In the morning, I like to take a walk with my friend, the mom of a 4-year-old. Lately, thanks to the terrible stories from Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, she says she has been feeling overwhelmed. Who hasn’t?
And yet…and yet… The narrative of chaos and despair obscures and even discounts a different narrative that does not make it to the nightly news. (Which is morning-ly and noon-ly news now, as well.) It’s a narrative you’ll find in the “Crime
His piece is partly about gun control which is, as always, an issue I’d prefer not to get into here, since it ends up being such an annoying and usually unproductive discussion. What DOES interest me are his observations about our refusal to acknowledge or even believe that crime is going down:
Homicide rates, for example, have been falling to the point where in 2014 — the last year of FBI data offered — it was at 4.5 per 100,000 people, which is the lowest rate recorded since 1963, when it was at 4.6 per 100,000 people. We know there was a slight uptick in violent crime in 2015, probably making it the second lowest year for homicides in the past 50.
It’s not just my town, New York City, that has seen a grand plunge in murders. It’s even the cities where we think crime is escalating off the charts:
Put it this way: In 1990, in New York City there were 2,245 homicides. In 2015, there were 355. In 1992, Los Angeles County had a record high of 2,589 homicides. There were 655 over the last 12 months. In 1992, Chicago saw 943 murders, or a rate of 34 murders per 100,000 citizens. Although it still owns a far higher murder rate than most major cities, in 2014 there were 432 murders and in 2015 488. Last year, Dallas saw a spike in murders, yet the 10.7 homicides per 100,000 residents was the city’s fourth-lowest total since police started keeping track in 1930. In Denver 95 people were murdered in 1992, 34 in 2014, and 50 (a nine-year high) in 2015.
Stats from almost every city tell the same tale.
All of which is not to say it is anywhere near safe enough to be an African American pulled over by the police. But it is to say that the everyday fear we feel that prevents us from simply sending our kids outside in most neighborhoods (not all!) does not correlate with the crime rate. Nor does the belief that any child waiting in a car for a few minutes will likely be kidnapped.
Despite this reality, according to a 2013 Pew poll, 56 percent of Americans believe gun crimes have risen compared to 20 years ago. This even though overall gun death rates have declined — and let’s include homicides and suicides (most gun deaths are suicide) — by 31 percent over that period.
We believe a lot of things that aren’t true. In a 2015 Rasmussen poll, 58 percent of Americans said they believed there was a “war on police.” The murder of five officers in Dallas last week was the worst attack on law enforcement since 9/11. It is in no way to diminish the impact of this event or the lives lost that day to say that the overall trend shows police are not in more danger today than they were 20 years ago. The violence aimed at police has generally followed all other trendlines of violence, which is to say it has decreased.
And when it comes to African American realities, Harsanyi added this:
The recent deaths of a number of African Americans at cops’ hands is also highly troubling, but the debate about it is imbued with a number of societal issues that go beyond mere stats. It’s also far more complicated than conventional thinking might suggest. While that debate rages, it’s important to note that African Americans are not only safer today than they were 20 years ago (and certainly 50 years ago), they have benefited tremendously from lower crime rates. Over the last 20 years, crime among African-American youth has fallen by 47 percent.
Watching the news can make you feel like we’re on the cusp of falling into a dark time. Maybe we’re destined for a more violent age. Yet it seems the technological and economic advances we’ve made (despite inequality, most Americans live better lives) make it unlikely we’re going to return to 1994- or 1968-style violence any time soon. But who knows? It’s also understandable that emotionally we deal with the incidents that unfold in front of us. Still, it wouldn’t hurt the media to frame the news with a little less scaremongering and a little more context.
It is hard to ask for context without being accused of complacency. I am not complacent. Let us work to make the country safer for all citizens, while also appreciating the fact that it is no less safe than when WE were allowed to go outside as kids. – L