Category: violent crime

Murder rates plummet . . . but why?

U.S. Violent Crime Rate, U.S. Justice Department Statistics, 1973-2010

By Alan Bean

Ask most people if violent crime rates are rising or dropping and most will pick the pessimistic option.  The chart above shows how dramatically violent crime rates have been dropping since the early 1990s.  If you get most of your information from watching television, you’d think the nation was drowning in a tidal wave of blood.  Sex and violence, often in lurid combination, grab and hold the attention of prime time viewers, so that’s what we get, all the time.  The more bizarre, twisted and disturbing the better.  The acting and story lines in the Sopranos, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad are unsurpassed, but minus the gratuitous violence,  these programs would lose much of their audience appeal.  The entertainment world’s fascination with serial murder is particularly over the top.

Falling crime rates are bad for the ratings, but the latest outrage is a sure headline grabber.  So the average American can be forgiven for thinking that crime is getting worse every year.

Perceptions of Trend in Crime Problem Nationally -- 1989-2011


Murder rate soars in Chicago; what can be done?

By Alan Bean

There were 506 homicides in Chicago last year, a 16% increase over 2011.   That amounts to 10.83 homicides per year per 100,000 population.  The rate in New York City is 2.72, which is just over half the national average of 4.8.

Homicide rates fluctuate wildly, historically and regionally.  Chicago’s homicide rate is about one-third as high as New Orleans (America’s true murder capital).  The Crescent City was plagued with 32.65 homicides per 100,000 population last year, and Detroit (27.38) and Baltimore (18.22) weren’t far behind.  These rates make Chicago look downright pacific.

Speaking of the Pacific, the homicide rate in Los Angeles last year was 4.19  but Oakland’s rate was over three times as high (15.89).

Homicide rates also vary radically by nation and continent.  Some Central America countries have rates in the 90s, while European countries hover between 1 and 2 homicides per 100,000.  Canada is 1.6; Mexico is 22.7. (more…)

Who made James Holmes do it?

I like the balance in this piece.  The NRA didn’t turn James Holmes into a killer.  The Tea Party is not to blame.  Batman didn’t make it happen and neither did the ACLU or the liberal churches of America.  When tragedy strikes, we want to make sense of things, we want to blame somebody.  But as the Joker explained to Batman in an earlier Dark Knight film: “some men just want to watch the world burn.”  AGB

Did Liberals Make James Holmes a Mass-Murderer?

Any suggestion that a cold-blooded killer is God’s agent to punish a wicked land is simply wicked.

By Greg Garrett, July 25, 2012

When tragedy strikes, we always, always, want to know why. If there’s a reason, some one to blame, then tragedy is not mindless.

It fits into a pattern.

It makes some kind of senseless sense.

Why did James Holmes shoot 70 people last Friday?

I don’t know why, and neither do you. The words of Alfred (Michael Caine) in The Dark Knight (2008) in relation to the Joker (Heath Ledger) have been bouncing around the Interwebs as we wrestle with the question: “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” (more…)

The myth of redemptive violence

This article originally appeared in the Red Letter Weekly.

By Shaine Claiborne

I had a veteran friend once tell me, “The biggest lie I have ever been told is that violence is evil, except in war.”  He went on, “My government told me that.  My Church told me that.  My family told me that… I came back from war and told them the truth – ‘Violence is not evil, except in war… Violence is evil – period’.”

Every day it seems like we are bombarded with news stories of violence – a shooting in Colorado, a bus bombing in Bulgaria, drones gone bad and the threat of a nuclear Iran, a civil war in Syria, explosions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This week’s cover story of Time magazine is — “One a Day” — showing that soldier suicides are up to one per day, surpassing the number of soldiers that die in combat. The US military budget is still rising — over 20,000 dollars a second, over 1 million dollars a minute spent on war, even as the country goes bankrupt.

Our world is filled with violence – like a plague, an infection, a pandemic of people killing people, and people killing themselves.  In my city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, we have nearly one homicide a day – and in this land of the free we have over 10,000 homicides a year.

Today, Barack Obama called the shooting in Colorado “evil”.  And he is right.

But perhaps it is also time that we declare that violence is evil, everywhere – period.  It’s obvious that killing folks in a movie theater is sick and deranged, but the question arises – is violence ever okay? (more…)

Listening to Broderick’s aunt

patterson outburstBy Alan Bean

Americans of a conservative bent are having a hard time with the Trayvon Martin saga.  The story suggests serious flaws in our system of criminal justice.  The conservative mind has no problem with George Zimmerman stalking a young man he considered suspicious and isn’t troubled by the fact that Zimmerman killed an unarmed man yet wasn’t arrested. 

But there are also narratives that those of the liberal persuasion tend to ignore because they reinforce the punitive consensus.  Take, for instance, the story of  Broderick Patterson, an eighteen year old Black male who was recently sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Eric Forrester, a seventeen year old White male.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has been following the story for the past two years.

The Black-on-White nature of the slaying conforms to a familiar pattern, but this case goes deeper than that.  When the sentence was handed down, young Broderick directed a profane tirade (see the article below) at everyone associated with his sad fate.  The jury received the brunt of his venom. (more…)

Gonzalez: “There’s a Rapist in Lincoln Park!”

By Derek Gonzalez

There’s a rapist in Lincoln Park!

Here, we have a song that has permeated popular culture in the last year. This song has real emotion in it because it is an auto-tuned version of Antoine Dodson’s account of what happened. In Huntsville, AL, a man climbed through the window of Antoine’s 2nd story apartment to steal things, but then he turned into an opportunistic rapist and tried to rape Kelly Dodson in her bed. After she screamed, her brother Antoine came into the room and threw the guy off of his sister. (Gentle, 2010). The perpetrator then fled out of the window, leaving behind his shirt, fingerprints, and shoe prints on a trashcan. (“Antoine dodson warns,” 2010). Although the song was made by the Gregory Brothers to help get the message out on this family’s trauma, there was also some backlash; many people thought that it was fake when it first came out, myself included. There were even people commenting on the videos with such hateful remarks like “why would anyone rape this black monkey c–t? She wanted it”. In fact, the news reporters who reported this story were given pressure from the community of Huntsville not to broadcast this because they felt that Antoine speaking would give the community a bad image. The main issue here, though, was that Kelly Dodson was almost raped. This song really speaks to people because it’s catchy, full of emotion, and talks about something that has never been put into a song: rape. (more…)

Were the Tulsa shootings racially motivated?

By Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

As of yesterday, two suspects have confessed to the Tulsa, Oklahoma shootings that left two injured and three dead over the Easter weekend.  The two suspects — Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32 — were arrested Sunday morning and confessed shortly after their arrest.

Late Thursday, According to the New York Times, England wrote an angry post on his Facebook page about the deaths of his father and fiancée:

Mr. England’s father, Carl, was shot on April 5, 2010, at an apartment complex…and the man who was a person of interest in the case, Pernell Jefferson, is serving time at an Oklahoma state prison.

Mr. England is a Native American who has also described himself as white.  Mr. Jefferson is black.

“Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” Mr. England wrote, and then used a racial epithet to describe Mr. Jefferson. “It’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head,” he added, referring to the recent suicide of his 24-year-old fiancée, Sheran Hart Wilde. “RIP. Dad and sheran I Love and miss u I think about both of u every second of the day.”

Hours later, England and his roommate, Watts, drove a pickup through a predominately black neighborhood in Tulsa and started to randomly shoot pedestrians.  Mr. England admitted to shooting three of the victims and Mr. Watts admitted to shooting the other two.

Many within the Tulsa community believe the actions of England and Watts were racially motivated.

The city of Tulsa has a history of racial tension.  In 1921, the city was the site of one of the deadliest race riots in U.S. history.  The riots began when a young black man was arrested after he was accused of sexually harassing a white woman.  His arrest sparked a violent confrontation between the black and white communities.  According to documents from the Tulsa Historical Society:

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters.  Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa.  Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned.  Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.

Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased.  In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins.

Historians estimate that over 300 people were killed in the riot and more than 8,000 were left homeless.

Now, 91 years after the deadly riot, race relations in Tulsa remain rocky.  Many, including the Tulsa NAACP chapter and Tulsa City Council member Jack Henderson, want the gunmen to be prosecuted for a hate crime.

“Somebody that committed these crimes were very upset with black people,” said Jack Henderson, “That person happened to be a white person. The people that they happened to kill and shoot were black people — that fits the bill for me.”

Police officials and prosecutors, however, say it is still too early in the investigation to call the shooting rampage a hate crime.

Western: we can cut crime and prisons at the same time


Crime and Punishment

Public Safety Doesn’t Require More Inmates

By Bruce Western

This article orginally appeared in the Boston Review.

By the end of the 1990s, policymakers and police were celebrating the great American crime decline. Rates of murder, robbery, and rape had fallen across cities and suburbs, among rich and poor.

Less appreciated perhaps is the continuing decline in crime in the 2000s. In every state fewer incidences of serious violence and property crime were reported to police in 2010 than in 2000. The murder rate is now the lowest it has been since the early 1960s.

Research on the 1990s traces the crime drop to better policing; to a subsiding crack trade, which, at its height in the late 1980s, unleashed a wave of murderous violence; and to increasing prison populations.

However, some researchers find the apparently large effect of imprisonment controversial. Driven by tough-on-crime policy and intensified drug enforcement, prison populations grew unchecked from the early 1970s until the last decade, but crime rates fluctuated without any clear trend. By the early 2000s incarceration rates had grown to extraordinary levels in poor communities. Whole generations of young, mostly minority and poorly educated men were being locked up, leading to the United States’s current status as the world’s largest jailer, in both absolute and relative terms.

Prisons may have reduced crime a little in the short run, but at the current scale the negative effects of incarceration are likely to outweigh the positive. Commonplace incarceration among poor young men fuels cynicism about the legal system, destabilizes families, and reduces economic opportunities.

Over the last few years, the rate of prison population growth in the states finally began to slow. (The growth in federal prisons has continued unabated.) As the political salience of crime declined and the cost of prisons ballooned, policymakers and the courts turned to alternatives to incarceration.

Twelve states reduced imprisonment in the last decade. These states diverted more drug offenders to probation and community programs, and parolees were less likely to return to the penitentiary.

All the states that reduced imprisonment also recorded reductions in crime. For instance, between 2000 and 2010, New York cut imprisonment by about a fifth, and the crime rate fell by about 25 percent.

States that raised their imprisonment rates averaged similar reductions in crime, though the declines show a lot of variation. Where prisons grew by more than 20 percent, crime fell by a little less than the national average. And in some places—such as Maine, Arkansas, and West Virginia—crime barely fell at all.

It seems clear, then, that ever-increasing rates of incarceration are not necessary to reduce crime. Although it’s difficult to say precisely how much the growing scale of punishment reduced crime in the 1990s, the crime decline has been sustained even as imprisonment fell in many states through the 2000s.

These data are good news for governors who want to cut prison budgets. But cuts alone may not work. Policymakers should study cases such as New York and New Jersey. These states cut imprisonment while building new strategies for sentencing, parole and after-prison programs.

The era of mass incarceration is not over, but there are signs of reversal. Given the social costs of incarceration—concentrated in poor neighborhoods—these are heartening trends. The last decade shows that public safety can flourish, even as punishment is curtailed.

Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, is author of Punishment and Inequality in America.

Juan Williams changes the subject

By Alan Bean

Some stories get too big to be ignored.  So imagine that you are an editor for the Wall Street Journal, the voice of sensible capitalism, the vast majority of your readers are white and conservative, in that classy, New York sort of way, and you are compelled to address the furor over the Trayvon Martin case?  You go to the bullpen and call Juan Williams to the mound.  Williams is the black guy that makes white guys feel good.  If a white editor opined that we should be giving less attention to Trayvon Martin while concentrating on black-on-black crime (the real problem) you might be facing a token backlash.  Your readers would applaud this sentiment, but a few outsiders might take exception.  But Mr. Williams is black, so he can’t be a racist.

Here’s the heart of William’s argument:

The race-baiters argue this case deserves special attention because it fits the mold of white-on-black violence that fills the history books. Some have drawn a comparison to the murder of Emmett Till, a black boy who was killed in 1955 by white racists for whistling at a white woman.

This is a magnificent misreading of the outrage.  When people compare Trayvon and Emmett, they aren’t saying the two cases are identical, or even that they are about the same kind of injustice.  The Till case sparked the civil rights movement.  Rosa Parks had Emmett Till on her mind when she refused to relinquish her seat to a white man.  Some are hoping the Trayvon Martin story sparks a similar revolution.  This time (contra Williams) the emphasis won’t be on white-on-black crime; the focus will be on racial profiling and the easy association between black skin and danger.

Hence the iconic emphasis on the hoodie. (more…)