[Breaker — Addressing the Culture of Crime]
Violent crime has risen by double-digit percentages in cities across
the country in recent years, reversing the declines in the mid-to-late
l990s, according to reports by national law enforcement associations.
While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials
have been warning of rises in murder, robbery, and gun assaults since
late in 2005, particularly in midsize urban areas.
"There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding," said
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research
Forum, which released a recent report. Homicides have increased 20
percent or more in cities, including Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland,
Hartford, Memphis, and Orlando. In Washington, D.C., a fatal shooting
in May 2008 brought the number of homicides to 58 this year, putting
the city on schedule for the second straight year to have more killings
after five years of decreases.
According to criminal justice experts, many communities may be headed
into a period of sustained crime increases. David A. Harris, a law
professor at the University of Toledo who studies crime trends, said: "This
confirms what law enforcement has been seeing and saying on a more
anecdotal level: Crime is on the way up. While it is still too early
to be sure, you've certainly got things pointing in one direction."
Police officials say that arguments that 20 years ago would have
led to fistfights now lead to gun fights. "There's really no rhyme
or reason with these homicides," said Edward Davis, the police
commissioner in Boston. "An incident will occur involving disrespect
or a fight over a girl. Then there's a retaliation aspect where if
someone shoots someone else, their friends will come back and shoot
at the people who did it."
Chris Magnus, the police chief in Richmond, California, said he would
often go to the scene of a crime and discover that 30 to 75 rounds
had been fired. "It speaks to the level of anger, the indiscriminate
nature of the violence," he said. "I go to meetings and
start talking to some of the people in the neighborhoods about who's
been a victim of violence, and people can start reciting: 'One of my
sons was killed, one of my nephews... It's hard to find people who
haven't been touched by this kind of violence."
Declining Family Values
One factor in increasing crime rates may well be the decline of traditional
family life, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods. Married couples
with children now constitute less than one out of every four households
-- a share that has been cut in half since l960 and is the lowest ever
recorded by the census. As marriage with children becomes the exception
rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the
self-selected province of the college-educated and affluent. Isabel
V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution, said: "The culture is shifting, and marriage has
almost become a luxury item, one that only the well-educated and well-paid
are interested in."
Out-of-wedlock births exceeded l.5 million in 2005 for the first time,
representing 36.8 percent of all births in the U.S. Among non-Hispanic
blacks, the out-of-wedlock birth rate reached a staggering 69.5 percent.
For non-Hispanic whites, it exceeded 25 percent, a new milestone. The
illegitimacy rate for Hispanics reached 47.9 percent.
The rise in unwed births is "disastrous, about as big a leap
as we've ever had," said Robert Rector, welfare analyst at the
Heritage Foundation. He noted that unwed birth figures leveled off
and seemed to stabilize for a time after Congress passed welfare reform
in l996. However, recent increases in these numbers "clearly show
that the impact of welfare reform is now virtually zero, and we are
going back to the way things were before welfare reform."
A recent study by the National Marriage Project shows only 67 percent
of children lives in two-parent households. In minority communities,
the majority of children lives in one-parent households. There is,
it seems clear, a correlation between the decline in family life and
the rise in crime. By 2004, federal data showed that black Americans
-- l3 percent of the population -- accounted for 37 percent of the
violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 5l percent of
murders. Most of the victims of these criminals were fellow black Americans.
Hostility to Police
In researching an article for PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE, reporter Gregory
Gilderman rode along with police officer Dennis Stephens in North
Philadelphia's crime-ridden 22nd district. According to Gilderman,
hostility toward police and the lack of citizen cooperation are problematic: "This
is one of the more demoralizing aspects of policing this city: the
culture of the street hates the cops. Never mind that most of the
officers are African-American and that more than a few of them grew
up in this neighborhood. Perfectly law-abiding teenagers wear "STOP
SNITCHIN'' t-shirts, cops are taunted for being sellouts or 'trying
to be white,' and witnesses and victims won't talk at crime scenes,
let alone show up at court.
"Because of this," he explained, " a vast swath of the criminal
element -- muggers, rapists, even murderers -- sees charges dropped or reduced
to the one crime for which a police officer's testimony alone just might provide
leverage for plea-bargained prison time: possession of a firearm. This is especially
frustrating for veteran officers. A dangerous police district is like a small
town: Very few new faces show up, and the same career criminals are arrested
over and over. They are returned to the street over and over."
Professor Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan, coauthor of
a recent review of patterns of marriage, finds that class is a better
tool than race for predicting whether Americans marry. "The poor
aren't entering into marriage very much
at all," said Smock. She reports that young people from these
backgrounds often do not think they can afford marriage. Arguments
that marriage can mean stability do not seem to change their attitudes,
she said, noting that many of them have parents with troubled marriages.
Breaking the Cycle
To reverse the latest trends in crime we must not only consider the
role of law enforcement agencies but the culture out of which such
crime emerges. One key element, particularly in minority communities,
is the breakdown of the family and the increasing
out-of-wedlock birth rate. Unless current trends are reversed, the
increase in crime is likely to continue.
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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008
by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is THE REVOLUTION LOBBY (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and a contributing editor
to such publications as HUMAN EVENTS, THE ST. CROIX REVIEW, and THE WASHINGTON
REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS.
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