Pubdate: Wed, 29 Aug 2007
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2007 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Carl Mumpower


A convergence of social ills tears at our society's fabric It took 
the twin towers of New York to expose the insidious realities of 
Islamic fascism.

It was the fragile dikes defeated by Hurricane Katrina that betrayed 
the dysfunction of three tiers of government, the Corps of Engineers 
and FEMA. A falling bridge in Minnesota was the tragic wake-up call 
to a long-neglected national infrastructure. In each of these 
examples we find evidence of patterned malaise, distraction and 
self-interest by our leaders. In each we find the opportunity to 
point a finger or look deeper into the mirror.

Mental health woes In Asheville, as across the state, we have our own 
triangle of despair anchored in three disasters converging on tomorrow.

Illumination can begin with the AC-T Aug. 19 editorial on our failed 
state mental health system. Scapegoating one bureaucrat for recent 
misjudgment does not conceal a mental health system that was 
undermined by many hands over many years. It began in the 1960s with 
an unsustainable government promise establishing a statewide system 
available to all. It evolved into a complex nightmare in the 1980s, 
when that same government's controls and inefficiencies generated 
costs of service double that of private providers.

It ended with the abandonment of earlier promises and a bungled 
transition to a state-funded hybrid system morphing a safety net into 
a mineshaft.

Not one of the host of players -- elected or appointed -- who were 
complacent or complicit in the demise, is being held accountable. The 
consequences, as usual, are reserved for the victims.

Growing drug culture Disaster two can be found in our growing drug culture.

In a society that is losing its moral compass, vision and ability to 
separate what feels good from what is good, drugs, both legal and 
illegal, have become a parachute from misery.

We allow open-air drug markets and drug dens in our public housing 
developments and other vulnerable neighborhoods to operate as 
recruiting stations for a procession of new users, dealers and lost 
children. Ignoring the fact that no one ever got to a better place 
through the abuse of drugs, society as a whole looks the other way 
and hopes it is not their home, car, business or family that is the 
next one hurt by an addict who can't find help in our mental health 
system but who can easily dodge a broken court system.

Criminal justice burden North Carolina is 48th in the nation for 
state funding of its criminal justice system.

By the time this overburdened structure holds the average drug dealer 
or social predator accountable, their career path has been cemented 
several steps beyond probable redemption. Impaired with antiquated 
technology and absurd manpower constraints, what can be more aptly 
called a system of misjustice plea bargains 98 percent of its cases 
and places our police at risk with the fact that a crack dealer must 
be caught and convicted three or more times to get any meaningful 
jail time. Pumpkins are tendered more creative energies at Halloween 
than a state government loath to create a 21st century system of 
timely justice and meaningful sentencing alternatives necessary to 
ensure that crime does not pay. Anyone who takes the time to look 
deeper at our issues of homelessness, the harsh realities of public 
housing, the horrific dropout rate of our black students, child and 
spouse abuse, prostitution and a host of other social ills, will find 
this triangle of despair working in the background. While we chase 
symptoms, abandon our historical success equation of liberty, 
opportunity and responsibility, and increase our investment in 
entitlement programs, the noose of reality squeezes ever tighter. 
Thomas Edison once shared that, "Opportunity is missed by most people 
because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." The folks in 
Raleigh wear suits, and while they pretend and we ignore, the heart 
is leaking out of our society.

It remains to be seen if we have the courage to take hold of this 
triangle of despair with the urgency necessary or if it will continue 
to successfully seize our future.

Carl Mumpower is a military veteran who currently serves on the 
Asheville City Council. He lives in Asheville.
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