by Mike Sharkey
Federal Judge Gerald Tjoflat says the recent spike in violent crime in Jacksonville — and across the country, for that matter — is the result of several factors at work within the socioeconomic dynamic. However, he believes the root of the problem can be traced to the late 1960s, when the Baby Boomers grew up and young Americans began to revolt against war and race and sexual discrimination.
“Things changed in the late 1960s, 1968 in particular,” said Tjoflat, who spoke to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville Monday at the Omni. “People were upset about Vietnam and there were revolutions against all sections of society. It was the launch of the ‘me’ generation and the beginning of the era of no responsibility.”
Tjoflat is a federal judge in the United States Court of Appeals and is in his 39th year on the beach. The former prosecutor has sat on many federal committees devoted to crime and crime prevention. He says that while current leaders tout the statistical drop in overall crime statistics, the reality is, he said, that crime is up dramatically thanks to the redefinition of what is a crime.
Locally, Tjoflat says the erosion of the two-parent family — what he calls the No. 1 police force in society — has led to many societal ills including high teenage pregnancy rates, teen drug use and trafficking and murder.
“A lot of crime goes unreported, unprosecuted and unsentenced,” he said.
The year’s homicide total topped 100 recently and Tjoflat said local leaders and citizens are “in a panic” about the situation, one he says isn’t going to improve in the near future.
“People are wringing their hands and justifiably so. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on, first to the politicians and then to the police, who people feel are too lenient,” he said. “Everybody likes to point at the judges who don’t hand down stiff enough sentences. The problem is not going to go away.”
When the family structure began to fall apart in the 1970s, Tjoflat said, the crime rate went up. The divorce rate multiplied and the illegal birth rate “went out of sight.”
“Can you image in the 1950s in Jacksonville a school with a day care attached to it to take care of the student’s child?” said Tjoflat.
He said that he believes there are two things that must be addressed before the murder and violent crime rate can be solved. “There has to be dialogue about the collapse of the No. 1 police, the family. And there has to be dialogue about personal responsibilities. That’s not politically correct, I know.”
Other notes from the meeting:
• County Court judicial candidate Dawn Hudson and School Board candidate Judge John Meisberg were on hand shaking hands and seeking votes for Tuesday’s election.
• Tjoflat says it costs anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 a year to house an inmate in a federal prison.
• Tjoflat said he grew up in Western Pennsylvania in a town that had virtually no crime. “There were about 10,000 people and about three policemen. They were usually found downtown playing checkers in City Hall.”
• Before leading the group in the singing of the national anthem, former Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Conductor Willis Page said, “The official temperature today in Baghdad is 115 degrees. So when you sing, think of our people over there.”