Now then: I recently stumbled across a very interesting piece by Francis Menton over at the Manhattan Contrarian on understanding urban crime. It’s accepted that violent crime is a serious urban problem, but what’s not apparent, or at least not intuitive, is how concentrated most high-crime areas are. Read it all, but here are some highlights. As Mr. Menton points out:
What rural and suburban readers may be missing is an understanding of the extent to which serious and violent crime is concentrated in a handful of quite small areas. It is understandable that many people fail to appreciate this phenomenon, because it is difficult to find good information on the subject. The press almost completely misses the issue, when not intentionally burying it. The mainstream sources will not report on the concentration of violent crime in a few areas because they think (correctly) that accurate reporting on this subject will reflect badly on minority communities; and the conservative sources are afraid to appear racist, and are mostly happy to report city-wide crime statistics as sufficiently demonstrating the disaster of governance by progressive Democrats.
This much is, of course, accurate. While I live in a rural setting now (you don’t get much more rural than the Susitna Valley) and grew up in a rural setting (you also don’t get much more rural than Allamakee County, Iowa) I did live in the suburbs of Denver for many years, and have done business in a wide range of urban settings, from Boston to Shanghai. I don’t trust cities and never will, and while I understand part of that is sheer bias on my part, not all of it is – but what many of us don’t get is how much violent crime happens in a few small areas.
Mr. Menton adds:
[I]n 2019, the United States had a homicide rate collectively of about five per 100,000. Chicago that year . . . was close to about 18 per 100,000. If you look at just the 10 most dangerous neighborhoods in that city, it was over 60 per 100,000. If you look at the most dangerous neighborhood in that city, which was West Garfield Park in 2019, their homicide rate was 131 per 100,000. If you compare that to the 28 safest neighborhoods in the city of Chicago that year, their collective homicide rate was less than two per 100,000 for some of those neighborhoods or for a good chunk of those neighborhoods, the homicide rate was zero per 100,000.
Chicago had 630 homicides in 2022, for a rate of about 24 per 100,000. I think you can be sure that most to all of the neighborhoods that had zero murders in 2019 still had zero murders on 2022. Meanwhile, if West Garfield Park had an overall murder rate of 131 per 100,000, and almost all of the victims were from the one-eighth of the population that are young adult men, then the murder rate among young adult men would be over 1000 per 100,000 — more than 1% per year. Over a ten year period, that would give a young man in that neighborhood around a 10% chance of getting murdered.
What Mr. Fenton doesn’t get into is root causes. In fact I haven’t seen anyone do what I would consider to be a robust root cause analysis for this phenomenon. Remember, root cause is always at the point where a person or group of people made a decision (or several decisions) and Mr. Fenton concludes with some bad ones:
However, I should note that Bessette’s piece in the Claremont Review also includes a review of another book titled “What’s Prison For? Punishment and Rehabilitation in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” by Bill Keller. Keller is the former executive editor-in-chief of the New York Times, and now working at something called the Marshall Project. On his examination of the current state of our criminal justice system, Keller reaches more or less the opposite conclusions from myself and Mangual. A few quoted by Bessette:
“Decriminalize such minor crimes as ‘low-level drug offenses’; divert some criminals to ‘mental health and addiction programs, or probation or community service’; . . . ‘raise the age at which accused youngsters are subject to adult punishment’ . . . .”
I guess that Keller has been reading the crime coverage of his old newspaper, which makes a point of hiding from the readers everything important about what is happening.
So, were I to conduct a cause analysis here, one of the first cause/effect chains I’d look hard at is the ‘urban policy’ path. We’ve seen these results time and again, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, St. Louis and many other places. But I’d also (and Mr. Fenton doesn’t mention this) look hard at the educational pathway. Our big-city schools are failing, horribly, with some of them cranking out only single-digit percentages of graduates that are proficient in math and written English. That can’t help.
Add in the inexplicable growth of a toxic, brutal, misogynistic urban “thug” culture, and you have a recipe for trouble.
One thing supporting the ‘urban policy’ pathway, of course, is easy to find: New York under Giuliani. In the 90s New York was one of the safest major cities in the world, and that happened when Rudy Giuliani set the policy of vigorously pursuing career criminals and showing no tolerance towards petty acts of vandalism, theft and hooliganism that can lead to more serious acts.
Our major cities are melting down. I’m not sanguine about things turning around any time soon; Chicago just suffered four years of incompetent leftist leadership by an incompetent mayor, and reacted by kicking her out of office and electing an even more incompetent leftist, on the theory that if ‘progressive’ policies don’t work, then one just needs to ‘progressive’ harder.
A combination of Giuliani-like policies and education reform (and by reform I mean privatize, and if that means kicking the teacher’s unions to the curb, all the better) might save our major cities. But I don’t see any of that happening. America’s great cities are destroying themselves, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.