Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Kill It, Kid

Nobody knows why crime rates spike or recede. Law enforcement and politicians love to take credit when crime decreases and display equal passion for dodging blame when it rises. Contributory factors to crime do not necessarily cause crime, which is why trying to determine the root of criminal behavior remains a thorny and convoluted proposition.

Poverty is considered one of the leading factors associated with crime and it's certainly true that poor people are statistically more likely to resort to criminal behavior than their rich counterparts. But to cite poverty as a direct causal link to crime is, at best, dubious. Approaching matters from a more philosophical angle, it seems most likely that a person of average moral standing--neither exceptionally ethical nor utterly amoral--possesses a certain number of options he or she is willing to pursue before turning to crime. The better off financially a person is, the more options said person exhausts before crime enters the picture. But not everyone exhibits average morality, which explains why some poverty-stricken individuals never engage in illicit activity while some wealthy folks embrace larceny and violence with zeal.

The 2009 homicide total for selected cities can be seen below. As is so often the case with crime, one can detect patterns but there are no sure things. Approximate city populations--which, it should be noted, are always changing--are listed parenthetically followed by the source of the statistics. As remarkable as New York City's about face in murder over the past two decades has been, San Jose's stunningly low figure of 27 homicides in a city of over one million might be even more astounding, though it is worth noting that San Jose is more or less an affluent bedroom community in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region where other cities do indeed have high crime. Tulsa and Kansas City's relatively high numbers may also be somewhat of a surprise, while Atlanta's figures, though hardly a patch on the similar-sized Denver, represent an improvement compared to recent years and are far better than the unfortunate Baltimore.

Gary, Indiana's violent crime woes are well-known to most Midwesterners, and probably to many in general, but even that rusty enclave has witnessed a recent decline in murder. Gary's diminishing population might be seen as a contributing factor to reduced mayhem; however, it is often shrinking cities that suffer the most, as those who remain typically have with the fewest resources.

Race is another definite factor when it comes to violent crime. African-Americans kill African-Americans. A lot. Members of all races are quite capable of killing within or outside their ethnicity--Latinos kill Caucasians, Caucasians kill African-Americans, African-Americans kill Asians, and so on--but the most statistically persuasive murder trend is the oft-lamented but difficult-to-resolve black on black.

What's the problem? Fatherlessness enters the discussion a great deal, but again this is more of a contributory than causal factor. And it prompts two points that those who appear desperate to marry off African-American women come hell or high water seem eager to overlook. First, how do we know that the main problem with fatherlessness isn't simply the exacerbation of poverty? In other words, sure a good father could provide guidance and discipline, set a positive example, and serve as a strong male role model. But millions of children lacking this presence fail to turn into miscreants. Secondly, how bad is too bad? Is it better to have a lousy father or no father at all? If the father in question is violent, a career criminal, a drug user, is it preferable that he be absent? What about indifferent fathers? Cold, distant fathers? Drunk fathers? There is probably a threshold, an invisible line indicating that, generally speaking, a passive-aggressive father is superior to no father but an abusive father is worse. But since not all children react the same way to things like abuse or passive-aggressiveness, it's impossible to make a definite determination.

So what's the answer? Anyone who claims to have a single, indisputable one should probably be viewed warily.

Atlanta--80 (540,000)

Baltimore--238 (640,000)

Columbus--83 (755,000)

Denver--38 (600,000)

Fresno--42 (500,000)

Gary, IN--49 (100,000)

Houston--281 (2.2 million)

Indianapolis--101 (800,000)

Kansas City--110 (480,000)

Los Angeles--302 (3.8 million)

Milwaukee--72 (605,000)

New York City--461 (8.3 million)

Philadelphia--302 (1.5 million)

San Jose--27 (1 million)

Tulsa--70 (390,000)


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