Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Criminals Commit Crime

Of crime, poverty and character: Economic desperation doesn't breed violence

This a good news, bad news column. The good news is that crime is again down across the nation - in big cities, small cities, flourishing cities and cities that are not for the timid. Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be, as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed.

The figures are rather startling. From 2008 to 2009, violent crime was down 5.5% overall and almost 7% in big cities. Some of those cities are as linked with crime as gin is with tonic or Barack Obama with political opportunism. In Detroit, for instance, with the auto industry shedding workers, violent crime was down 2.4%. In Washington, murder was down 23.1%, rape 19.4%, and property crime 6%. Stats for political corruption are not available.

Probably the most surprising numbers come from Phoenix, which thought of itself as sinking in a sea of supposedly immoral and rapacious immigrants, all of them illegal and all waiting for nightfall and the chance for a nifty burglary or home invasion. If so, the crime reporting system has virtually collapsed. To the surprise no doubt of local TV news anchors, violent crime was down almost 17%. Back at 11.

What's going on? A number of things, say the experts. As is always the case, the police credited the police for magnificent police work, while others cited the decline in crack cocaine usage. Those answers, though, are only partially satisfying because, believe you me, if and when crime begins its almost inevitable ascent, the very same police authorities will blame economic or social conditions beyond their control - not to mention the inevitable manpower shortage.

Whatever the reasons, it now seems fairly clear that culture -- not economics -- is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims.

This is not as outlandish as it may seem. After the Watts riots of 1965 (34 dead), someone determined that the mobs looted only those stores owned by the miserly and the mean. In other words, the storeowners had it coming and the rioters, which is to say the criminals, were just getting some justice, often in the form of a TV set.

Two years later, in the immediate aftermath of the Newark riots (26 dead), someone conducted an unscientific survey of looted stores. No pattern was detected. Generous owners were trashed. Good guys suffered. The mob was not administering justice. It was getting stuff for free.

A good deal of social policy was predicated on such an outlook. It made victims of criminals and criminals of victims (all wealth comes from theft, etc.) - and in so doing, insulted the law-abiding poor who somehow lacked the wit to appreciate their historic plight. This ideology was mocked by Stephen Sondheim in his lyrics for the "West Side Story" song "Gee, Officer Krupke": "Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, you gotta understand, it's just our bringin' up-ke that gets us out of hand. Our mothers all are junkies, our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!" In other words, all the gang members were the unavoidable products of their environment.

Common sense tells you that the environment has to play a role and the truly desperate will sometimes break the law - like Victor Hugo's impoverished Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his sister's children. But the latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does.

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Blogger SNAKE HUNTERS said...

"...not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - MLK

As the old song goes...

Me Faather sells Snow to the snow-birds, Me Maather makes Synthetic Gin, me Seester makes Love for five dollars, O lord how..the money..rolls in!


9:08 PM  
Blogger moonlitetwine said...

Or could it be...that crime is being disfavored because of lack of money to prosecute and house?

Could crime stats be done because corruption within the ranks of law enforcement is shrinking?

11:04 AM  
Blogger no_slappz said...


The commission of violent crime is found where there are high rates of illegitimacy, low educational attainment, substance abuse and household violence. Simple as that.

Guess what? The most compelling conditions for crime arise in black and hispanic neighborhoods -- as the crime statistics have shown for decades.

12:12 PM  

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