held a Syrian passport, and may have crossed into Greece with other refugees. But you know what else all these attackers had in common? They were all men. Most men are not terrorists. Most men aren't violent. But among the group of people who are terrorists, or who are violent, the overwhelming majority are men. Men are a menace to the safety of citizens everywhere, as I reported in another State of Opportunity documentary a few years ago

According to FBI crime statistics, 80 percent of all arrests for violent crime in America involve men – that includes almost 90 percent of all murder and manslaughter arrests, and nearly 99 percent of all arrests for rape.
The thing that’s maybe most crazy to me about all this is just how unsurprising it is. We already know and expect that men will commit violent crimes at far higher rates than women. That’s just the way it is. But, I mean, that’s crazy right? That one group making up 50 percent of the population would be responsible for 90 percent of the murders? How can we see that and just accept it?

Michigan, the United States, the whole world would be much safer if the governor could figure out a way to just put a pause on men in society. There is perhaps no other move that would make citizens more safe. Shootings, bombings, murders, assaults, rapes, cases of police brutality - almost all of these horrors are committed primarily by men.

Maybe we could consider putting a stop to it. If only a pause. Just to be prudent. 


Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.